The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence Chapter 22 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At the lunch table, Mrs. Welland mockingly reads aloud an invitation from Amy and Emerson Sillerton to a party for the Blenkers. She and Mr. Welland find such an idea absurd, and Mrs. Welland pities Mrs. Sillerton. Her husband is an irritation to Newport society. He comes from a respectable family, but he’s an archaeologist and breaks with tradition at every turn. The worst of it is that he married Amy Dagonet, and none of the Mingotts understand why she submits so willingly to the strange company he keeps and the strange pursuits he drags her into. However, whenever they give a party, their relations all have to send someone.
Just as May couldn’t imagine asking M. Rivière to dinner, her parents snobbishly think it’s ridiculous to have a party for a family as common as the Blenkers. The Sillertons have to be accepted as part of society because of their family heritage, but they don’t act the way that society expects its members to act. For one thing, gentlemen aren’t supposed to have professions like archaeology. No one considers that Amy Sillerton could possibly enjoy her husband’s odd pursuits.
Themes
The Rules of Society Theme Icon
Mr. Welland says he can’t go to the party, because he has to take his medicine and go for a drive at a certain time. Mrs. Welland assures him that she’ll go for a short while. She suggests that May can take him for his drive if Archer’s afternoon is provided for. She always feels that people’s time should be provided for, as she can’t stand the idea of having nothing to do. She herself has so much to do to take care of her husband that she’s always busy. May says she’s sure Archer has something to do. Mrs. Welland is always distressed that he doesn’t plan his days out and sometimes simply lies on the beach. May has explained that Archer reads when he has nothing else to do.
Mr. Welland displays the compulsive need for sameness which irritates Archer, and which he fears falling into himself. Mrs. Welland, meanwhile, seems to fear boredom, perhaps because having nothing to do allows one to think about one’s life and realize how empty it actually is. She prefers to fill her life, and the lives of those around her, with meaningless activity that provides the impression of happy occupation. She can’t understand Archer’s desire to think and read.
Themes
The Failure of Marriage Theme Icon
Change and Progress Theme Icon
Even so, as the day approaches, May begins to worry that Archer will be bored when she takes her father out for his drive. He reassures her that he’s going to go look at a second horse for their carriage. He’s been thinking of this ever since the Sillertons’ invitation arrived, but he didn’t say anything, as though to keep it secret. After lunch, he drives off into a gorgeous day in a hired carriage, feeling excited at the prospect of having time to himself after he visits the farm.
May again shows signs of acting like her mother in marriage. Although Archer isn’t really going to do anything illicit, he seems to need something in his life that the Wellands can’t monopolize and consume by their routine. Marriage has taken his independence from him, and he feels like he has to be secretive in reclaiming it.
Themes
The Failure of Marriage Theme Icon
As soon as he heard about the Sillertons’ party, Archer realized that Medora Manson would probably be coming in to Newport for it, and Ellen might go to Mrs. Mingott’s again. Ever since he saw Ellen, he’s wanted to see the place where she’s been living and imagine her there. He doesn’t want to see Ellen, but it seems that seeing her place of habitation will make the world feel less empty.
Ellen and Medora have been staying at the Blenkers’ house, so Archer is hoping their house will be empty because of the party. At this point, Archer has no intention of rekindling his love affair with Ellen, but she’s the only thing that has given his life meaning, and he hopes to find that feeling without doing any damage.
Themes
The Failure of Marriage Theme Icon
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Archer isn’t satisfied with the horse he’s come to see, and before long he heads towards Portsmouth in golden sunlight. He drives past farms and villages and eventually comes to the Blenkers’ tumbledown house at the end of a road. He ties his horses in a shed and walks towards the house. He leans on the gate for a while, taking in the silence. Eventually he wants to see the inside of the house, and he decides to ring the bell. If someone is there he can write a message in the sitting room.
It’s clear that the main goal of this trip has always been to see where Ellen is staying—looking at the horse was only an excuse. Though there’s nothing explicitly unfaithful to May in this outing, it certainly has a feeling of illicitness. Furthermore, this scene echoes the scene by pier and the scene in The Shaughraun, as Archer is again watching something related to Ellen without her knowledge.
Themes
The Failure of Marriage Theme Icon
But as Archer walks across the lawn, he sees a parasol in the summer-house and feels sure that it belongs to Ellen. He goes to the summer-house and picks up the parasol. Then he hears the rustle of skirts. He doesn’t look up from the parasol, sure that it will be Ellen. Instead, a young woman says his name and he looks up to find the youngest of the Blenker girls, who seems just to have awoken. They’re both confused to see each other, and Archer explains that he was waiting for Mrs. Blenker or her visitors to return. Miss Blenker says that they’re all at the Sillertons’ party, which she couldn’t attend due to a sore throat.
Though Archer has told himself that he doesn’t want to see Ellen, it quickly becomes clear that he’s harbored a secret hope of finding her here. The parasol seems to promise him so much; he feels that their meeting here is destined, but he’s wrong, and he’s deprived of the romantic scene he has imagined. As often happens to him, his hopes are dashed just at the moment he believes everything he wants will finally occur.
Themes
The Failure of Marriage Theme Icon
Archer asks whether Ellen went to the party as well, and Miss Blenker says that she’s been called away to Boston. She rambles about her parasol and Ellen’s hair. She doesn’t know why Ellen went to Boston; it seemed Ellen didn’t want Medora to know. Archer suddenly sees his future empty before him and feels that nothing will ever happen to him. He really thought he would find Ellen here, but even the parasol wasn’t hers. He says he’s going to Boston the next day, and Miss Blenker tells him that Ellen is staying at the Parker House. Archer is hardly aware of the rest of the conversation, and he eventually drives away.
If this were a romance novel, Ellen and Archer would have had a perfect reunion here in the summerhouse. But because this book runs on irony, Archer finds that just when he’s come to find her, Ellen isn’t even in Rhode Island anymore. Archer seems to understand how different his life is from a romance novel—he has no confidence in getting a happy ending. However, this thwarted attempt has rekindled his desire for Ellen, and now he’ll take more drastic steps.
Themes
The Failure of Marriage Theme Icon
Change and Progress Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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