A New England Nun

by

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

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Louisa Ellis Character Analysis

Louisa Ellis, the protagonist of “A New England Nun,” is a woman who lives alone. She is engaged to Joe Dagget, and has been for fifteen years, although he was away in Australia until recently. Louisa has no immediate family—her mother and brother have passed away—which is why she lives on her own. In her years by herself, Louisa has developed an enjoyable daily routine of needlework, meditation, tending her garden, serving herself tea (with a china tea set), and even distilling fragrances. Louisa is a discriminating and organized woman—she even has a different apron, color-coded, for each activity around the house. Louisa’s relationship to Joe is awkward and strained—he was gone for fourteen years, and the two seem like strangers now: they’re uncomfortable around each other when Joe comes to Louisa’s to visit, which he does two nights a week. One evening, when out on a walk, Louisa overhears Joe and Lily Dyer talking, and they confess to having strong feelings for each other. This gives Louisa the courage to end her engagement to Joe. She does so diplomatically, without mentioning Lily, simply saying that it would be impossible for her to change her ways after so many years of being on her own. At the end of the story, Louisa is completely at peace, looking forward to her future in sweet solitude.

Louisa Ellis Quotes in A New England Nun

The A New England Nun quotes below are all either spoken by Louisa Ellis or refer to Louisa Ellis. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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).
A New England Nun Quotes

She had been peacefully sewing at her sitting-room window all the afternoon. Now she quilted her needle carefully into her work, which she folded precisely, and laid in a basket with her thimble and thread and scissors. Louisa Ellis could not remember that ever in her life she had mislaid one of these little feminine appurtenances, which had become, from long use and constant association, a very part of her personality.

Related Characters: Louisa Ellis
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

Louisa was slow and still in her movements; it took her a long time to prepare her tea; but when ready it was set forth with as much grace as if she had been a veritable guest to her own self…Louisa used china every day—something which none of her neighbors did. They whispered about it among themselves. Their daily tables were laid with common crockery, their sets of best china stayed in the parlor closet, and Louisa Ellis was no richer nor better bred than they. Still she would use the china.

Related Characters: Louisa Ellis
Related Symbols: The China Tea Set
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

She had barely folded the pink and white one with methodical haste and laid it in a table-drawer when the door opened and Joe Dagget entered.

He seemed to fill up the whole room. A little yellow canary that had been asleep in his green cage at the south window woke up and fluttered wildly, beating his little yellow wings against the wires. He always did so when Joe Dagget came into the room.

Related Characters: Louisa Ellis, Joe Dagget
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

“Good-evening,” said Louisa. She extended her hand with a kind of solemn cordiality.
“Good-evening, Louisa,” returned the man, in a loud voice.
She placed a chair for him, and they sat facing each other, with the table between them. He sat bolt-upright, toeing out his heavy feet squarely, glancing with a good-humored uneasiness around the room. She sat gently erect, folding her slender hands in her white-linen lap.
“Been a pleasant day,” remarked Dagget.
“Real pleasant,” Louisa assented, softly. “Have you been haying?” she asked, after a little while.
“Yes, I’ve been haying all day, down in the ten-acre lot. Pretty hot work.”
“It must be.”
“Yes, it’s pretty hot work in the sun.”

Related Characters: Louisa Ellis (speaker), Joe Dagget (speaker)
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

He came twice a week to see Louisa Ellis, and every time, sitting there in her delicately sweet room, he felt as if surrounded by a hedge of lace. He was afraid to stir lest he should put a clumsy foot or hand through the fairy web, and he had always the consciousness that Louisa was watching fearfully lest he should.

Still the lace and Louisa commanded perforce his perfect respect and patience and loyalty. They were to be married in a month, after a singular courtship which had lasted for a matter of fifteen years.

Related Characters: Louisa Ellis, Joe Dagget, Lily Dyer
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

In that length of time much had happened. Louisa’s mother and brother had died, and she was all alone in the world. But greatest happening of all—a subtle happening which both were too simple to understand—Louisa’s feet had turned into a path, smooth maybe under a calm, serene sky, but so straight and unswerving that it could only meet a check at her grave, and so narrow that there was no room for any one at her side.

Related Characters: Louisa Ellis, Joe Dagget
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

Joe’s mother, domineering, shrewd old matron that she was even in her old age, and very likely even Joe himself, with his honest masculine rudeness, would laugh and frown down all these pretty but senseless old maiden ways.

Louisa had almost the enthusiasm of an artist over the mere order and cleanliness of her solitary home. She had throbs of genuine triumph at the sight of the window-panes which she had polished until they shone like jewels. She gloated gently over her orderly bureau-drawers, with their exquisitely folded contents redolent with lavender and sweet clover and very purity. Could she be sure of the endurance of even this?

Related Characters: Louisa Ellis, Joe Dagget
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

“If you should jilt her to-morrow, I wouldn’t have you,” spoke up the girl, with sudden vehemence.

“Well, I ain’t going to give you the chance,” said he; “but I don’t believe you would, either.”

“You’d see I wouldn’t. Honor’s honor, an’ right’s right. An’ I’d never think anything of any man that went against ’em for me or any other girl; you’d find that out, Joe Dagget.”

Related Characters: Joe Dagget (speaker), Lily Dyer (speaker), Louisa Ellis
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

She sat at her window and meditated. In the evening Joe came. Louisa Ellis had never known that she had any diplomacy in her, but when she came to look for it that night she found it, although meek of its kind, among her little feminine weapons. Even now she could hardly believe that she had heard aright, and that she would not do Joe a terrible injury should she break her troth-plight. She wanted to sound him without betraying too soon her own inclinations in the matter. She did it successfully, and they finally came to an understanding; but it was a difficult thing, for he was as afraid of betraying himself as she.

Related Characters: Louisa Ellis, Joe Dagget, Lily Dyer
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

She gazed ahead through a long reach of future days strung together like pearls in a rosary, every one like the others, and all smooth and flawless and innocent, and her heart went up in thankfulness. Outside was the fervid summer afternoon; the air was filled with the sounds of the busy harvest of men and birds and bees; there were halloos, metallic clatterings, sweet calls, and long hummings. Louisa sat, prayerfully numbering her days, like an uncloistered nun.

Related Characters: Louisa Ellis
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
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Louisa Ellis Character Timeline in A New England Nun

The timeline below shows where the character Louisa Ellis appears in A New England Nun. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
A New England Nun
Gender Roles for Women  Theme Icon
Restriction, Freedom, and Art Theme Icon
...with shovels over their shoulders, and flies “dance” around people’s faces in the “soft air.” Louisa Ellis sits peacefully alone in her home. She had been calmly sewing by the window,... (full context)
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Louisa puts on a green apron and a hat with a green ribbon. She goes outside... (full context)
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Once inside, Louisa—still calmly and slowly—steeps her tea. When it is ready, she prepares herself to drink it... (full context)
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Louisa then eats some sugared currants, a plate of little cakes, one white biscuit, and a... (full context)
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Once back in the kitchen, Louisa carefully polishes the china tea set. Night has set in now, and she hears a... (full context)
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A half hour later, Joe Dagget comes to the house. Louisa hears him approaching because of his “heavy step” on the way up to the house.... (full context)
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When Joe comes into the home, Louisa feels like he “fills up the whole room.” There is a small yellow canary in... (full context)
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Louisa and Joe greet each other with strained cordiality. She brings him a chair, and they... (full context)
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...up, opens them, and sets the books back down opposite to how he’d found them. Louisa fidgets in her seat until she has to get up and rearrange the books so... (full context)
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...trips over a rug. Trying to regain his balance, he knocks over the basket where Louisa keeps her sewing. He makes an effort to try to pick everything all up, but... (full context)
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Louisa puts all of her aprons back on and collects her things—the “scattered treasures”—that have fallen... (full context)
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Although Joe comes to visit Louisa twice a week, he is still not comfortable in her home, since he feels clumsy... (full context)
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Back then, Louisa, for her part, had encouraged Joe to travel. She and Joe had kissed good-bye, with... (full context)
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...begun to feel apprehension just after he returned. Though he still found himself attracted to Louisa, the “winds of romance” eventually began “singing” another name. For Louisa, these winds had hardly... (full context)
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Louisa knows that if she marries Joe, she will have to leave her home and go... (full context)
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Louisa is also particularly concerned about the issue of Caesar, her dog. Caesar is now a... (full context)
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Yet, despite all of Louisa’s concerns about the marriage, she feels like she cannot betray Joe by going back on... (full context)
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One night, just a week before their wedding, there is a full moon, and Louisa goes for an evening walk. She takes in the cherry trees, apple trees, and blueberry... (full context)
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Just before she is about to leave, Louisa hears voices. She thinks she’ll stay hidden and let the people pass, but they take... (full context)
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...for him for fourteen years. To this, Lily responds that if Joe were to leave Louisa, she wouldn’t love him anymore, and Joe insists that this would never happen. Lily responds:... (full context)
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Joe again insists that he is not leaving Louisa. He and Lily’s emotions are heightened and their voices “almost angry.” Louisa continues to listen.... (full context)
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After Lily says this, Louisa hears a “soft commotion” from where Joe and Lily are sitting. Then Lily stands up... (full context)
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The next day, Louisa goes about all of her house chores, but she does not work on her wedding... (full context)
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...agree it might be better this way. But he underscores the fact that it is Louisa, not he, backing out of their marriage. He says, “I never shrank, Louisa…I’d have stuck... (full context)
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Once alone again in her home, Louisa weeps briefly. However, the next morning she feels “like a queen” who now, finally, has... (full context)
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Later, Louisa does her needlework completely at peace. Lily Dyer passes Louisa’s window, and Louisa feels no... (full context)