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BOOK SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS
Newland Archer arrives at half fast five and Madame Olenska isn't at home. He waits in her drawing room, fascinated by the furnishings. He's been feeling upset lately by all the social calls he's had to make with the Wellands. He tried to get May alone that afternoon, but wasn't able to. When he left her, her mother told him the next day they would see the Chiverses and the Dallases. He neglected to tell May he was going to visit her cousin Ellen and wonders at the propriety of his actions.
After waiting what he thinks as a ridiculous time, he hears a carriage and looks out to see Ellen Olenska getting down from Julius Beaufort's carriage. She comes in and greets him casually as if she hasn't kept him waiting. She says she's been looking for houses with Beaufort since her family doesn't want her to continue living in the house she's renting from her aunt Medora. She can't understand the New York horror of a neighborhood that isn't fashionable. She tells him she's loved the house because it's home and she can be alone in it.
Newland is confused by her lack of interest in the social code. He tries to tell her that she has been the center of a great deal of activity and that the importance of a family like the van der Luydens giving a dinner party and inviting her is unmistakable. Ellen comments that the importance of the van der Luydens is probably a direct result of the fact that they so seldom interact with the rest of New York. Newland blushes at how easily she can sum up the entire social order of his life. He tries to tell her that New York is not as simple as she seems to think it, but he knows deep inside she is probably right.
The Duke and Mrs. Struthers arrive. Newland Archer is surprised at the Duke's liberties in bringing Mrs. Struthers to Ellen Olenska's, but Ellen greets her warmly and agrees to go to her party the next evening. Mrs. Struthers doesn't recognize Newland and thinks he must be a diplomat. He is glad to leave and rushes off to a florist's shop to order lilies-of-the-valley for May. It is a practice he does every day, but somehow he has forgotten. As he is waiting, he sees some yellow roses and thinks he should send them instead. However, they don't look like they would suit May. They look "too rich, too strong, in their fiery beauty." Instead he sends them to the Countess Olenska and places an empty envelope inside the box. Then he sends lilies-of-the-valley to May.
In this chapter Newland Archer is further entranced by Ellen Olenska, whose friendliness seems explained best here by her loneliness. While Newland Archer is entirely in tune with old New York conservatism, he is also an accessible companion, someone with whom Ellen seems to feel she can openly share her feelings of dislocation. She tells him she is most at home with him and Julius Beaufort. He dislikes the connection, but likes the fact that she is comfortable with him. He is so taken with her that he sends her yellow roses and takes back the card, making it a romantic but anonymous gesture. The entanglement deepens.
It is the next day. Newland Archer and May Welland go for a walk together instead of going to church. Newland tries to convince her to forgo the long engagement and realizes that he and she are doing nothing more than what is expected of them. He is supposed to push for an earlier date and she is supposed to hold the line.
The next afternoon, Newland goes home before dinner instead of going to his club. His sister, Janey, comes into the room with some disturbing news. It seems the Countess Olenska had gone to Mrs. Struthers' party the evening before accompanied only by the Duke and Mr. Beaufort. Newland acts as if this is not important news and says he already knew she would be going. Janey convinces him to go down to see their mother who is distraught. He tells his mother that there should be nothing important about the visit. They are interrupted by Mr. van der Luyden, who comes in to say that he has just been to the Countess's house. He is impressed with her interior decorating, especially how she has arranged the flowers he sent her as a kind gesture. He tells them of her activities the evening before and they act as if they didn't know it. He says he went to give the countess some social advice and that she took it well. After he leaves, Mrs. Archer insists that Newland stay for dinner because she won't know what to say to Mr. Sillerton Jackson when he comes for dinner. Newland exclaims in exasperation that Mr. Jackson won't come.
In this chapter, the Countess Olenska continues to trip on the boundaries of New York society. She told Newland in the previous chapter that she refused to live with her grandmother because she wanted to be free. And she exercises this freedom daily. In the eyes of New York society, attending the party of Mrs. Struthers is one of the worst of social mistakes she can make. The old New Yorkers keep careful tabs on the comings and goings of the new rich, fearful that they will make it into the inner sanctum of one of their parties or win the friendship of one of their numbers. By attending Mrs. Struthers' party, Ellen Olenska has given Mrs. Struthers a great deal of social capital, breaking the barrier the old New Yorkers have been guarding so diligently.