The Age of Innocence By Edith Wharton Summary and Analysis Book 2: Chapters IXX-XX

Summary

Newland stands on the chancel step of Grace Church, waiting for his bride, his mind is utterly in a fog. When Medora Manson enters, Newland strains to see if Ellen has accompanied her, but Ellen has not come. Newland has to be reminded to give May his arm. The ceremony ends and all go to the wedding breakfast.

The couple changes after the wedding breakfast, enjoys the traditional rice shower, and goes to the train station where they will journey to a country estate near Skuytercliff. When they arrive, the van der Luyden's servant informs them that they will have to use the Patroon's house because of a water-tank leak. May is excited, but Newland is all the while thinking of his afternoon there last winter with Ellen.

The following autumn finds Newland and May in London, having spent three months touring on their honeymoon. They are invited to dinner with a Mrs. Carfry and her sister, acquaintances of Newland's mother and sister. May is very uncomfortable and has no interest in exchanging pleasantries with two non-Americans who are strangers. Once back at the hotel, Newland and May discuss the hostesses, their invalid nephew, a vicar and his wife, and a French tutor named M. Riviere. May dismisses the tutor as very "common looking," but Newland had enjoyed talking with him about Parisian literary figures.

Analysis

Wharton overwhelmingly sets a tone of irony in this wedding where the groom loves someone else. Newland, trapped in this social institution, muddles through the dignified ritual as if it were unreal. He senses the death of his spirit and even imagines the onlookers in their correct pews when he eventually enters the afterlife. Seeing May, he realizes there is no turning back.

Wharton also reveals the values of this society. Newland has handled the obligatory duties of the groom. His choices would all be approved by Lawrence Lefferts' satisfactory comments on "Good Form." Newland thinks back to when those things were so important to him, and he realizes how meaningless they were. "And all the while, I suppose . . . real people were living somewhere, and real things happening to them."

Buried alive in tradition and New York form, he watches his chances of freedom fading. The ultimate irony is that he and May will spend their wedding night in the very house where Newland and Ellen sought a safe haven. Unaware of her irony, May excitedly explains "it's the only house [Ellen's] seen in America that she could imagine being perfectly happy in." Newland drops deeper into the void.

The forced intimacy of the three-month wedding tour reveals Archer's fears that there are things he does not like about his new wife. She does not like to travel, she pouts, and she reveals a snobbishness that gives her an icy exterior. Her world is New York City and she will "always be loyal, gallant and unresentful," but also unflinchingly provincial. In short, she is exactly what she has been trained to be: the perfect wife with no clue about her servitude. Newland enjoys and even envies the impoverished tutor because he has spoken with literary figures in Paris, but May speaks of him with disdain. While Archer copes by thinking the first six months of marriage are the most difficult, he also fears May is rounding off any tendency of his to be less than conventional. He begins to see his servitude as she arranges his orthodox life.

Glossary

alacrity eager willingness or readiness, often manifested by quick, lively action.

vicissitudes difficulties that are likely to occur.

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