“At that, as if it had been the signal he waited for, Newland Archer got up slowly and walked back alone to his hotel.”
It is the ending of this novel I’m going to talk about, because it has the single most beautiful ending of perhaps any book I’ve ever read, and it is this final scene you will remember. The most resonant and shining scene in this novel is the last one, not the emotionally-laden, eventful climactic action which is the traditional center of all novels. It is an ending suffused with gold, with the quiet, brilliant light of the setting sun and the deep nostalgia of a man as he looks back on the “packed regrets and stifled memories of an inarticulate lifetime.”
Newland Archer, left in the warm, emotionally barren hollow of old age, watches as his busy, articulate, successful children rush around in the vigor and self-confidence of youth, watches as the world, fast-changing, leaves him behind, and accepts both with a quiet fatalism, with the same grace and dignity with which he has led his life; but buried deep in his memories is a spark, the spark at which he has warmed his hands, for however transient and deceptive a vision, for most of his life – the memory of a beautiful, passionate woman whom once upon a time he loved madly. The true brilliance of Wharton’s crafting in this is that she does not make Archer pathetic; it would be so easy for us to pity him, the man now aging, whom once lost everything he cared about, and whose children are forging ahead of him intent upon conquering their fate – but instead we see him as the dignified, wealthy scion and loving father, whose children adore him and to whom he is a “comrade”: Newland Archer with still a touch of the boyish about him, however his fires have faded to embers.