In The Age of Innocence, how is Ellen seen as powerful in the way that she directs Newland Archer?

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sfwriter eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ellen Olenska is powerful in various ways, in contrast to the other women of New York society, because she is willing to make decisions on her own and face consequences.  It is certainly true that Ellen goes to Skuytercliff and Newland follows her there and other places, but that is not a main source of her power.  Her power -- and it is one that is not found in the other women of Archer's set (such as May Welland, Regina Beaufort, or Archer's sister or mother, with Granny Mingot being the notable exception) -- is in her ability to face scandal, and make judgments based on her own ideas of morality.  When she ran away from Count Olenski, she used the help of a male secretary.  This action, while it freed her, made her the object of gossip.  Later, when she lived in New York, she went to Mrs. Struthers's evening parties, while the rest of the New York women did not.  Ellen lived alone, in an unfashionable part of town.  When her estranged husband tried to win her back to at least a show of marital unity by bargaining with her, through a lawyer, to give back money which had originally been hers, she refused.  After this, perhaps admiring her bravery, her grandmother Mingot made her independent by giving her an adequate income.  And, ultimately, Ellen is the one who refuses to let Archer leave May, because she refuses to gain her happiness at someone else's loss.  She is a woman of strong character and who faces down all the opposition around her. 

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The Age of Innocence

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