(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Newland Archer, a handsome and eligible young attorney engaged to lovely May Welland, learns that the engagement will be announced at a party to welcome his fiancé’s cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska. This reception for Ellen constitutes a heroic sacrifice on the part of the many Welland connections, for her marriage to a ne’er-do-well Polish count did not improve her position so far as rigorous and straitlaced New York society is concerned. The fact that she contemplates a divorce action also makes her suspect, and, to cap it all, her rather bohemian way of living does not conform to what her family expects of a woman who made an unsuccessful marriage.

Archer’s engagement to May is announced. At the same party, Archer is greatly attracted to Ellen. Before long, with the excuse that he is making the cousin of his betrothed feel at home, he sends her flowers and calls on her. To him she seems a woman who offers sensitivity, beauty, and the promise of a life quite different from the one that he expects after his marriage to May. He finds himself defending Ellen when the rest of society is attacking her contemplated divorce action. He does not, however, consider breaking his engagement to May but constantly seeks reasons to justify what is to the rest of his group an excellent union. With Ellen often in his thoughts, May’s cool beauty and correct but unexciting personality begin to suffer in Archer’s estimation.

Although the clan defends her against all outsiders, Ellen is often treated as a pariah. Her family keeps check on her, trying to prevent her from indulging in too many bohemian acts, such as her strange desire to rent a house in a socially unacceptable part of town. The women of the clan also recognize her as a dangerous rival, and ruthless Julius Beaufort, whose secret dissipations are known by all, including his wife, pays her marked attention. Archer finds himself hating Beaufort very much.

Convincing himself that he was seeing too much of Ellen, Archer goes to St. Augustine to visit May, who is vacationing there with her mother and her hypochondriac father. In spite of her cool and conventional welcome and her gentle rebuffs to his wooing, her beauty reawakens in him a kind of affection, and he pleads with her to advance the date of their wedding. May and her parents refuse because their elaborate preparations cannot be completed in time. Archer returns to New York. There, with the aid of the family matriarch, Mrs. Manson Mingott, he achieves his purpose, and the wedding date is advanced. This news comes to him in a telegram sent by May...

(The entire section is 1058 words.)

The Age of Innocence Summary

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Set in the last decades of the nineteenth century, The Age of Innocence narrates the love story of Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska. When the novel opens, Archer is engaged to May Welland, a young woman from one of New York’s oldest society families, and Ellen Olenska is married to a Polish count, who has abused her in unspoken ways. Ellen, May’s cousin, returns to New York from Europe because she wants to obtain a divorce in the United States. Her family welcomes her back into the fold, but they want to make it clear that divorce is not accepted in their world.

As a respected attorney who is soon to be a family member, Newland is elected to broach this topic with Ellen. Attempting to discourage the divorce, he explains that the customs of their New York society are based on loyalty to one’s actual family and to one’s social “family.” Over the course of several meetings, during which Ellen and Newland are compelled to discuss matters of deep and delicate feeling, they fall in love. Each grows to admire the other’s rarity and virtuous sincerity.

Realizing that their union would socially ostracize them and hurt others, Ellen and Newland decide to give up each other and walk away from the most genuine love evident in all of Edith Wharton’s writing. In doing so, they adhere to social conventions that may be destructive of the most precious aspect of self—the capacity to love. Wharton makes the reader see, however, that...

(The entire section is 465 words.)

The Age of Innocence Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Age of Innocence, often considered Wharton’s masterpiece, takes a nostalgic look at the New York society of her childhood, which had undergone enormous changes by 1920. In a mood tempered from that expressed in the 1905 House of Mirth, Wharton criticizes many aspects of this society, especially its hypocrisy and tendency to stifle creativity and genuine emotion. In this retrospective she also finds value in its stability and traditions. At the height of her powers in this novel, Wharton brilliantly uses plot, character, dialogue, point of view, and irony to express her themes, including the needs of the individual versus the claims of the society and the tenuous balance between the values of innocence and experience and between tradition and change.

The novel’s plot revolves around the choice the protagonist, Newland Archer, must make between two women—his fiancé, May Welland, a flower of New York society, and her cousin, Countess Ellen Olenska, recently separated from her abusive husband and settled in New York. The Welland family enlists Newland to talk the countess out of seeking a divorce in order to avoid scandal and pain to her family. Newland soon falls in love with Ellen and, reversing his position, asks her to divorce her husband to marry him. Ironically, Ellen refuses, persuaded too well by Newland’s arguments against divorce, and Newland marries May. Ellen eventually returns to Europe, May announces her pregnancy, and Newland’s fate is sealed. Twenty-five years later, after May’s death, Newland passes up an opportunity to see Ellen in Paris, realizing that his dreams have become more important to him than reality.

The society Wharton describes in The Age of Innocence values conformity over originality, superficial pleasantness over reality, and respectability over individual freedom. Newland understands that“they all lived in a kind of hieroglyphic world, where the real thing was never said or done or even thought, but only represented by a set of arbitrary signs,” but he does not disapprove. Smugly self-satisfied, he feels intellectually and culturally superior to his social set but nevertheless embraces most of its moral doctrines and values, never fully...

(The entire section is 917 words.)

The Age of Innocence Summary

The Age of Innocence Book 1 Summary

Book 1: Chapters 1-9
The book opens as members of old New York society gather at the opera. Although they have not...

(The entire section is 636 words.)

The Age of Innocence Book 2 Summary

Book 2: Chapters 19-26
May and Newland marry and go to an estate near Skuytercliff for their wedding night. While in...

(The entire section is 791 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter Summaries

The Age of Innocence Chapter 1 Summary

The Age of Innocence (1920) was Edith Wharton’s twelfth novel and was honored with the 1921 Pulitzer Prize. In this book, Wharton explores the customs of high society of New York City during the 1870s. Critics have proclaimed that Wharton’s depiction of the rigid social codes of New York’s moneyed class at that time is a very accurate portrayal. The focus of The Age of Innocence is on the main male character, Newland Archer, who becomes fascinated with the socially liberal Countess Ellen Olenska. As the plot unfolds, readers become involved in Archer’s struggle to make a choice between staying within the social codes, which encourage him to marry his proper and betrothed May Welland, and straying by...

(The entire section is 536 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 2 Summary

Newland Archer feels a strange embarrassment upon the arrival of the woman in the yellow dress. Everyone was staring at the woman who sits in the same box as his betrothed, May. The woman’s dress is astonishing and is causing most of the commotion. Her shoulders are exposed and the neckline plunges low, exposing too much of her bosom. Archer does not like the influence this woman’s attire might have on his fiancé’s character.

As Archer listens to the murmuring around him, he learns that the woman is May’s cousin. The woman has suddenly arrived from Europe, having left her husband. For the past couple of days, she has been staying with Mrs. Mingott, May’s grandmother. Although Archer approves of family...

(The entire section is 608 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 3 Summary

The ball following the opera is to be held at the Beaufort’s home, the most extravagant house in New York. The ballroom is a large room decorated with gilded chairs and crystal chandeliers. It remains closed during every other day of the year, and only on this one night does it come to life. As if to demonstrate the efficiency of their servants, the Beauforts always hold their annual ball on the night after the opera. They leave the opera only thirty minutes before the ball is to begin, in confidence that everything will be ready. Everyone knows they have a well-managed and very reliable staff.

There is speculation, however, as to the source of the Beauforts’s money. Mrs. Beaufort had been penniless when she...

(The entire section is 616 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 4 Summary

On the day after the ball, Archer, May, and May’s mother go to visit Mrs. Mingott. Archer always enjoys Mrs. Mingott’s company. She is a large woman in her old age, so big in size that she finds it difficult to move. She is stationed in the living room of her home on a wide sofa, as if she were sitting on a throne. Because she is unable to climb the stairs, her bedroom is set up in a downstairs room, which is visible to her guests. The arrangement is unusual and so is the topic of much gossip.

In her younger days, Mrs. Mingott had been a plump but active woman. However, the immense amount of flesh she carries now has turned her into something people refer to as a “natural phenomenon.” The positive result of all...

(The entire section is 569 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 5 Summary

Newland's mother invites Sillerton Jackson to dinner. Jackson is an expert on the histories of New York's societal families. Through the efforts of his sister who lives with him, Jackson also collects the most gossip and because of this, Newland's mother asks him to dinner. She is curious about what is happening in society and especially in reference to Countess Olenska. Jackson does not appreciate Mrs. Archer's food, but he accepts the invitation any way. He is always anxious to spread the stories he gathers.

Newland's family consists of his mother, who is a widow, and his sister, Janey, who is considered past the marrying age. Both his mother and his sister adore Newland, and in return he appreciates the adoration. It...

(The entire section is 611 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 6 Summary

After Mr. Jackson leaves the Archer home, Newland retires to his study to think. On the hearth is a picture of May, which causes Archer to reflect on the young girl's merit. He ponders about how little she knows of him. The code of ethics demands that May be kept in the dark about many matters, such as his background and his affairs with other women.

Next Archer thinks about the prospects of marrying May. He wonders about the married couples he knows: would his and May's marriage be similar to theirs? None of his friends, even the happily wedded ones, have relationships that show any resemblance to what he wants to have with May. He wonders what would happen if, after he marries May, he should ever grow tired of her or...

(The entire section is 493 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 7 Summary

Newland and his mother pay a visit to Mr. and Mrs. van der Luyden, the latter of whom greets them. Newland compares Mrs. van der Luyden to some of his aunts: whenever his aunts were approached with requests, they often refused before they even considered the consequences. Mrs. van der Luyden, on the other hand, typically replies that she will consult with her husband before any decision could be made. This was what he expected to hear after his mother makes her plea. However, Mrs. van der Luyden's reply is unexpected; she asks Newland and his mother to wait as she feels her husband would be very interested in what they have to say. She then asks their butler to summon her husband as soon as her husband is finished reading the...

(The entire section is 565 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 8 Summary

Now, a brief history of Ellen Olenska's life is offered. Olenska had been considered a pretty child, born to parents who had been dubbed "continental wanderers." They had died while Ellen was still a baby. Afterward, Ellen was taken in by her aunt, Medora Manson, who was also a wanderer.

Medora was a woman cursed in marriage. She was widowed at least three times and after each, became poorer. Most people felt sorry for little Ellen when they learned that Medora was her sponsor. Medora was very eccentric and disliked to participate in any of the acceptable social practices. For instance, she wore the wrong clothes while in mourning and dressed Ellen in bright colors. Ellen was thus considered a peculiar child, but people...

(The entire section is 550 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 9 Summary

Newland Asher arrives at Madame Olenska’s house after five as she had suggested, but she is not there. Her maid, who does not speak English, greets him. He decides to wait, though he would have been mortified if May had happened to stop by. His being there in Ellen Olenska’s parlor, waiting for her, suggests a certain degree of familiarity that might be embarrassing. He had not told May that he was going to visit Madame Olenska. He does not know why he had not mentioned it. The countess is May’s cousin, and May had suggested that he look in on her, which lessens his guilt about not explaining their meeting.

Newland had spent most of the day with May, visiting her relatives, as is the custom after an engagement is...

(The entire section is 654 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 10 Summary

The next day, Newland Archer takes May for a walk so they can talk. It is a Sunday, and the Episcopalian tradition in New York would have usually dictated that May attend church all day with her parents. However, earlier, May had agreed with her mother to maintain the extended date of the wedding so as to might finish all the work that was necessary for her trousseau. For her agreement with her mother, May is excused from church and is allowed to be with Newland.

The first thing May says to Newland is to thank him for the flowers he sent her. Newland apologizes that the flowers came later than usual, but May says the irregularity of their arrival made them all the more special. Newland then confesses that he also sent...

(The entire section is 601 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 11 Summary

Newland Archer is feeling more himself. He has pushed his thoughts of Madame Olenska into the distance, where they belong, and has reestablished May Welland at the center of his world, a position she well deserves as his betrothed. However, as he sits at his desk at work, he is called into Mr. Letterblair’s office. The senior partner has a request to ask of Archer. Mrs. Mingott has asked that the law office take on the case of Madame Ellen Olenska, who is seeking to file a suit for divorce against her husband. After considering a suitable lawyer to handle this affair, the family members all decided on Newland Archer.

Archer balks at this. He feels reluctant to get involved with Madame Olenska again. He has not seen...

(The entire section is 615 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 12 Summary

Newland Archer enters Madame Olenska’s house and notices the hat and coat hanging in the hallway; they could belong to no one but Julius Beaufort. This annoys him so much that he almost writes a note on his card and leaves without seeing anyone other than the maid. Then he remembers that when he made the appointment with Madame Olenska the previous day, he had not mentioned that he wanted to see her in private, so he cannot insist that she refuse other guests. He decides to make his presence known and outstay Beaufort, no matter how long it takes.

When Archer walks into the room, Beaufort is standing next to the fireplace. Madame Olenska is seated on the couch, dressed in an outfit that Archer finds somewhat...

(The entire section is 702 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 13 Summary

Although it has been more than a week since his last encounter with her, Newland Archer thinks about Madame Olenska during the last scene of the play he is watching. The drama is The Shaughraun, in which, at the end, a romantic couple bids a silent good-bye. The actress has turned her back to the audience. Her lover almost leaves the stage but then returns to silently kiss a ribbon trailing from behind her neck. He departs without either of them saying a word. The subtlety of this gesture impresses Archer such that it brings a tear.

Archer does not understand the connection of this play to himself and Ellen Olenska. There is no physical resemblance in the actors to either him or Ellen. Yet the scene makes him...

(The entire section is 553 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 14 Summary

Archer looks all over town the next day for a bunch of yellow roses. The search makes him late for work, but no one will notice. He wonders why he even bothers to go to work. He should have gone to Florida. He really is not needed on his job. In those times, at old-fashioned legal firms like the one for which he works, young professional men from wealthy families are not expected to make money. That is a disdainful act. They only have to show up for a few hours each day and look as if they are busy. The real work of the firm is to manage large estates and investments for their conservative clients, which evidently either does not take much work or it is left to the senior partners to supervise of these matters. The younger men,...

(The entire section is 457 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 15 Summary

Archer spends Friday and Saturday at the home of the Chiverses, having fun on an ice boat and on a long tour of Reggie’s farm. On Sunday he goes to Skuytercliff, only to find that Ellen is not there. He discovers that she went to church with Mrs. van der Luyden, and he goes out looking for them. He is walking down the lane when he sees a woman in a red coat and eventually identifies her as Ellen.

Upon greeting her, he tells her that he came to see what made her run away. Ellen shrugs off his question, telling him that she was cold and wanted to run to warm up. Confused, Archer follows her to a small guesthouse on the van der Luyden estate. The door is unlocked; a small fire has been built inside. Mr. van der...

(The entire section is 596 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 16 Summary

When May first sees Archer, she worries that something bad has happened. He is not supposed to be in Florida. He quickly assures her that everything is all right. Then he kisses her. It is such an intense gesture that May pulls back as if his kiss embarrassed her. It was the only time he had kissed her on the lips, and it has shaken her. To ease the tension, Archer asks her to tell him what she does all day in Florida. May rattles off all her daily activities, such as tennis, swimming, and sailing. The discussion of these chatty subjects calms her nerves.

Later in the day, when May’s mother has Archer to herself, she profusely thanks him for convincing Ellen not to go through with a divorce. Mrs. Welland feels...

(The entire section is 684 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 17 Summary

The day after Newland Archer returns from Florida, his sister, Janey, and his mother tell him that Madame Olenska came to visit them while he was gone. Archer asks if his mother liked her. Mrs. Archer replies that Madame Olenska was pleasant enough but her personal model of a young woman favors someone more like May. Archer responds by stating the obvious: Madame Olenska and May are two very different types of woman.

Later that day, Archer goes to see May’s grandmother, Mrs. Mingott. He tells her of his visit to Florida. Mrs. Mingott teases Archer about his “French” vacation, an allusion to his having snuck away from work in the middle of winter, but Archer defends his break by telling her that he went to Florida...

(The entire section is 610 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 18 Summary

When Ellen appears in her parlor, dressed to go out, her aunt Medora points out the bouquet of flowers that had been sent to Ellen from her estranged husband. Immediately, Ellen gives the flowers to her maid, telling her to take them next door to a friend who is ill. Ellen does not want the bouquet to remain in her house. Then she questions her aunt, asking if she and Archer had time to become acquainted with one another. Without giving her aunt time to reply, Ellen tells her aunt that if she does not leave right then, she will be late for her engagement. So Archer assists the woman to a carriage waiting outside and returns to Ellen, who is now alone.

Archer asks Ellen if it is true that her husband wants to reconcile...

(The entire section is 720 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 19 Summary

The story jumps forward to Archer and May’s wedding. It is a lively spring day, and much of New York’s high society is in attendance. Newland is standing in front of the altar, as nervous as many of the other grooms he has seen on previous occasions. Several times, just as he had seen other grooms do, he checks his pocket to make sure he has the wedding ring. As he stands there, he mentally checks to make sure he has fulfilled all his duties. The bridesmaids’ bouquets of lilacs and lilies are ready. The gifts for the ushers and the best man have been bought. The night before, he wrote notes of thanks for all the presents he received. His luggage is packed and waiting for him at Mrs. Mingott’s house, where the wedding...

(The entire section is 588 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 20 Summary

Archer and May are in London on the last leg of their European honeymoon. May bought a completely new wardrobe in Paris but is having trouble deciding what to wear to a dinner party. She and Archer have been asked to dine with Mrs. Carfry, a British acquaintance of Janey’s and Mrs. Asher’s. May feels reluctant to go. She claimed she is shy around strangers.

The newlyweds have been in Europe for three months, and May is anxious to go home. She does not like traveling—even less than Archer had expected. May enjoys the shopping and the new places to walk and swim, but that is the extent of her interest in Europe.

In the three months they have been married, Newman Archer has relinquished all his former...

(The entire section is 652 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 21 Summary

Newland and May have now been back in the States for over a year. Although Newland had attempted to persuade May to spend their summer vacation on an island off the coast of Maine, she had refused. Her family has always spent their summers in Rhode Island. So they are staying with May’s parents at their summer retreat in Newport. Newland gave in because May seems at her most comfortable in familiar settings. Currently, May is involved in an archery competition, a sport in which she often succeeds.

Upon reflecting on his choice of a bride, Newland cannot say he is disappointed. He had thought she would bring peace, stability, and friendship into his life, and she has. May is one of the prettiest and most popular young...

(The entire section is 603 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 22 Summary

Mr. and Mrs. Welland receive an invitation from Mrs. Emerson Sillerton to a party for the Blenkers. Both of May’s parents are astonished that the Sillertons would throw a party for a family that was not considered part of their inner circle. Mr. Blenker is an archaeologist, a lowly working man. Although Mrs. Blenker came from a monied family, she has been known to travel with her husband to very strange places to assist him in his research rather than spend her summers in Europe or Rhode Island, as the Wellands and other respectable people do. However, etiquette demands that one or two members of the Welland family attend the party. No one asks Archer to do the honors.

On the day of the party, assuming that the...

(The entire section is 413 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 23 Summary

The next morning, Archer takes a train to Boston. As luck would have it, a letter from his office had arrived for him in Newport, providing a cover for his sudden need to travel. He does not tell his family that he is going to Boston, only that he needs to be in New York. Although he does not convey all the details of his travel, he will make a point to stop in New York on his way back to the summer home.

When he reaches Boston, Archer takes breakfast before sending a note to the Parker House. When the messenger returns, telling Archer that Madame Olenska was out, Newland feels angry at himself for not having written to her as soon as he arrived. After he finishes his meal, he decides to walk over to the hotel to...

(The entire section is 505 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 24 Summary

Archer and Ellen find a small inn and ask for a private room and order lunch. During their conversation, Ellen tells Archer that though the people of New York had been kind to her, she tired of society. She discovered that she was too different from the people who surrounded her and moved to Washington to get away. Part of her reason for moving was also to remove her aunt from the influences of Dr. Carver, who was prone to converting people to his strange ideas. Then Ellen admits that some of Dr. Carver’s concepts were a lot more interesting than the “blind conformity to tradition” to which most of New York’s society members cling.

Archer asks her, if she were so tired of New York, why did she not return to...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 25 Summary

As Archer ponders on his morning with Ellen, he thinks of it as a failure. He did not touch her, even to kiss her hand. He does not know when or if they will ever see one another again. He feels ill from unsatisfied love. In spite of this, he is bewildered by the calmness that surges about him. He conjectures that this is perhaps caused by Ellen’s perfectly balanced insistence that they be loyal to May and yet remain honest with one another. He is in awe of Ellen, so much so that he is not tempted to lure her into an affair. As he reflects on their relationship further, he realizes that even though their situations dictate that they give up so much, they still have so much more than most other couples he knows. He also feels...

(The entire section is 554 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 26 Summary

Mrs. Archer gives her annual Thanksgiving dinner. As her guests sit around the table, they discuss the disintegration of New York society. Miss Sophy Jackson notes the trend toward extravagance in dress. Women are wearing dresses from Paris in the same season they buy them. This is against the accustomed practice of storing new dresses for at least one year before putting them on and exposing them in society. When Miss Jackson went to the opening of the opera that season, she recognized only one dress that had been worn the previous season. Every other woman had on an outfit that was completely new.

The conversation quickly turned from quips about fashion to Ellen Olenska. Newland’s mother comments on Mrs....

(The entire section is 500 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 27 Summary

The next day, everyone is talking about Mr. Beaufort. His banking practices have been found to be fraudulent. Everyone who entrusted him with their accounts will be financially damaged, some more than others, and Beaufort stands to lose a large portion of his estate.

Despite the calamity, Newland Archer does not want to alter his plans to go to Washington. There is a legal case in which Mr. Letterblair is involved that is scheduled for a Supreme Court ruling. Archer will use this as his excuse to travel. As he is making his plans, however, Archer receives a message from his wife. Mrs. Mingott, May’s grandmother, has suffered a stroke. Archer is needed in the family. He is to go immediately to Mrs. Mingott’s home....

(The entire section is 502 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 28 Summary

After receiving a telegram from Ellen Olenska stating the date and time of her arrival, May’s mother takes it upon herself to arrange the transportation necessary to get Ellen from the station to Mrs. Mingott’s home. Mr. and Mrs. Welland are too busy to meet her, and it would not be proper for May to go by herself. Mrs. Welland takes the opportunity to criticize Ellen for always seeming to cause trouble. Next Mrs. Welland finds it strange that of all the grandchildren in the family her mother would insist on seeing Ellen. After all, Ellen had refused to honor her grandmother’s wishes that she go back to her husband. There is a chance, though, that her mother’s thinking was not very clear. Her mother is getting very old and...

(The entire section is 480 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 29 Summary

Archer meets Ellen at the train station and assures her that Mrs. Mingott is not in serious danger. The stroke was mild, and Mrs. Mingott is already recovering. Then Archer tells her that when he first saw her there at the station, he hardly recognized her. This is not because he did not remember what she looked like but rather that it was not until he saw her that all his feelings for her rushed back in, making him realize how much he had missed her.

Through the beginning of their journey back to the city, Ellen remains somewhat removed, as if she does not want her emotions to be roused. She asked if they are riding in May’s carriage; they are. Then she comments on how nice it was of May to send Archer to get her....

(The entire section is 523 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 30 Summary

That evening, Archer is home alone with May. She looks pale and tired to him. May asks him what became of him. She had waited at Mrs. Mingott’s for him and felt surprised when Ellen arrived by herself. May wants to know if there was something wrong. Archer makes up an excuse and says he had some letters to attend to at the office.

Through the rest of the evening, Archer feels annoyed. He chooses to read a history book because if he had picked up a book of poems, May would have wanted him to read aloud. He knows that May has no interest in history. Then he paces the room, claiming the air is stuffy. When he opens a window to the winter cold, May warns him that he might catch his “death.” Archer thinks to himself...

(The entire section is 569 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 31 Summary

The more Archer attempts to figure out why Ellen has decided to stay at Mrs. Mingott’s home, the less he understands. He cannot fix on a reason that makes sense to him. He feels sure that Ellen did not agree to the arrangement out of financial necessity. Although her allowance had been diminished, Archer knows that Ellen can live on a smaller budget. He has seen all her financial records and knows she has enough money to keep both herself and her aunt housed and fed. Ellen does not need the extravagances that the other women in the family deem necessities.

Archer can only conclude that Ellen’s reason for returning to New York must have something to do with him. She had told them that they must remain apart, but he...

(The entire section is 554 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 32 Summary

At dinner at the van der Luydens, the invited guests discuss the Beauforts. The van der Luydens returned to the city because of the scandal caused by Mr. Beaufort’s fraud. The presence of the van der Luydens at dinner in their home and later an appearance at the opera will show everyone that despite the visible cracks caused by the Beaufort scandal, New York’s most elite families are still united.

It takes only a small conversational step to move from the topic of the Beauforts to Ellen Olenska. Everyone heard that she drove Mrs. Mingott’s carriage to the Beaufort home and parked it out front for everyone to see. This is an unforgivable offence. Although Ellen had been raised with a different set of principles and...

(The entire section is 461 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 33 Summary

May decides to give a dinner party for her cousin Ellen. It will be a send-off from members of the family to demonstrate their unity in wishing Ellen well in her new life in Europe. For May, it will be the first large party she has ever arranged. As May’s mother declared on the morning before the dinner party, no one would be able to say that May and Newland had not given Ellen a proper farewell celebration. The event will also leave a pleasant impression on Ellen, Mrs. Welland adds.

Archer tries his best to stay out of the way as preparations continue throughout the day. When he has a chance to escape to his library, he comforts himself by silently saying that it will not be long, which suggests that he, too, will...

(The entire section is 735 words.)

The Age of Innocence Chapter 34 Summary

Twenty-six years have gone by. May is dead. Her and Archer’s three children are grown. Their oldest boy, Dallas, is now an architect and calls his father long-distance to invite him to go to Europe for a short trip.

The invitation to travel stirs memories. Archer thinks back over the past decades. He had gone into politics for a short while. The governor of New York had convinced him that the political system needed men such as he. Archer had taken the man’s advice and served in the state assembly but was not re-elected. This convinced him that maybe the governor had been wrong. Archer then returned to writing articles for magazines in attempts to affect politics. Otherwise he had continued his contemplative life....

(The entire section is 681 words.)