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MonkeyNotes Free Study Guide-The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

BOOK II

CHAPTER 21

Summary

Newland and May Archer, along with most of their friends and family, are in Newport for the summer. Newland had wanted to spend the summer with May in Maine, but Mrs. Welland wondered why May had spent all their honeymoon trying on summer clothes if she was going to spend it in a secluded place. Newland thinks back over the past year and a half of wedded life. He is surprised to see that life goes on just as it always has, despite the dramatic changes inside him. In New York he has settled back into the routine of his life, not much different from his life as a bachelor. He thinks of Ellen Olenska only as a fleeting madness, one of a line of ghosts in his past.

As he is meditating, Medora Manson comes up to him. When she mentions Ellen's name, Newland is surprised to find that his heart jumps. Ellen's aunt tells him that Ellen is staying at the Blenkers' in Portsmouth. As they chat, Beaufort comes onto the lawn. It is his house and he and his wife are giving a lawn party. Newland notices that he looks redder than he has in the past, and older. There have been many rumors about him lately, especially about his business dealings in Wall Street. People have also talked about his recent trip taken on a newly bought, half-a-million-dollar yacht. Apparently, Miss Fanny Ring accompanied him on the trip.

Newland and the others walk down to the tent that is set up on the lawn. May is about to shoot, and everyone admires her grace and skill. Beaufort crudely replies that this kind of target is the only one she will ever hit, implying that he does not find her attractive. Newland, overhearing this remark, flushes with anger. He knows he should be glad to hear that a lecherous man like Beaufort doesn't find May attractive. After all, May was never raised to attract such a man. Still, Newland wonders if "niceness carried to that supreme degree were only a negation, the curtain dropped before an emptiness." He knows he's never seen behind the curtain. May wins the prize and she and Newland go to see her grandmother, Mrs. Manson Mingott.


When they arrive, Mrs. Mingott teases May over when she will get pregnant. Then she announces that Ellen is there. Newland is thoroughly shocked, though May says she thought she had already told him. Mrs. Mingott calls to Ellen but receives no reply. She sends Newland out to fetch her. He goes outside, thinking of what he's heard of Ellen's life since his marriage. She has sub-let her newly bought house in New York and taken up residence in Washington D.C. where she is supposedly leading a brilliant social life. When he gets to the shore, he sees her. He stands and watches her as boats pass in the distance. Then he thinks that if she doesn't turn to see him by the time one of the boats passes the lighthouse, he'll turn around and leave. The boat passes the lighthouse and he turns and walks back up to the house.

On the ride back to the Wellands, May begins to talk about Ellen. She says Ellen has become so different, moving away from her friends and living with odd people in Washington. She says she wonders if Ellen wouldn't have been happier to have stayed with her husband. Newland chides her for being cruel. May says it's too bad, then, that she married abroad in the first place. He feels like he's been put in the place of an unreasonable husband and silenced. They get into the Welland's house and he feels the same old sense of comfort return. The Wellands' life is so organized that once in it, a person can't think of any other existence.

Notes

Wharton speeds up the passing of time greatly in the early chapters of Book II. This chapter takes place one and one half years after Newland and Ellen meet for the last time. In Book I, the time between chapters is most often no more than a day or two. Perhaps the reason for this narrative choice is the difficulty of representing time in which nothing significant occurs, only the wearing down of a person's sense of identity as he sinks into a conventional life.

The Newland Archer of Book II is a fairly sad figure. He thinks of himself as nothing more than a son-in-law. He follows the conventional life of the Wellands, only occasionally asking to do something different or offering an opinion different from that of the norm. Each time he does so, however, he is gently reproved and brought back into line.

The missed meeting with Ellen Olenska in Newport comes simply as another aspect of Newland's resignation to life. He has resigned himself to play the part of the married man. Even though he has been greatly changed by his exposure to Ellen, so much so that he can never fit comfortably into his new life, she represents the past for him. He is resigned to keep it that way.

CHAPTER 22

Summary

Mrs. Welland has just read an invitation that announces a party for the Blenkers to be hosted by Professor and Mrs. Emerson Sillerton. All the people in old New York society finds themselves imposed upon every summer by another of Professor Sillerton's strange invitations. Since he and Mrs. Sillerton come from such important families, people visiting Newport must always send at least one from among them to anything the Sillertons plan in order to avoid slighting them. Mr. Welland is incredulous at the invitation and the time it is planned, three in the afternoon, just thirty minutes before he takes his drops. Mrs. Welland volunteers to go and asks May to take her father for his usual drive. She worries about what Newland will be doing. Mrs. Welland always thinks it is her duty to make sure that everyone's afternoons are "provided for." She is always bothered by Newland's bad habit of spending unplanned and unstructured days.

One day she asked him how he meant to spend his afternoon and he had replied that he planned to keep it rather than spend it, a joke she clearly didn't understand. On this day, Newland tells them he wants to go out to a stud farm and check on a horse for sale. May is happy that he has proven himself capable of planning his days. He has been thinking of this plan since he had heard of the party. He actually wants to visit the Blenkers' house in their absence so he can see the place where Ellen Olenska has been living. Even though he can't see her in person, he has been aching to see where she's been. When he gets to the stud farm that afternoon, he spends only a short time looking at the horse, then he rides over to the Blenkers'. When he gets to the yard, he sees a parasol and imagines it to be Ellen's. He picks it up and touches it. While he's sitting there, one of the Blenker daughters comes out. She's been napping in the hammock, left at home because she has a cough. She tells him Ellen Olenska is not staying with them at present but has been called away to Boston. Newland tells her he will be traveling to Boston soon and she tells him Ellen will be staying at the Parker House. As he leaves, he sees Miss Blenker standing under the pink parasol and he can't believe he thought it was Ellen's.

Notes

Newland Archer here begins his second pursuit of Madame Olenska and apparently, she begins her second effort to flee from him. His trip to the Blenkers' is done entirely consciously. He knows he's going in an effort to get close to her, though, he thinks of it as distanced enough to avoid guilt. He just wants to see the place where she's been living, imagining that she will be away at the party. Instead, he finds himself planning a trip to Boston to find her. Thus, Wharton begins the second phase of the romance, the one that takes place after his marriage.

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