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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 25

Summary

Newland returns to New York by boat. While he is sailing, he feels calm and comforted despite his sense of loss. He knows it is the "perfect balance [Ellen] had held between [her] loyalty to others and honesty to [herself]" that makes him feel peaceful. He realizes that Ellen will only stay in the United States as long as she doesn't think herself a temptation to him.

The next morning, as he leaves the station in New York he meets Monsieur Riviere and recognizes him as the man he had seen leaving Ellen's hotel. That afternoon, Riviere comes to Newland's office and tells him he is Count Olenska's messenger and that he has come to ask Ellen to return to her husband. Newland becomes very angry, especially when he learns that Riviere has already seen the Mingott's, who are in favor of Ellen's reunion with her husband. Riviere tells Newland he thinks Ellen is best served by staying in America. He asks Newland to help him persuade Ellen to remain in America.

When Riviere has gone, Newland reflects that the Mingotts must not trust him with regard to Ellen. He realizes that when May suggested Ellen ought to return to her husband, his strong reaction must have convinced her he was not in accord with the family, or perhaps that he was compromised.

Notes

A major plot twist occurs in this chapter as Newland realizes his family (May's family) no longer trusts him. The placement of this situation is dramatically superb, following so closely on the heels of his frank conversation with Ellen and his new conviction to love her without threatening her sense of honor.


CHAPTER 26

Summary

It is Thanksgiving. Mr. Sillerton Jackson and Miss Sophy Jackson are dining at the Archers'. Sophy talks about the much-talked about impending financial ruin of the Julius Beaufort family, mentioning the Beaufort's persistent defiance of tradition in the conversation. In continuation of this vein, Mrs. Archer voices her dismay that Mrs. Struthers has been assimilated into good society, now that everyone attends her socials (even May). Mrs. Archer blames Ellen Olenska for starting the trend.

After dinner, Newland and Jackson smoke cigars and discuss Beaufort. Jackson insinuates that if Beaufort does fail, there will be disclosures about his private life that might include Ellen Olenska. Newland gets extremely agitated and asks him what he's implying. Jackson says he is only saying that Medora Manson has all her little remaining money tied up with Beaufort's stock speculations and since Ellen has been essentially cut off financially by her grandmother, she is going to suffer greatly in trying to keep afloat.

Newland thinks of the last time he spoke to Ellen. Since then he has written her a note asking her when he could see her again and she has replied by saying, "not yet." He has begun to live a private life in his mind in which Ellen reigns. Outside the sanctuary of his thoughts of Ellen, he has begun to live with an increasing sense of "unreality and insufficiency." He realizes that Sillerton Jackson knows he's been excluded from the Welland and Mingott families' discussions of Ellen Olenska. Mr. Jackson tells Newland that Lawrence Lefferts has been starting rumors that Ellen is maintained financially by Beaufort. Newland reiterates the Ellen will never go back to her husband no matter what is done to her or said about her.

When Newland and May get home, he goes straight up to his library. He notices that she doesn't join him as she usually does. He calls to her impatiently and complains that the servants aren't trimming his lamp properly. She comes in and trims it for him with wifely good cheer. He tells her he will probably be going to Washington. She asks if he's going on business and then tells him he must drop in to see Ellen while he's there. He knows that in their world, there's a whole page of unspoken message behind that reminder. He knows that what May is really saying is that she knows he is going to see Ellen and that he is making a terrible mistake in advising Ellen against going back to her husband. Then May gives him advice on how to trim a lamp and holds up her face for a good night kiss.

Notes

The dinner conversation about the decline of New York society features Ellen as an example of what happens when the elite mixes with common people. She is seen as the source of Mrs. Struthers' social ascent. Newland silently endures this attack on the woman he loves because he knows that his family has begun to suspect him of impropriety and because he has no other recourse. It is a dramatic scene with visible conflict and tension.

May's character deepens yet again as it becomes increasingly unclear how much she knows or understands. She takes sides against Newland in the debate over Ellen Olenska's reunion with her husband, the first public display of contention over the "other woman." As well, she passively reminds Newland that she knows Ellen is in Washington, and that she knows he is going to see Ellen. The perceived threat is subtle but strong. And Newland is uncomfortably aware of the dangerous ground he is treading.

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