The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11-15

Chapter Eleven Summary: Newland is a junior lawyer and is asked by one of the senior partners, Mr. Letterblair, to advise Ellen Olenska in her divorce. Archer reads the papers and decides that Ellen should not divorce; but when he listens to Mr. Letterblair argue that she should not divorce, he realizes how self-righteous he sounds and believes the best thing would be to talk to Ellen first before he unilaterally condemns her decision.

Analysis: Newland disregards propriety to allow for Ellen¹s freedom, or so he believes. There is a lot in this chapter that deals with facades and hidden intentions. The first question that we must ask is, why is Newland chosen to convince Ellen not to divorce? On first glance, it seems that he is chosen because family members think it is in his best interest to curtail any bad gossip in his fiance¹s family. Hence, he should want to keep her from divorcing, out of a selfish desire to make his new marriage successful. However, there is another possible answer ­ perhaps, members of May¹s family have noticed that Newland seems interested in Ellen and they want to force him to understand the mandates of propriety. So, they place him in the position where either he does the "right" thing, makes Ellen choose not to divorce or does the "wrong" thing, encourages Ellen to divorce so she can be free to remarry anyone. Perhaps society is using this predicament as a litmus test of Newland¹s character.

Chapter Twelve Summary: Unlike the members of New York Society, Ellen has no fear of literature. Archer reflects on this fact and the fact that Ellen has the mysterious ability to "reverse his values" as he walks to her home.

Newland walks through the snowy night and arrives at Ellen¹s home. Beaufort is there, trying to woo her away from her trip to Skuytercliff. Skuytercliff is the vacation home of the van der Luydens. Ellen tells Beaufort to leave because she has business with Archer. Newland is there to discuss the divorce. Newland encourages Ellen not to divorce because there is no way she can prove her innocence from a love affair after she left her husband. For this reason, she will be scandalized by the papers. Ellen agrees with Newland reluctantly.

Analysis: Ellen pleads that she wants to be the same as everyone else; that, and her freedom, are what drive her desire for a divorce. This is ironic because it is Newland¹s desire to have a life different than everyone else¹s that leaves him dissatisfied with his engagement. It is these opposing needs which draw them together. It is how they fulfill each other.

Chapter Thirteen Summary: On a crowded night at the Wallack¹s theater, Newland Archer attends a showing of Shaughraun for the love of one scene: two lovers parting in silence. It reminds him of when he left Ellen the last time they were together: when they had discussed her divorce. On seeing the scene and remembering Ellen, Newland begins to cry and gets up to leave the theater. As he is walking out, he sees Ellen; as he catches her eye, Mrs. Beaufort (sitting next to Ellen) calls Newland over. He sits behind Ellen and Ellen whispers, "Do you think he will send her yellow roses tomorrow." She was alluding to the roses that Newland had sent her. He says, "I was thinking that too." She says, "What do you do while May is away?" May is on vacation with her family in Florida. Newland is upset by the obviously suggestive question. She tells him that she has decided not to go through with the divorce because of him. Archer leaves the theater reflecting on a letter that May had sent him. In the letter, May pointed out that Newland is the only one in New York that can truly understand Ellen and that he should take care of her because she is lonely and unhappy.

Analysis: Here we see that everything that has been left unsaid by Ellen (because the narration only reflects Newland¹s thoughts) may be true. Ellen may feel the same way about Newland as he feels about her. Her understanding of the roses in the same context that Newland understands the scene of the play is eerie and points to the similarities between these characters. Their un-discussed romance becomes real in this chapter; this is a point of pivot in the novel.

There are some more interesting allusions to the mortal/immortal contrast. Mr. van der Luyden is described as a protecting diety; May has a "gift of divination."

Chapter Fourteen Summary: While leaving the theater, Newland runs into his friend Ned Winsett. Ned immediately asks the name of the "swell dark woman". Newland recognizes that his curiosity is directed at Ellen and he is annoyed. Winsett explains that Ellen had bandaged up his little boy when he had fallen. Newland tells Ned that her name is Countess Olenska. Ned asks why a countess would live in his neighborhood; Newland says it is because she doesn¹t care about social sign-posts.

The next day, Newland searches all over town for yellow roses but cannot find them. He sends her a message so they can meet later in the day, but she doesn¹t write him. On the third morning of hearing nothing from Ellen, he finally receives a letter from her. She said that she has "run away" and that she is staying with the van der Luydens in Skuytercliff. She says she feels "safe" with them. Newland immediately decides to accept an invitation and visit the Chiverses (whose invitation he had previously rejected) because they are only a few miles from Ellen.

Analysis: What is interesting in this chapter is the discussion of freedom between Ned and Newland. Ned insists that "Life isn¹t much of a fit for either of them." For Ned, life stinks because he cannot find a respectable job as a writer. Yet, for Newland, the loss of freedom is far more subtle. Ned encourages Newland to become a politician. But Newland thinks that such a life is not appropriate for a gentleman. Newland cannot even aspire to be a good lawyer because it is inappropriate to work for money. Like, Ellen desperate for freedom, Newland recognizes that there is no freedom to be had: the only approporate lifestyles include sport or culture.

Also interesting in this chapter are two motifs: translation and literature explaining life. First, Archer does not quite understand Ellen¹s letter to him; he thinks "I have run away" could mean much less than it seems to say. In English, the expression, "I have run away" usually suggests quite a dramatic situation; Newland believes it may be more correctly understood in French: the expression "Je me suis evadee" is the same as "I have run away" but has a much more casual significance. Newland also uses literature to "translate" Ellen¹s letter. At first he cannot understand why the van der Luydens would invite Ellen to their home; but then he remembers a play he had seen in Paris and understands that the van der Luydens are kind to her because they are her saviors. The play, a form of literature, provides Newland with a way of translating life into meaning.

Chapter Fifteen Summary: Newland arrives at the Chiverses on Friday and on Sunday he leaves to visit Ellen. She has gone to church so he takes a cutter (light sleigh) to find her. He sees her on the path from the church. They play in the snow and then go to the small Patroon house so they can talk privately. They had only spoken a few moments when she indicates that she is running away from Beaufort; suddenly he arrives and there can be no more discussion of the topic. Newland returns to New York, curious about just why she was running away. He drowns himself in great novels for a few days and then Ellen sends him a message asking him to visit her late and at night. Newland is not sure how to reply; so he leaves for St. Augustine Florida to visit May.

Analysis: It seems that Ellen and Newland are playing a little bit of cat and mouse; running away from each other and then meeting again. First Ellen runs off to the mountains, then Newland runs off to St. Augustine. Ellen is seen throughout the scene in a red cloak; a sign of revitalization and passion.