The Age of Innocence Chapter 5
The next evening, Sillerton Jackson comes to dine with Newland Archer, his mother, and his unmarried sister, Janey. Mrs. Archer is shy, but likes to be kept informed of New York society. She uses Sillerton Jackson as her news source, especially after big events such as the Beaufort's ball.
Although Jackson, Mrs. Archer, and Janey really want to talk about Ellen Olenska, they feel uncomfortable because Archer, who will soon be her cousin, is at the table. Instead, they begin by talking about Mrs. Lemuel Struthers, a woman whom they don't think is classy enough to have attended the Beaufort's ball.
Eventually, the conversation turns to Ellen. Mrs. Archer is disturbed that Archer and May's engagement announcement had taken place at the ball; she does not want her son's engagement "mixed up with that Olenska woman's comings and goings." Throughout dinner, Mrs. Archer and Janey gossip about the rumors that surround Ellen and make snide remarks about her; Janey insults the dress she wore to the opera.
As Mrs. Archer and Janey become increasingly catty, Archer becomes defensive about Ellen. He defends her decision to escape her unhappy marriage to the Count Olenski and defends the heroic secretary who helped her get away. When Janey repeats a rumor that Ellen means to get a divorce, Archer exclaims, "'I hope she will!'"
After dinner, Archer and Sillerton Jackson smoke cigars in the drawing room. Mr. Jackson tells Archer that Ellen was still living with the secretary a year after she left her husband. Archer blushes, but continues to defend Ellen's actions:
"'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." Chapter 5, pg. 40
Mr. Jackson sarcastically informs Archer that Count Olenski would agree because he never tried to get Ellen to return to him.