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. Struthers’ Sunday night entertainments, of which she highly disapproves though even May is now in the habit of attending the parties of music, dancing, and smoking. Mrs. Archer condemns Ellen for making these events so popular. People of her ranking, Mrs. Archer contends, should lead the way in exposing proper behavior—that is, doing what has always been done rather than breaking down old standards.

Archer notes that no one seems to be in favor of Ellen Olenska any more. Even her grandmother has been promoting the idea that Ellen should return to her husband. After Ellen spent the summer with the Blenkers, most people in society deemed her as having become Bohemian. Archer has not seen Ellen for months, not since their last encounter in Boston. He had sent a note to her in Washington, asking to see her, but she refused him.

When the men retire from the dinner table, Archer learns from Mr. Jackson that the Mingott family has considerably reduced Ellen’s allowance in an attempt to force her return to her husband. Mr. Jackson agrees that this would be the best thing for Ellen to do. Stirred by these comments, Newland cannot control his emotions any longer and blurts out that it is the last thing Ellen would do. Newland is aware that old Mr. Jackson is analyzing everything he is saying as well as how he is reacting. The fact that the other members of the Mingott family apparently knew about the reduction in Ellen’s stipend and Archer did not tells a story that Archer would rather not have exposed. These actions make it apparent to everyone that the family now considers Archer to be too close to Ellen to objectively counsel her, so they have cut him out of their communications. Upon reflection of the night’s conversations, Archer even suspects May of encouraging Ellen to return to Europe and to her husband.

Later when Archer and May are at home, Archer tells his wife that he may have to go to Washington on business. His real purpose, of course, is to see Ellen. With her usual acceptance of her husband’s wishes, May nods and then suggests that Archer should take the opportunity to visit Ellen while he is there.