The Age of Innocence

Literapedia Book Notes for

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton


  • Newland Archer (ch. 1)-the main character of the novel. He is a young lawyer and later marries May Welland.
  • May Welland (ch. 1)-a young and innocent woman who abides by the rules of New York society. She latter maries Newland Archer.
  • Countess Olenska (ch. 2)-May’s cousin and Mrs. Mingott’s granddaughter. She falls in love with Archer.
  • Mrs. Manson Mingott (ch. 2)-the head of the Mingott and Welland families. She has done some unorthodox things in her life and supports Ellen.
  • Mrs. Archer (ch. 5)-Newland Archer’s devoted mother. She believes in the old social order of New York.
  • Janie Archer (ch. 5)-Newland Archer’s sister who does everything with Mrs. Archer.
  • Henry and Louisa van der Luyden (ch. 6)-highly respected in New York society and have the final word on social matters. They are very reclusive.
  • Julius Beaufort (ch. 3)-a newcomer to New York society, but he marries well and is very rich. He is rejected from good society after he fails in business.
  • Sillerton Jackson (ch. 1)-is an older man with extensive knowledge about New York families and gossip. He is also a good friend of the Archer family.
  • Lawrence Lefferts (ch. 1)-a younger gentleman who has extensive knowledge about good taste. He is an unfaithful husband and a gossip.
  • Medora Manson (ch. 7)-Ellen’s aunt who raises her after her parents’ deaths. She is very eccentric and marries several times.
  • Mrs. Welland (ch. 2)-May Welland’s mother.
  • Mr. Welland (ch. 2)-May Welland’s father.
  • Ned Winsett (ch. 14)-a journalist friend of Archer’s who Archer feels he can really talk to.
  • Mrs. Lemuel Struthers (ch. 5)-The heir to a shoe polish fortune who is considered common by society. She entertains people through her artistic meetings.
  • M. Rivière (ch. 25)-a French tutor who is later a messenger from Count Olenski to Ellen Olenska.

Chapter Summaries

  1. Newland Archer arrives at the Academy of Music during an Opera. Archer watches May Welland in her grandmother, Mrs. Mingott’s box and thinks about their future life together. Two of the men in Archer’s box, Larry Lefferts and Sillerton Jackson, point out with great surprise the entry of a young woman into Mrs. Mingott’s box.
  2. Archer realizes that the young woman is May’s cousin, Ellen Olenska, and he too is surprised that the Mingotts would have brought her out in public. The men in the box with Archer discuss the events surrounding Countess Olenska’s return to New York. At the end of the opera Archer goes over to the Mingott box. He is introduced to Countess Olenska by Mrs. Welland, talks to May, and sits with Ellen Olenska.
  3. Mrs. Julius Beaufort is described; the Beaufort Ball is that night. Archer arrives late at the ball he sees May announcing their engagement as he asked her to. Archer and May dance and then walk alone to the conservatory to talk.
  4. Archer begins the ritual betrothal visits. He, his mother and his sister go to see Mrs. Welland. Then Archer, Mrs. Welland, and May go to wee Mrs. Manson Mingott. During the visit Countess Olenska returns with Julius Beaufort. Then Archer, May, and Mrs. Welland leave.
  5. Mr. Sillerton Jackson comes to dine with the Archers. Mrs. Archer is described as shy and Mr. Jackson as a collector of gossip. Mr. Jackson and Mrs. Archer begin by talking about Mrs. Lemuel Struthers, but soon turn to the subject of Ellen Olenska. After dinner Mrs. Archer and Janie go to the drawing room and Mr. Jackson and Archer go to the library to smoke. While talking to Mr. Jackson Archer makes the bold statement that women should be as free as men.
  6. After Mr. Jackson left and Mrs. Archer and Janie went to their bedroom Archer went up to his library. He thinks about May and his future life with her and about the arrival of Countess Olenska. The Lovell Mingotts had sent out invitations for a formal dinner to meet Countess Olenska, but with in 48 hours everyone refused except the Beauforts and Mr. Jackson and his sister. Mrs. Lovell Mingott told Mrs. Welland about the problem and she told Archer. Archer told his mother who eventually said she would go see Louisa van der Luyden.
  7. Mrs. Henry van der Luyden listened to Mrs. Archer tells her story. Mrs. van der Luyden asks a servant to have Henry, her husband, come down because she would like him to hear the story too. Mr. van der Luyden heard the tale and disapproved of the slight made toward the Mingotts. He proposes that when their relative the Duke of St. Austrey comes to visit and they have a small dinner party for him that Ellen Olenska be one of the guests.
  8. Newland Archer thinks about how Ellen Olenska was brought up by Medora Manson while he watches her enter the van der Luyden’s on the evening of the dinner for the Duke. After the dinner the Duke went right to Ellen Olenska to talk, Archer later discovers they knew each other when she lived with her husband. Ellen goes to sit with Archer. When Archer gets up to let others be introduced to Ellen she says she will expect him tomorrow after five.
  9. At 5:30 Newland Archer arrived at Countess Olenska’s house, he is let in by the maid to wait for Madame Olenska who is not there. Countess Olenska arrives with Mr. Beaufort but he does not come in. Later the Duke of St. Austrey comes in with Mrs. Struthers. They invite Madame Olenska to come to Mrs. Struthers house the next evening. Archer leaves while the others are still there. On the way home he stops to send May’s lilies (which he forgot that morning) and decides to send some yellow roses to Countess Olenska.
  10. Newland Archer and May Welland go for a walk the next day and Archer tries to convince May to move up the date of the wedding but does not succeed. The next afternoon Archer is in his study and Janey comes in and tells him his mother is angry. Madame Olenska was at Mrs. Struthers party the night before and the van der Luydens are upset. Archer has a small argument with his mother on the matter. Then Mr. Henry van der Luyden arrives to tell them he has been to see Countess Olenska and given her some advice.
  11. Two weeks later Newland Archer is at the office of Letterblair, Lamson and Low, attorneys at law where he is a junior partner. Mr. Letterblair summoned Archer to his office and asks him to read over the papers for the case of Countess Olenska’s proposed divorce. Archer reads the papers and agrees to go see Madame Olenska about the matter. Mr. Letterblair invites Archer to come dine with him and discuss the case. Archer goes home and writes to Countess Olenska asking what hour he can see her tomorrow. Archer dines with Mr. Letterbliar.
  12. Newland Archer walks through the city to Countess Olenska’s house. He arrives to find that Mr. Beaufort is already there. Mr. Beaufort leaves after Countess Olenska mentions needing to talk business with Mr. Archer. They discuss the case and Archer convinces her to not divorce her husband.
  13. Newland Archer is at the Wallack’s theatre watching a play. Archer thinks about the previous visit with Countess Olenska and the relief of her family at his persuading her not to divorce. Archer goes into the box Countess Olenska was in with the Beauforts, Lawrence Lefferts, and some other men. The Wellands had left a week ago for their annual journey south. Archer left the theatre.
  14. While leaving the theatre Newland Archer ran into Ned Winsett. They walked out together and Winsett asked for the name of the lady in the Beaufort’s box because she helped his hurt son and his wife forgot to ask her name. Archer tells he it was Countess Olenska and the two part ways. Archer continues home and thinks about Winsett and previous conversations they have had. The next morning Archer looks for more yellow roses. He sends a note to Madame Olenska asking if can call that afternoon. Three days later he received a card from her saying she had run away to Skuytercliff to stay with the van der Luydens. Archer decides to go with the Reggie Chiverses to there house on the Hudson, a few miles from Skuytercliff.
  15. Archer arrives at the Chiverses on Friday evening. On Sunday he drove over to Skuytercliff. Countess Olenska and Mrs. van der Luyden were out and Mr. van der Luyden reading or napping. So Archer went to meet the ladies. He sees Madame Olenska walking back they go up to the old Patroon (which is usually closed up) to talk alone. Archer asks what she is running away from. Then he sees Julius Beaufort coming up the path, he laughs, she slips her hand into his. Then she sees whose coming and says she did not know he was here. Archer returns to New York and muses over Beaufort’s coming to see Countess Olenska, supposedly about a house that’s on the market. Four days after returning he received a note from Ellen Olenska asking him to come late the next day. Archer tries to decide how to answer the note and in the morning he decided to take a boat to St. Augustine.
  16. Newland Archer went to the house where the Wellands were staying. He and May met and walked to an orange garden beyond the town to be alone. They returned to the house for breakfast and Archer is forgiven for leaving his work after he professes having a slight cold. He telegrams the office and arranges to stay a week. While Mr. Welland and May are out Mrs. Welland thanks Archer for his part in convincing Ellen to give up the divorce. Archer talks to May trying to persuade her that they should move up the marriage. May asks him if he wants to marry sooner because he is not sure he will stay in love with her. Archer convinces her there is no one else he loves.
  17. Archer is home again and Janey tells him the Countess called on their mother. Archer calls on Mrs. Mingott, having left St. Augustine with messages for her. Archer asks Mrs. Mingott to help him persuade Mrs. Welland to move up the marriage. Countess Olenska arrives at Mrs. Mingott’s. Archer asks Madame Olenska when he can see her before he leaves her grandmother’s. They agree on the next evening, but early because Ellen was going out. Archer arrived at Countess Olenska’s at 8:30. Medora Manson, her friend Dr. Carver, and Ned Winsett are already there and Countess Olenska has gone to dress. They are discussing the beautiful red roses lying on the couch. Mr. Winsett leaves first and then Dr. Carver leaves to go to give a lecture. Medora Manson stays a bit and tells Archer she has a letter from Count Olenska asking Ellen to come back on her terms and requests that Archer help convince Ellen to do so. Archer is horrified at the idea.
  18. Madame Olenska comes down and Medora Manson points out the red roses that arrived. Ellen is angered by them and asks the maid to throw them out but reconsiders and has them taken to Mrs. Winsett. Medora leaves to attend Dr. Carver’s lecture. Archer mentions the possibility of a letter from the Count asking her to come back. They talk about how May thought Archer wanted to marry sooner because there was someone else. Ellen’s carriage returns to take her to Mrs. Struthers’s. Archer reveals that he does care for someone else and says he would have married her if it had been possible for them. Ellen rebukes him saying that it’s his fault since he told her not to divorce. Ellen cries, they kiss, and Ellen says that nothing can change. They argue the matter. A telegram comes from May saying that her mother agreed to move the wedding to after Easter. Archer retuned home and found a similar telegram from May.
  19. Newland Archer and May Welland’s wedding takes place with the usual rituals. Archer is surprised that Medora is at the wedding. After the wedding and wedding breakfast Archer and May board the train to go to the du Lac aunts Rhinebeck house (lent to them for the wedding night). When they arrive at the Rhinebeck station they are informed by the van der Luyden’s man that the water-tank at the Miss du Lac’s is leaking, so Mr. van der Luyden opened the Patroon house for them and the Miss du Lac’s sent their cook.
  20. Archer and May are in London on there honeymoon. They spend three months traveling in Europe. Archer puts aside his ideas of having a different sort of marriage and conforms to tradition. While in London before their return to New York they visit Mrs. Carfry, a friend of his mothers. After dinner at Mrs. Carfry’s Archer talked with Mr. Rivière, the tutor to Mrs. Carfry’s nephew. On the way home Archer and May have a small argument over whether Archer should ask Mr. Rivière to dine.
  21. Newland Archer is at the Beauforts for the August meeting of the Newport Archery Club. He muses over how his life has gone on normally since his and May’s return. Archer talks briefly to Medora Manson who is there for the day. May wins the archery contest and she and Archer leave. They stop by Mrs. Mingott’s house to tell her May won and while there granny Mingott mentions Ellen Olenska is there with her for the day. Archer is sent to felt Ellen from the shore, he sees her and decides if she does not turn around before “the sail crosses the Lime Rock” he will go back. She does not turn and Archer goes back to the house. He and May leave, while driving home May talks about how Ellen has changed.
  22. The Wellands receive an invitation form Professor and Mrs. Emerson Sillerton to a party to meet Mrs. and the Misses Blenkers. On the day of the party Archer goes to a stud farm to see about a horse with the idea that he will go to see the Blenker’s house while everyone is away. Archer goes to the Blenkers’ house, enters the porch, and runs into the youngest Blenker girl. He asks if Madame Olenska is there and is told she went to Boston. He asks if he would be able to see her since he is going to Boston the next day. The girl says that Madame Olenska is staying at Parker House. Archer leaves.
  23. Archer arrives in Boston, goes to Somerset Club for breakfast, and sends a card to Madame Olenska. The messenger returns and says that Madame Olenska is out. He goes to Parker House, but on the way sees her sitting on a bench. He convinces her to spend the day with him going on a steamboat to Point Arley. They arrive and get a private dinning room at an inn.
  24. Archer and Ellen talk about her life over the past year and a half. Ellen admits it has been painful for her too and that they can never be together. They both recognize they must respect their positions, but still lobe each other.
  25. Archer takes the boat back, goes to the club, and thinks about his time with Madame Olenska. He takes the train to New York City and sees the man he saw leaving Parker House the previous day. It is M. Rivière, who agrees to call on Archer that afternoon. M. Rivière reveals that he is Count Olenki’s messenger, says he saw Mr. Lovell Mingott before he saw Madame Olenska, and Mr. Mingott thought that Ellen should go back to the Count. Rivière wants Archer to keep Madame Olenska from going back.
  26. Newland Archer thinks about how every winter his mother says that New York has changed and how he now feels it is changing. It is Thanksgiving dinner at the Archers’ and Mr. Jackson and Miss Jackson are there, all talking about Beaufort’s financial trouble, how everyone goes to Mrs. Struthers’ now on Sunday and Madame Olenska. While Archer and Jackson sit in the library Archer thinks of why May blushed, Madame Olenska, and how his real life seems unreal. Jackson mentions how unfortunate Madame Olenska’s situation is Archer gets angry and they argue. May and Archer go home, Archer says he may go to Washington on business and May says be sure to see Ellen.
  27. Things look better for Beaufort financially. Then Archer finds out next day form Letterblair that Beaufort will collapse. Granny Mingott has a stroke after she is visited by Mrs. Beaufort who asks that she not desert Mr. Beaufort. Archer goes to Granny Mingott’s is asked to send a telegram that May wrote to Ellen. May says he should still go to Washington.
  28. Archer sends the telegram and runs into Lefferts. Ellen is coming down and Newland offers to meet her at Jersey City and bring her back to Mrs. Mingott. May asks Archer how he will do this since he will be in Washington says the case was postponed she says that is strange because Mr. Letterblaire told her mother he was leaving for the case. He says he is going later in the case.
  29. Archer meets Madame Olenska at Jersey City. They talk eventually and Archer says they must someday be together. Ellen says she will not live like that and it would not bring them happiness anyway. Archer says he should not have come and gets out before carriage arrives at Granny Mingott’s.
  30. Archer and May dine alone at home and May asks why he did not come with Ellen to Granny’s. He says he had a letter to write. May seems tired at dinner. After dinner they go to his library and Archer wonders if May might die young and leave him free. Days later May says Granny wants to see Archer. He goes alone and Granny asks him to back her on having Ellen stay with her rather then returning to her husband. He agrees and asks when he can see Ellen. Granny says she is out seeing Regina Beaufort.
  31. Archer leaves Mrs. Mingotts’ thinking about how he will no longer have to do what he was about to do, go with Ellen when she went to Washington and follow her wherever she went. While walking down 5th Avenue Archer sees Mrs. Mingott’s carriage outside the Beauforts’ and he waits a moment. Ellen comes out and Archer says he must see her alone the next day. They meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art the next ay and discuss how this situation is worse. Ellen does not want to runaway with him though because it would mean breaking the trust of those who have cared about her. She says she will come to him once then go back to her husband. Archer initially rejects this, but as she is leaving says she should come once. She says the day after tomorrow. Archer goes home and May comes form Granny’s and says that she talked to Ellen. As they go to dress May puts arms around Archer and he feels her tremble.
  32. The Archers and the Jacksons are at the van der Luydens’ for dinner then they will all go to the Opera. Archer watches May and remembers and compares this night to the night of their betrothal. He thinks about throwing himself at her mercy and asking for his freedom. Archer tells May he has a headache and they leave. Archer tries to talk to May about Ellen but she stops him saying why worry now that it is over. He is confused and she explains that Granny Mingott has agreed to make Ellen independent of her husband and let her return to Europe.
  33. May, Mrs. Archer, and Mrs. Welland prepare for formal going away dinner May is giving for Ellen. It flashes back in time to Archer helping Letterblaire with the legal details of Ellen’s departure and to Archer seeing Granny Mingott and May announcing to Archer that she was giving a dinner for Madame Olenska. The night of the party, at dinner Archer realizes that everyone must have assumed Ellen and he were lovers and they have succeeded in separation them. Ellen leaves with the van der Luydens. Everyone leaves and May and Archer go to the library. Archer says he wants to take a trip far away from everything. May says he cannot and reveals that she is pregnant. She told Ellen about it the day he and Ellen had met at the museum.
  34. Archer in his library 30 years later thinking over his life and May, who died nursing their youngest son back to health. Archer gets a call from his son, Dallas, who asks him to come abroad with him. Archer and Dallas are in Paris and Dallas announces that they are going to Countess Olenska’s at 5:30 that night. Dallas says to his father that Madame Olenska was the woman Archer would have chucked it all for but didn’t. Archer is surprised and Dallas explains that his mother told him about it on her deathbed. Dallas goes to Versailles and Archer walks to the Louvre. Archer and Dallas go to Madam Olenska’s building and Archer says he will sit on a bench for a moment. Dallas goes up without him and explains to Ellen that his father is old fashioned. Archer waits watching the window for a moment and then goes back to the hotel.

Student Contributors

Kaarin Holmquist