The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence Summary and Analysis of Chapters 26-30

Chapter Twenty-Six Summary: Over Thanksgiving dinner, the matter of changing society is thoroughly discussed. For example, now even May goes to Mrs. Struthers¹ home for Sunday night amusement. (Previously, Mrs. Struther¹s reputation was too questioned to allow for any of New York¹s uppercrust to pay her a visit). Mrs. Archer, of course, brings up the fact that it was Ellen who attended the dinners first. May blushes deeply when Ellen¹s name comes up; Newland is very concerned about what the blush means. Beaufort¹s name also comes up over the meal because he has been illegally speculating and may go to prison or go bankrupt. Meanwhile, dreams of Ellen have become Newland¹s "real" life. He reads the books she used to read. He is "absent" from his society. After dinner, Newland and Sillerton Jackson retreat to the Gothic library. Jacskson mentions that Ellen is almost financially cut off by her family for her refusal to return to the Count. He implies that now that Beaufort is bankrupt, she may be forced to return to Europe because he won¹t be able to support her. Newland is very angry and concerned for Ellen. He tells May that he will go to Washington on business; May understands that he is going to see Ellen, although she does not say anything.

Analysis: It is very ironic that "punctually at this time [every year] Mrs. Archer always said that New York was very much changed." For someone to always remark that change has occurred it means that the person really is not noticing important change but is rather making comments as a force of habit. At the same time, the contrast that is described throughout the novel by Wharton between "Old" and "New" New York indicates that change really is occuring. It is very clever of Wharton to have Archer make the right comment but for the wrong reason.

What is incredible in this chapter is the silent dialogue between May and Newland. It is incredible to think that four words could "say" so much in silent. Is all of this really being communicated or is the dialogue less complete than the narrator thinks? Also, in this chapter, for the first time, Newland has been cut out of society. This is monumental; how has this occurred?

Chapter Twenty-Seven Summary: At first Wall Street is reassured that Beaufort can pay his bills. Mrs. Beaufort is seen at the Opera in brand new emeralds, a sign that Beaufort has enough money to keep his wife well jeweled. However, it is later revealed that Beaufort, in fact, could not pay his bills. At the law firm, Newland receives a telegram saying that Mrs. Manson Mingott has had a stroke. Apparently, Mrs. J. Beaufort had approached her the night before asking if the family could stand up for her during her husband¹s financial crisis. Catherine replies, no! Mrs. Beaufort says "But my name, Auntie, is Regina Dallas, " trying to remind her that prior to her marriage she was a member of one of the most prominent New York families. And Catherine replies, "It was Beaufort when he covered you with jewels, and it¹s got to stay Beaufort now that he¹s covered you with shame." Catherine also requests that Ellen come back from Washington so that she can convince her to return to her husband. May remarks that it will be a pity that Newland will not be able to see her since he will be going to Washington while she is returning. Newland leaves to the telegrapher¹s office to send Ellen the message.

Analysis: In this chapter we catch another glimpse at the power of names. When Regina requests that she be considered a "Dallas" and not a "Beaufort", Catherine rejects her claim. It is society that determines which labels a person may take.

Chapter Twenty-Eight Summary: Newland sends off the telegram; he is confronted at the office by Lefferts who wants to of course discuss the rumors. Later, at the Wellands¹, there is a crisis over who shall pick Ellen up at the station. Newland volunteers to go. May asks Newland how he will have the time to pick up Ellen and still make it to Washington. Newland lies and says that his business trip has been postponed. May catches him in a lie but has too much propriety to confront him about it. As Newland leaves for the station, May seems to have a tear in her eye.

Analysis: Now we begin to question, how much does May know? Does she feign ignorance for the sake of propriety? Is she as miserable as Ellen and Newland, just better at pretending?

It also interesting in this chapter that Catherine suddenly cares about Ellen. One passage is particularly informative: "The growing remoteness of old age, though it had not diminished her curiosity about her neighbors, had blunted her never ver likely compassion for their troubles; and she seemed to have no difficulty in putting the Beaufort disaster out of her mind. But for the first time she became absorbed in her own symptoms, and began to take a sentimental interest in certain members of her family to who she had hitherto been contemptuously indifferent." This passage indicates that Catherine¹s prior "godly" coldness and indifference may have changed with the stroke. Her character has undergone a significant transformation as indicated by her desire to bring Ellen home.

Also it seems rather arbitrary that a society like this one would tolerate marital infedility but would become so angry over some fiinancial "infidelity." This whole episode is meant to illustrate how arbitrary some of the codes of New York Society truly are.

Chapter Twenty-Nine Summary and Analysis Newland takes the dark blue carriage (with the wedding varnish still on it) to pick up Ellen from the train station. They talk about all the common things and her grandmother¹s stroke. When they see a hearse, Ellen grabs Newland¹s hand for fear that the hearse is meant for Granny. But Newland assures her that Granny is fine and takes the opportunity of holding her hand to kiss it. He tells her that he hardly remembered her because, "Each time you happen to me all over again." To bring him back down to earth, Ellen comments, "This is May¹s carriage." Newland retaliates by mentioning Riviere and asking if he was the secretary that once rescued her. She answers yes. Newland remarks on her honesty. Ellen says she calls them as she sees them because "she¹s looked at the Gorgon." [The Gorgon is a monster from Greek mythology; Medusa was the most well-known Gorgon.] Ellen kisses him. He says he can¹t live the way he lives any longer. Then there are two important passages that elucidate the theme of the novel:

Archer says, "I want to get away with you into a world where words and categories don¹t exist. Where we shall be simply two human beings who love each other, who are the whole of life to each other; and nothing else on earth will matter."

She sighed, "Oh, my dear ­ where is that country? Have you ever been there? I know so many who¹ve tried to find it; and believe me, they all got out by mistake at wayside stations: at places like Boulogne, or Pisa, or Monte Carlo ­ and it wasn¹t at all different from the old world they¹d left, but only rather smaller and dingier and more promiscuous." Ellen says there can never be happiness between them because it can only occur behind other¹s backs. Newland, angrily, gets out of the carriage and walks away.

Chapter Thirty Summary: Newland returns for dinner. "Archer was struck by something languid and inelastic in May¹s attitude, and wondered if the deadly monotony of their lives had laid its weight on her." The two discuss the same commonplace gossip. Newland decides to read some history instead of poetry because he hates listening to the way May analyzes poetry. And May does her embroidery although her big hands are not naturally suited to the work. They aregue over leaving the window open and then go to bed.

Seven days later Mrs. Manson Mingott invites Newland, just Newland, to her home. There, she half-jokingly accuses Newland of having made advances toward Ellen ­ isn¹t this why she threw him out of the carriage? Then, surprisingly, Catherine informs Newland that she¹s going to keep Ellen in New York to take care of her and that she needs Newland¹s support to convince the family that she should not be sent back to Europe. Newland agrees.

Analysis: The bedroom scene is very interesting because it shows that nether Newland, nor, more surprisingly May, are being the people they were naturally designed to be. Newland reads history, although her prefers poetry, and May embroiders, although her hands are too big.

In this chapter we can see that Catherine has, in a sense, fallen from immortality. She has her first signs of aging, dark shadows between the fold of her flesh. She for the first time, shows evident compassion and caring for Ellen, one of the "mortals".

Also, in this chapter, Catherine refers to Ellen as a "sweet bird." In fact, throughout the book, Ellen has been described with feathers. Right before Newland goes to fetch Ellen from her train he examines a picture of cardinals. And later, when Newland seeks freedom, he needs air, just as birds need air for flight. This is a common motif throughout the book.