"Better keep on the surface, in the prudent old new York way, than risk uncovering a wound he could not heal."
Newland has come to talk to Ellen about a divorce. His family and future in-law clan have begged him to convince her not to pursue one. And why? Wharton skillfully dances around the actual reality, but there are suspicions that, in her misery, Countess Olenska found some joy on the side during her marriage. Newland doesn't necessarily fault her for that, but the double standards of New York certainly do. Her European husband is warning that he'll make public all the rumors should she push for a divorce.
Nobody wants that.
Least of all New York.
And so though Ellen is willing to brave the wound, noone else is and Newland is there to encourage prudence. And it is during this scene that a new wound is born. What draws Newland to Ellen, do you think? Is it the elusive nature of her heart? Is it her mysterious past? Is it pure physical attraction?
Or is there more?
There is a willingness to see things in Ellen Olenska. She is willing to look through the mist, uncover the wound, and face the truth. This is painfully refreshing to Newland Archer, and his world will never be the same for it.
And now for us. Are we more like May or Ellen? Do we wrestle the kid to the ground to dig out the splinter, or do we just hope it will work itself out because it isn't worth the trouble. I've done both---in reality and metaphorically.
I hate difficult conversations, confrontation, and bad news in general. My least favorite part about teaching is calling the parents when their kid is in danger of failing. I put it off like a coward.
(I would like to note that I do realize these people are not real. I promise)
Fiction has its lessons. We can rip the band-aid, pull the splinter, have the conversation, make the change.
And I believe we'll be better for it.
After all, wounds do heal.