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 she of him. Then he questions whether May could ever be the type of woman he envisions, one who is experienced, versatile, and has the freedom to make judgments on her own. With a shudder, Archer sees the strong possibilities that his marriage is doomed to become exactly like his friends', which is nothing like what he desired. The more he ponders his friends' marriages, the more he uncovers an overall dullness. Most relationships between men and women in his society are thwarted by ignorance on the woman's side and hypocrisy on the man's.
The one friend who stands out, as Archer continues his evaluation, was Lawrence Lefferts. He is considered the ideal that all marriages should emulate. Lefferts has a wife that he had molded to his own convenience. While he enjoyed numerous affairs with other married women, his wife pretends not to see what her husband is doing. Though Archer concludes that he would never stoop as low as Lefferts, and May would never be such a "simpleton" as Lefferts' wife, he finds that most married couples play the same game. They live their lives in a world in which the truth was never touched and rarely considered. Archer could see how May would fit into this scheme. Though she appears to be extremely frank, she could do so in all sincerity because she has nothing to conceal. She is a blank. She has no imagination. Archer loves May earnestly, but his love is mostly for her looks, her health, her horsemanship, and her grace: that which exists on the surface.
A few days later, another scandal erupts. The Mingotts had planned a dinner party to introduce Ellen Olenska to their friends; the invitations went out and the responses returned. Only two of their friends accepted the offer and the intended offense to the countess was well delivered. Upon hearing of this, Archer's mother decides that her friends have gone too far. She makes an appointment with the most influential couple in town, Mr. and Mrs. van der Luyden. She plans to appeal to them, for May's sake, to invite May's cousin, Ellen Olenska, to a dinner party.