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MonkeyNotes Free Study Guide-The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

BOOK II

CHAPTER 19

Summary

It is the wedding day. Newland Archer stands on the chancel step of Grace Church waiting for May. He is thinking how in the past, he would have actively participated in all the questions of form and propriety that have led to this moment. Now, however, he can only think that elsewhere in the world people are living real lives. When May comes down the aisle, Newland realizes he has been so numb that he hasn't realized what has been going on. When the wedding is over, his best man has to remind him it's time to give May his arm and escort her back down the aisle.

They get into the carriage and he exclaims "Darling!" and tells her all the worries he has had about losing the ring. She says that now that they're together, nothing can go wrong ever again. As they ride the train out to the country, he thinks of May's innocence. He thinks she lacks imagination, that she can have moments of clarity when she looks at things directly, but then she will probably always lapse back into unimaginative joy at the proprieties of life. When they reach the station, a servant greets them telling them there has been a problem with the plumbing of the house that was to be theirs for their honeymoon but that Mr. van der Luyden has volunteered his Patroon's house for them. Newland is so shocked at this unexpected news that he doesn't respond. The man repeats the message and May exclaims that it will be a hundred thousand times better. She tells Newland that Ellen Olenska stayed there once and told her afterward that it was the only house she'd seen in America where she could imagine being happy. Newland rouses himself from his stupor to exclaim gaily, "Well--that's what we're going to be, isn't it?"


Notes

After the high romance of the last chapter, the wedding chapter is written with painful irony. It begins and ends with supreme dramatic irony. Newland's numbness over lost love on his wedding day is completely undercut by the realization that he will spend his honeymoon in the house where he first discovered and professed his love of the other woman. The exchange between the apparently oblivious May and the tortured Newland is painful. She remembers Ellen saying it was the one house in the world where she could imagine being happy. This calls to mind for Newland the fact that even on that day, Ellen knew she loved him. He replies with the same exclamatory joy, "Well--that's what we're going to be, isn't it?"

CHAPTER 20

Summary

It is six months later and Newland Archer is assuring May that they must dine with Mrs. Carfry, an Englishwoman whom his mother and sister met years earlier and befriended. Newland and May are on their way home. Newland has been surprised to find that May doesn't much like traveling. She thinks it consists only of buying new clothes and enjoying new sports. He has "reverted to all his old ideas about marriage," abandoning his earlier hopes that he would emancipate his wife. He knows now that even if he does, May would give up her emancipation as her wifely duty. In the six months of their travel, they haven't seen many people at all. It is the belief of the old New York families that it is indecorous to push oneself on foreign relations or friends. So they tend to hold to themselves when they travel.

They arrive at Mrs. Carfry's house and are met by Mrs. Carfry's sister, Miss Harle, another woman and her husband, a Vicar, an invalid nephew and his French tutor, Monsieur Riviere.

Notes

This chapter accomplishes at least two functions in the novel as a whole. First, it introduces the character of Monsieur Riviere. Riviere is now a private tutor, but was once a private secretary. Only later will it be revealed that he is the secretary about whom Newland Archer has spent so much time in agonized speculation, the secretary with whom the Countess supposedly had an affair.

The second function of the chapter is to show Newland Archer six months after his marriage. His ideas have settled back into the conservatism with which he was comfortable before he met the countess. He has recognized May's limitations and accepted them. He is ready to spend a life with her, however unsatisfying in ways.

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