Ellen Olenska Quotes in The Age of Innocence
“Living together? Well, why not? Who had the right to make her life over if she hadn’t? I’m sick of the hypocrisy that would bury alive a woman of her age if her husband prefers to live with harlots.”
He stopped and turned away angrily to light his cigar. “Women ought to be free—as free as we are,” he declared, making a discovery of which he was too irritated to measure the terrific consequences.
The Countess Olenska was the only young woman at the dinner; yet, as Archer scanned the smooth plump elderly faces between their diamond necklaces and towering ostrich feathers, they struck him as curiously immature compared with hers. It frightened him to think what must have gone to the making of her eyes.
“Sincerely, then—what should you gain that would compensate for the possibility—the certainty—of a lot of beastly talk?”
“But my freedom—is that nothing?”
... “But aren’t you free as air as it is?” he returned. “Who can touch you? Mr. Letterblair tells me the financial question has been settled—”
“Oh, yes,” she said indifferently.
“Well, then: is it worth while to risk what may be infinitely disagreeable and painful? Think of the newspapers—their vileness! It’s all stupid and narrow and unjust—but one can’t make over society.”
No, it was worse a thousand times if, judging Beaufort, and probably despising him, she was yet drawn to him by all that gave him an advantage over the other men about her: his habit of two continents and two societies, his familiar association with artists and actors..., and his careless contempt for local prejudices.... [T]he circumstances of his life, and a certain native shrewdness, made him better worth talking to than many men, morally and socially his betters, whose horizon was bounded by the Battery and the Central Park. How should anyone coming from a wider world not feel the difference and be attracted by it?
I couldn’t have my happiness made out of a wrong—an unfairness—to somebody else.... What sort of life could we build on such foundations?... I’ve wanted to tell you that, when two people really love each other, I understand that there may be situations which might make it right that they should—should go against public opinion. And if you feel yourself in any way pledged... pledged to the person we’ve spoken of... and if there is any way... any way in which you can fulfill your pledge... even by her getting a divorce... Newland, don’t give her up because of me!
I felt there was no one as kind as you; no one who gave me reasons that I understood for doing what at first seemed so hard and—unnecessary. The very good people didn’t convince me; I felt they’d never been tempted. But you knew; you understood; you had felt the world outside tugging at one with all its golden hands—and yet you hated the things it asks of one; you hated happiness bought by disloyalty and cruelty and indifference. That was what I’d never known before—and it’s better than anything I’ve known.... I can’t go back now to that other way of thinking. I can’t love you unless I give you up.
She tore it open and carried it to the lamp; then, when the door had closed again, she handed the telegram to Archer.
It was dated from St. Augustine, and addressed to the Countess Olenska. In it he read: “Granny’s telegram successful. Papa and Mamma agree marriage after Easter. Am telegraphing Newland. Am too happy for words and love you dearly. Your grateful May.”
His whole future seemed suddenly to be unrolled before him; and passing down its endless emptiness he saw the dwindling figure of a man to whom nothing was ever to happen.... It had seemed so exactly the place in which he ought to have found Madame Olenska; and she was far away, and even the pink sunshade was not hers...
“Is it a bad business—for May?”
He stood in the window... feeling in every fiber the wistful tenderness with which she had spoken her cousin’s name.
“For that’s the thing we’ve always got to think of—haven’t we—by your own showing?” she insisted.... “[I]f it’s not worth while to have given up, to have missed things, so that others may be saved from disillusionment and misery—then everything I came home for, everything that made my other life seem by contrast so bare and so poor because no one there took account of them—all these things are a sham or a dream—”
And then it came over him, in a vast flash made up of many broken gleams, that to all of them he and Madame Olenska were lovers.... He guessed himself to have been, for months, the center of countless silently observing eyes and patiently listening ears, he understood that, by means as yet unknown to him, the separation between himself and the partner of his guilt had been achieved, and that now the whole tribe had rallied about his wife on the tacit assumption that nobody knew anything, or had ever imagined anything....
It was the old New York way, of taking life “without effusion of blood”; the way of people who dreaded scandal more than disease, who placed decency above courage, and who considered that nothing was more ill-bred than “scenes,” except the behavior of those who gave rise to them.
“Have you told anyone else?”
“Only Mamma and your mother.” She paused, and then added hurriedly, the blood flushing up to her forehead: “That is—and Ellen. You know I told you we’d had a long talk one afternoon—and how dear she was to me.”
“Ah—” said Archer, his heart stopping.... “But that was a fortnight ago, wasn’t it? I thought you said you weren’t sure till today.”
Her color burned deeper, but she held his gaze. “No; I wasn’t sure then—but I told her I was. And you see I was right!” she exclaimed, her blue eyes wet with victory.
“It’s more real to me here than if I went up,” he suddenly heard himself say; and the fear lest that last shadow of reality should lose its edge kept him rooted to his seat as the minutes succeeded each other.
He sat for a long time on the bench in the thickening dusk, his eyes never turning from the balcony. At length a light shone through the windows, and a moment later a man-servant came out on the balcony, drew up the awnings, and closed the shutters.
At that, as if it had been the signal he waited for, Newland Archer got up slowly and walked back alone to his hotel.