The intertextual dialogue between the ribbon-kissing scene included in Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence and Dion Boucicault's two versions of The Shaughraun (as he wrote it and directed it) reveals an underexplored dimension of the relationship between Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska. Drawing on Søren Kierkegaard's work, I argue that the conventions of this intertextual scene frame their mutual performance of an implicit angst confined within the constrained social code of the novel's 1870s New York elite. Boucicault's original play did not include the unspoken moment. However, Boucicault added it to capture his audience's interest. The scene presents the attraction between a respectable Englishman and an outlandish Irish woman, with their separation being a consequence of their duties to others, providing a sense of emotional wavering on the edge of dishonor. After both Newland and Ellen connect their relationship to the scene, they repeatedly model it throughout the novel. The conventions of this scene provide a frame for an emotional experience keyed to their social milieu. From this perspective, Newland's retreat at the novel's end may be part of a shared performance with Ellen necessary to realize in the present the angst that would otherwise be lost to memory and history.

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