Chapter 23 Summary
Ralph spends the summer in the Adirondacks with his sister, Laura. She tells him he is looking better than he has in years. No matter how much he heals, no one wants to talk about Undine. Ralph feels as if his family has thrown a veil of silence over the whole affair. He believes his mother is actually afraid of talking about Undine and the divorce. There is no language in her customary Washington Square society with which to describe the scandal or to comment on it. It is bad enough that it has been classified as a scandal; this word has never been connected to his family before.
In part, the lack of discussion is because Ralph’s mother and sister cannot comprehend how the marriage fell apart; there was no mention of Undine’s flirtations, her need for constant attention and approval, and her inability to love. All they know is what they have heard through gossip. There is a rumor that the reason for the divorce is Ralph’s having ignored his wife, abandoning her in favor of his business. This is far from the truth, but Ralph does not clarify the situation. He finds no one in his family wants to hear any more about it than they have been forced to hear through the not-so-quiet murmurings. For his mother and his sister, anything having to do with divorce is considered an indelicate topic, one that needs to be avoided at all costs.
By winter, Ralph is back in New York, once again living in his grandfather’s house. The walls and tabletops of Ralph’s rooms are still covered in pictures of Undine. When he can no longer stand looking at them, he attempts to take them down and put them away. However, their frames are bulky and he has trouble finding places to store them out of sight. One day when he comes home from work, he notices a change in his rooms. It takes him a while to realize that all the pictures of Undine are gone. He suspects that his sister has caused this transformation. First he feels angry with her for being so aggressive in wanting to be rid of Undine's memory. However, soon Ralph concludes that it is a relief to be able to look around his private rooms and not see his wife’s face.
In January, Ralph receives the official papers of his divorce. He quickly throws them into a desk drawer, hoping to forget about everything. Then on his way home from work one day, he sees someone sitting across from him reading a newspaper. He reads the headlines of the story: “Society Leader Gets Decree.” He does not know how the press got the story, but before long it seems that everywhere he looks there is another story with him and his failed marriage as the topic. In all of the stories, he is named as the culprit.