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 despite the fact that most of the people at the dinner party considered Ellen as having a gentle heart, what she did goes against all the social customs.

Later, at the opera, Archer cannot help looking across the audience to Mrs. Mingott’s box, hoping to see Ellen, but the box is empty. When he glances back at May, he is reminded of the first time he saw Ellen, sitting next to May in the family opera box. He also remembers having gone to May in Florida before they were married. He recalls May’s telling him that she could not marry him if he loved someone else. She could not have her happiness conceived out of a harm done to someone else. Recalling May’s sentiment, Archer feels an uncontrollable urge to tell his wife the whole truth about his love for Ellen. He wants to throw himself on May’s generosity in the hope that she might set him free.

Archer is determined to go home and tell May everything. He feigns a headache so he can leave before the opera ends, and he asks May to make excuses and come with him, which she does. Once inside their house, May suggests that Archer go to bed. However, he tells her he needs to speak to her first. Although he had practiced how to begin, the first words that come out are “Madame Olenska.” Upon hearing Ellen’s name, May puts up her hand to stop him. She confesses that she has not been very nice to Ellen over the past couple of years. She judged Ellen too harshly, she says. Then she pauses to ask if this discussion about Ellen is really necessary because it is over now. Archer has no idea to what May is alluding, so he asks her to explain. May tells him that Ellen is returning to Europe. Ellen’s grandmother has conceded and agreed that Ellen should live in Paris, independent of her husband.