From Edith Wharton's 1920 The Age of Innocence:
"I understand that."
Her face warmed. "Then you'll help me?"
"First--" he hesitated--"perhaps I ought to know a little more."
She seemed surprised. "You know about my husband--my life with him?"
He made a sign of assent.
"Well--then--what more is there? In this country are such things tolerated? I'm a Protestant--our church does not forbid divorce in such cases."
They were both silent again...
My brother wonders if perhaps Edith Wharton meant us to understand that Count Olenski had tertiary syphilis a la Friedrich Neitzsche and Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill--that he was not just your standard garden-variety European aristocrat libertine unfaithful cold penniless mentally-unbalanced domineering husband who married you for your money alone and from whom you fled back to New York--and that for Madame Ellen Olenska to return to him in Europe is to consign herself to marital rape, likely infection, and ultimate deep insanity herself.
Is this a reading that Edith Wharton intended? A part of the book that literary critics lost with the discovery of penicillin? Or is it a reading that I am tempted to impose on the book simply because I have lived in the age of AIDS?
And, in either case, does this reading deepen or trivialize the book?