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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 33

Summary

May is planning a bon voyage party for Ellen, who is away temporarily before her final departure. Newland has heard nothing from Ellen, though he has received a key. He tells himself she is fighting against the idea of taking their passion to the next step. He plans, therefore, to follow her to Europe.

In the meantime, however, he must endure the planning of the party. As well, he and Mr. Letterblair have been working out the details of Mrs. Mingott's trust for Ellen. Mr. Letterblair comments on the generosity of the legacy and the opinion that everyone has treated Ellen very handsomely. Mr. Letterblair points out that even though her husband was unfaithful to her, she was also unfaithful to him. He hands Newland a report that implies Ellen's involvement with Riviere. Newland refuses to read it. And later Newland is uncomfortable when Mrs. Manson Mingott calls him to her home to complain of Ellen's leaving.

On the night of the dinner, he finds May in the drawing room lighting a fire and talking proudly of being able to show the room off to Ellen. When the guests arrive, Newland finds Ellen at his side looking very pale and even ugly, but also finds that he loves her more at this moment than he has yet. She reminds him of the girl he used to play with. He tells her he plans to go to Paris soon, too. May asks him to escort Ellen into the dining room. She sits at his side. As he's sitting at dinner, he looks around at all the guests and realizes that for months now, they have all been imagining that he has been carrying on an affair with Ellen. Now they are acting as if nothing at all has ever been wrong either with him or with Ellen and May is looking triumphant. He thinks the whole production of the dinner has been to show him the way things are supposed to be. He laughs and is caught laughing at something Mrs. van der Luyden has been saying about Beaufort. May glances at him and he realizes he hasn't been speaking to Ellen. They talk about traveling and other light subjects. Soon dinner is over.


In the library upstairs with the men, Newland listens as Lawrence Lefferts goes on about the downfall of society caused by admitting unknown men like Beaufort, no matter whom they marry. Mr. Sillerton Jackson whispers to Newland that Lefferts is going into this diatribe to cover over an affair he's recently had and a close miss in getting caught at it. After a while, they join the women downstairs in the drawing room. He sees that May is very happy at the success of the party. He sees that there is something like "a conspiracy of rehabilitation and obliteration." No one will notice that there's ever been anything wrong with Madame Olenska's conduct or the happiness of Newland and May's marriage. He thinks he sees May looking victorious again.

Soon Ellen announces that she will be leaving. He thinks he'll be able to escort her to her carriage, but finds out she has come with the van der Luydens. Before he knows it, she is gone. As he stands watching the carriage leave, he hears Lawrence Lefferts and his wife Gertrude leaving. Lefferts sends Gertrude on ahead and stays behind to ask Newland to act like he's going to dinner with him the next evening.

Back inside and alone with May after everyone has left, he hears May talking about the success of the party. She asks him if she can talk to him in his library. He tries once again to talk to her. He tells her he wants to travel, to go far away from New York. She tells him before he can go on any more that she will have to go with him, but she is not sure her doctor will let her. She is pregnant. She just found out that day at the doctor's office. He manages to sound happy at the news. Then he asks her if she has told anyone else. She says she told her mother and his mother and that weeks ago, the day she had a talk with Ellen (which is also the day he met Ellen in the library), she had told Ellen. He asks her how she knew it was true when she told Ellen, since she had only just found out today. She says it is true she did not know for sure, though she had told Ellen she was. Her eyes are shining bright.

Notes

This penultimate chapter seems to reveal that May has not only known about Newland and Ellen, but has taken action to prevent the affair from continuing. In the beginning, Newland recognizes that everyone at the dinner party has been assuming an affair between him and Ellen. He thinks they are so happy and relaxed because they are merely providing him with an example of how thinks ought to be. In reality, they all know his plans have been destroyed. They know he will have to submit to social acceptability.

May, for her part, has been steadily destroying the relationship between Ellen and Newland. All along, Newland has thought the delay was Ellen's-that she hesitated to consummate their physical desire. He was confident he could overcome that objection. Now, however, he learns that he has no power. May is the source, and the last chance for him and Ellen has slipped away.

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