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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
This chapter begins with a narrative on the social rituals of the Julius Beaufort family. Every year Mrs. Julius Beaufort holds her annual ball on the same night as the opera opening. The Beauforts are so rich that they have a ballroom that is closed all year except for the one day of their annual ball. As Mrs. Archer likes to say, the Beauforts are everyone's "pet common people." Mrs. Beaufort comes from a very good family, but married a man of questionable background. Her husband came from England and quickly established himself on the New York financial scene. Mrs. Beaufort had been the center of social life since, carrying off this role as if it is her own.
Newland Archer arrives at the ball late, according to custom. He is quite nervous, hoping the Mingotts haven't brought Countess Olenska with them. He sees May Welland surrounded by a group of young people and realizes she's announcing their engagement. He's sorry it has to be in such a public place, but knows they're doing the right thing by covering over the serious social disadvantage of Countess Olenska's disgrace with their own exciting news. He and May dance then they go to the conservatory, exactly as they are expected to do as a young engaged couple, and Newland Archer kisses May. May asks Newland if he has told Ellen Olenska of their engagement. He says he hasn't been able to, but actually, he's been reticent to deal with the countess since their last exchange. May then tells him the Countess has not come to the ball because she has no suitable dress.
In this chapter, the author highlights the special relationship shared by Newland Archer and May Welland. They are two young people who are totally in tune with one another; they have had a very similar upbringing in a very small and exclusive social group and they are in total accord with everything that is expected of them by their social group. They are characterized as understanding each other without the need for direct communication. This mutual understanding will be of great significance later in the novel.
This third chapter provides them with a difficult social situation as a sort of demonstration of their complete solidarity. The occasion is Madame Olenska's social disgrace and the decision on the Mingotts' part to ignore the disgrace and introduce her to New York society as if nothing were wrong. For her part, May Welland carries out this plan with the innocence of noble intentions. Newland Archer professes to admire this noble generosity in his fiancée; however, since the narrative is closer to his consciousness, it is clear to the reader that he really wishes the Mingotts would follow social code and keep their disgraced cousin at home in seclusion. The discrepancy between what he reveals to his fiancée and what he thinks to himself indicates that perhaps he and May are not as in tune as they would like to think. On the other hand it may simply reveal, as earlier narrative has, that Archer is not in tune with himself; there is a gap between what he thinks he is and what he is.
It is the next day after the ball and Newland Archer accompanies his fiancée and her mother, Mrs. Welland to visit Mrs. Manson Mingott. This visit is the first of several expected betrothal visits to family members. Newland Archer always likes to visit Mrs. Mingott because she is so interesting and unconventional in her living space. For instance, since she has become so obese, she has her bedroom downstairs. Old New Yorkers find this arrangement unsettling, since their only knowledge of such accommodations comes from old romance novels.
Archer, May, and her mother, Mrs. Welland, are relieved to hear that Ellen Olenska has gone out shopping, although such public displays of idleness by a woman in scandal are not exactly welcome. Their relief is more at the thought that their conversation will be spared the awkwardness of overlooking her scandal in favor of courtesy. Just as their visit is about to come to a close, Ellen Olenska shows up accompanied by Julius Beaufort. Mrs. Mingott is happy to see Julius Beaufort, since his unconventionality is refreshing to her. She invites him in for a chat. The rest of the party make their way into the hall. The Countess Olenska is surprised to hear that May and Archer are engaged, but that no one has told her. Archer explains that he couldn't bring himself to do so in such a public place as the ball. She smiles and says he was right to be reticent. Then when she tells him good-bye, she asks him to visit her sometime.
As Mrs. Welland, Archer, and May depart, Archer is aware that May's mother is ruminating on Ellen's poor choice to show herself in public with a married man (Julius Beaufort); he is thinking that Ellen should know better than to invite a newly engaged man to visit her. He reminds himself how grateful he should be for marrying a woman brought up in the same society as he-one with whom he shares customs and values.
The newly betrothed couple continues to observe and perform all the appropriate social rituals of New York society, while at the same time the Countess Olenska violates them. In this chapter, Ellen has first of all gone out in public alone so soon after her disgrace. Further, she has returned home with a married man of questionable reputation. May and Archer are inwardly shocked. Mrs. Mingott, on the other hand, seems as unperturbed as ever. The final "offense" happens privately between Archer and Ellen. She warmly invites him to come see her sometime. He realizes the inappropriateness of this act; still, he does nothing to deter her.