Dallas Archer, a young man who comes from a New York family of means, is in love with a married woman, Mrs. Armstrong, who is contemplating divorce due to no longer loving her own husband. Members of his family know about the affair and have openly stated their displeasure in Dallas' behavior except for his grandfather, Newland Archer. Dallas expects that his grandfather's silence has something to do with an issue from his own past. As such, Dallas asks him for the truth as opposed to the rumors about that issue. That issue, which happened when Newland was around Dallas' age, was his engagement to May Welland, but he who ended up falling in love with May's married first cousin, Ellen, the Countess Olenska, upon her return to New York from Europe as she contemplated divorcing the Count for no longer loving him, love which she wanted in her life regardless of the scandal of divorce. Ellen ended up finding that love with Newland. In asking his grandfather, Dallas has an ulterior motive above and beyond his own situation with Mrs. Armstrong.