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Chapter 20 Notes from The Age of Innocence

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The Age of Innocence Chapter 20

Archer and May are in England, on their way home from a traditional three months' wedding tour through Europe. Archer has begun to realize the difficulties he will experience in his marriage. Although Ellen had caused him to question New York society's traditional ideas about marriage, he now finds it easier to revert to them:

"There was no use in trying to emancipate a wife who had not the dimmest notion that she was not free; and he had long since discovered that May's only use of the liberty she supposed herself to possess would be to lay it on the altar of her wifely adoration." Chapter 20, pg. 159

Topic Tracking: Marriage 11

Archer receives a dinner invitation from Mrs. Carfry, an acquaintance of his mother and Janey from an earlier trip through Europe. May is reluctant to go; New York society does not consider it proper to visit friends while traveling, and May worries about what she will wear. Archer eventually convinces her that they must accept the invitation.

Mrs. Carfry's party is small, and May's beauty attracts the attention of the men, all of whom want to put her at ease. At the dinner, Archer meets M. Rivière, the French tutor of Mrs. Carfry's nephew. M. Rivière fascinates Archer, who finds in him the intellectual excitement that he has craved during the past few months with May. Although he is poor, M. Rivière has led an interesting life; he only requires ideas and good conversation to be happy. Toward the end of dinner, he asks Archer if there might be any jobs for him in New York. Archer is surprised; he cannot imagine a place in New York for a person as unusual as M. Rivière.

Archer leaves the dinner feeling refreshed from their conversation. As they drive away, he mentions to May that he would like to invite M. Rivière to dine with him. May cannot imagine why Archer wants to associate with a man she considers common. She is so horrified by the idea, that Archer quickly changes his mind. He suddenly understands the amount of control that May will have over his life.

Topic Tracking: Places 6
Topic Tracking: Power 9

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