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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
More than a week later Newland Archer is at Wallack's Theater watching a play. In one particularly moving scene, two lovers part. The woman turns her back in sorrow and before leaving, the man lifts her ribbon and kisses it. She doesn't feel his action and he leaves without a word. Newland thinks of Countess Olenska, though he is not sure why.
When he left her house that day, he felt sure that she had in fact had the affair with the secretary. He cannot bring himself to condemn her for it, realizing she was a young woman who had been treated terribly by her husband, and feeling that it was somewhat natural for her to have turned to her rescuer for affection. After that day, the Mingotts seemed grateful to him, as if he was responsible for the Countess' decision not to divorce.
He looks up from his thoughts and sees the Countess seated in the Beauforts' box along with Lawrence Lefferts and some other men. He tries to avoid meeting her eyes, but fails. He is then signaled to come over by Beaufort. He goes over and sits beside the Countess, who asks him if he thinks the stage lover will send his mistress a dozen yellow roses the next morning. Newland blushes. He tells her he was also thinking of that and that he had planned to leave the theater so he could take this picture away with him. At these words, she blushes. Then she asks him what he does when May is away. He is displeased by the question. May is always away in the winter because her father has been advised to leave the city for health reasons.
Madame Olenska tells him she has done as he wished in relation to the divorce suit. She tells him she understands that he was right and that she is grateful to him for his advice. Then Beaufort returns and Newland leaves. The day before, he had received a letter from May telling him to pay some attention to Ellen since she would be sad and lonely. May had written that Newland was probably the only person in town with whom Ellen could talk comfortably since they shared a love of literature. Newland had been pleased with May's wisdom, but when he had read her letter, he had no intention of spending time with the Countess. Still, he finds himself considering this "permission."
The situation is now ripe for the romance developing between Newland and Ellen. May is out of town for the winter. Newland's imagination has been fully engaged by Ellen and, in this chapter for the first time, Wharton shows that Ellen Olenska's imagination has also been engaged. The scene is the opera, the same scene of their first meeting. The moment in the opera is one that Newland Archer has always loved. Lovers are parting and the sorrow and loss of it is so powerful that it is not communicable in words, only in a gesture of regret. Such a scene, loaded with unspoken emotions, is the perfect vehicle for communicating the budding but forbidden attraction between the two characters. Wharton, in the narrative voice, orchestrates the situation stunningly. First, Newland sees the scene and feels the strength of the emotion of it sweep over him. He realizes he's thinking of Ellen Olenska in connection to it and wonders why. Then he actually sees her. He goes to her and when he speaks of it to her, she blushes and he realizes she has also thought of him in connection with the scene.
Newland Archer meets Ned Winsett in the lobby. Ned Winsett is a writer who has a job as a journalist. Ned has noticed Newland with Ellen Olenska and asks who she is. Newland, annoyed, wants to know why Ned is curious. Ned's reply is surprising. He tells Newland he lives in Ellen Olenska's neighborhood. The other day, his son fell and cut his knee. Ellen took good care of him and carried him home in her arms. She rushed out bare headed and dazzled Ned's wife so that she neglected to ask for the lovely rescuer's name. Newland Archer is warmed at the thought of Ellen Olenska's kindness to the boy.
When the two men part, Newland thinks back over the many years of his friendship with Ned. Ned has always urged him to do something with his life despite Newland's argument that gentlemen don't do much of anything. Still, he has begun to think he has not lived his life. For the first time he thinks of how empty his life might feel once he marries.
The next morning, Newland looks all over town for yellow roses. He gives up and goes to work. He's struck by the fact that no one notices or cares if he comes in late. The law is a profession that young gentlemen can properly do, but they aren't supposed to be ambitious about it. They usually go in to work and putter at their desks all day or read the paper. From his office, he sends a note to the Countess to ask if he can come see her that evening, but he never gets a reply. After three days he wonders why she hasn't replied and then he gets a note from her from Skuytercliff, the country house of the van der Luydens. She says she had to escape and she felt quite safe at Skuytercliff. He is puzzled over her choice of words; from what, for instance, does she need to "run away?" Newland remembers that he has been invited to the Reggie Chiverses, whose country estate is close to the van der Luydens'. He sends a note accepting their invitation.
In this chapter, Ellen Olenska becomes more human and, as a result, dearer to Newland. The story of how she cared for an injured child makes her seem nurturing and kind, as well as mysterious and sexy. This story comes at a time when Newland has begun to question the quality and purpose of his life; he wonders what it will be like when he is married to May. In comparison to Ellen, he thinks his life appears quite tame. He imagines it will get only tamer when he gets married.
Ellen's mysterious note about running away and seeking refuge only intrigues Newland. Without directly examining his motivations, he finds a reason to be near her.