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The Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton

Chapters 22–24

Summary Chapters 22–24

Upon meeting in Boston, Ellen questions Archer as to why he did not fetch her that day at the beach. To Archer's surprise, she knew that he had seen her at the shore. Archer is pleased. At the beach he had wondered why she didn't turn around, for if he were in her position he would have sensed her presence. Yet the revelation that Ellen had indeed known he was there adds a dimension to the already symbolic scene. The fact that Ellen and Archer did not speak was not due to a chance failure to communicate. Both consciously chose not to speak to each other. Choice, and not chance or fate, prevented them from meeting.

Now reunited with Ellen in Boston, Archer finds himself passionately in love with her. These sentiments, however, are remarkably different from the strong feelings he once held for May. While Archer was infatuated with May's youthful beauty, his love for Ellen is not based nearly so much on physical appearances. In fact, upon meeting her, he finds that he has forgotten the sound of her voice. And sitting with her at lunch, he feels a "curious indifference to her bodily presence." Instead, Archer has the sense that "this passion that was closer than his bones was not anything that could be superficially satisfied." His love for Ellen is based just as much on an intellectual and emotional level as it is on a physical level. It is this, Wharton implies, that distinguishes him from randy adulterers like Larry Lefferts.