Compare Sergeant Francis (Frank) Troy to Newland Archer by thinking about their similarities. Both men are married to women that don’t seem to qualify as their true loves. For each, the object of their genuine affection is a marginalized woman.
In Thomas Hardy’s novel Far From the Madding Crowd, Troy loves Fanny Robin. Yet she is a servant and doesn’t enjoy the vaunted class status of Bathsheba. In Edith Wharton’s novel The Age of Innocence, Archer’s genuine desire is for Countess Ellen Olenska. Olenska’s position in New York is precarious, not because of her financial situation but because she wants to divorce her husband. In the 1870s, divorce was quite a bold thing to do, especially if it was a woman who was instigating the proceedings.
In the end, both men wind up with women who, more or loss, conform to the norms of the time. In other words, Troy and Archer choose the women in relatively good standing instead of the women on the margins. Troy could have opted to marry Robin, even after the church mishap. More so, Archer could have called off his engagement with May Welland instead of speeding it up. Ultimately, both went with the safe bet.
The stakes, though, appear to be higher for Troy. His abandonment of Robin leads to the death of her and their child. Archer’s entanglement never reaches life-or-death levels. Archer and Olenska do not share the same kind of fraught history as Troy and Robin. Troy feigns death before he’s killed for real by one of Bathsheba’s suitors. Alas, nothing so sensational happens to Archer.
In the final chapter of Wharton’s novel, when Archer could hypothetically get involved with Olenska, he doesn’t bother to try. Overall, it doesn’t feel like Archer has the same kind of emotive tenacity as Troy. As the narrator says about Archer, “his life had been too starved.”