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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 29

Summary

Newland Archer drives May's carriage to meet Ellen at the train station. He knows that a new tunnel will one day connect the station in Jersey City to the one in New York City, but he is glad it has not yet been built because he relishes the fact that he'll have two hours alone with Ellen on the way home. At the station, he greets her and takes her to the waiting carriage. He is thrilled to be near her. He tells her he has hardly remembered how amazing she is. He says, "Each time you happen to me all over again." She agrees that this is her experience of him as well. When Ellen asks if they are riding in May's carriage, Newland becomes angry and asks her if she knows he spoke to her husband's secretary four months ago after they had met in Boston. She shows no surprise or interest and he feels foolish for having tried to upset her.

He asks her the question he has longed to ask her for months- whether it was Monsieur Riviere who had helped her get away from her husband and she answers simply that it was and that she owes Monsieur Riviere a great debt for his kindness. He tells her she is the most honest woman he has ever met.

They are on the ferry now. It lurches and they are thrown into one another's arms. They kiss passionately, then she moves away from him suddenly. He tells her not to be afraid, and assures her he has no plans of carrying on a sordid affair with her. He tells her his vision of them being together. He wants to know what her plan for them is. She says there is no plan. They must remain as they are, near each other only when they are far from each other.


Newland is so overcome with grief that he stops the carriage and gets out. He tells her she was right, that he should not have come to get her at the station. As he walks off in the snow, he realizes he's crying and that his tears have frozen onto his cheeks.

Notes

Ellen Olenska's superior grasp of reality sends Newland Archer crying into the snowing streets. He has built up an illusion that there is some place where they can leave behind obligations and commitments and be together, not as illicit lovers, but just as lovers. Ellen tells him she has been to that place and has found it shabby and ugly. In this chapter, the impossibility of their ever being together seems to hit Newland Archer for the first time since he has been reunited with Ellen after his marriage. Ellen is truly resolved against impropriety, and Newland has been unable to grasp that.

CHAPTER 30

Summary

It is the same evening. Newland Archer goes down to dinner and wonders where May is. She comes in later and asks him why he didn't come with Ellen to her grandmother's. Newland makes an excuse, annoyed with her for making demands on him. After dinner, they go up to his library for coffee. He picks up a volume of history to read. He had begun to read her poetry, but her response irritated him. Her interpretations were too different from his own, so he began reading history instead. Looking at her under his lamp, he begins to feel stifled. He goes to the window and opens it. When he is breathing the cold air, he feels a little calmer and clearer, but soon May calls to him to close the window so he won't get sick.

After six or seven days, Newland hears from May that he is wanted at Mrs. Manson Mingott's. No one has mentioned the name of Ellen Olenska to him in the entire time since she arrived. He is excited that he might be able to see her. Old Mrs. Mingott is happy to see him. She tells him she's decided to reinstate Ellen's allowance and have her live with her in New York. She wants Newland to help her convince the rest of the family and Mr. Letterblair that Ellen should not go back to her husband after all. She tells Newland that Ellen has been seeing Regina Beaufort out of kindness, not wanting to be one of the many to ostracize her.

Notes

Newland hits a very low point indeed when he finds himself fantasizing about May's death. Newland's view of his wife since their marriage has deteriorated further and further. He began with the notion that May did not have an important thought in her head or a deep feeling in her heart. He has gotten to the point now where he thinks May wants nothing more than to become her mother and to make him into a younger version of her father. Newland thinks of his life with May as one long monotonous bore. The scene in the library after dinner is horribly claustrophobic. Newland has stopped reading poetry because May asks him to read it to her and he hates to hear her ideas of it when he is done. He reads history instead. May sits beside him and sews for him despite the fact that she isn't good at it, doing so only because it is thought proper for young wives to sew for their husbands. When he feels so hemmed in that he opens the window to get some air, May calls to him to shut it for fear of its harming his health. It seems there's no escape from what Newland has come to think of as the prison of his marriage.

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