Study Guide

The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth Summary

Meet Miss Lily Bart. She's 29, beautiful, and poised to marry a rich, boring bachelor in New York in the late 1800s. Lily's main candidate is Percy Gryce, millionaire and bore-extraordinaire. While staying with a rich couple, Judy and Gus Trenor, Lily gets a chance to spend some time with Percy. But she is distracted by Lawrence Selden, a young lawyer who doesn't have a lot of money, but who is clearly Lily's intellectual and emotional soul mate.

To make matters more complicated, Bertha and George Dorset – another wealthy couple – are also in the picture. Bertha once had an affair with Selden, and she's jealous of Lily for captivating his attention. When Lily flirts with Selden, Bertha tells Percy, who runs away.

Lily is determined to get her rich potential-husband back, but before she can, he gets engaged to another woman. Lily, whose parents are both dead, lives with a wealthy aunt, but has no money. She needs cash to keep her going until she marries, so she asks Gus Trenor (Judy's husband) to speculate on the stock market for her. Gus agrees and the money starts flowing.

Meanwhile, Lily wards off the attentions of a social climber named Simon Rosedale. Rosedale seemingly has more money than the rest of the world put together, and he's trying to use it to break into the social circles that Lily frequents. She's not interested and snubs him.

And now for an interesting plot twist. A charwoman (a woman who cleans houses) who once saw Lily with Lawrence Selden drops by to see her with a series of love letters she stole from Selden's garbage. She thinks the letters belong to Lily. Looking them over, Lily realizes they were written from Bertha Dorset to Selden. She now has proof of the alleged affair. Lily purchases the letters and puts them away for safe-keeping.

One night, Lily gets an invitation to visit Judy Trenor at her home. She goes, only to find that Gus Trenor is there by himself and has now compromised Lily by getting her alone with him in the late hours of the night. Trenor explains that he's been straight-up giving Lily all the money she thought she had earned on the stock market, and now she owes him (meaning, he wants her to sleep with him). Horrified and ashamed at her position, Lily flees the house.

Meanwhile, Lawrence Selden has decided he's in love with Lily and wants to marry her. While he's working on the wording for his proposal, he sees Lily run out of Gus Trenor's house in the late hours of the night. He's super angry and high-tails it for Europe. The next day, Simon Rosedale proposes to Lily, and she turns him down. Soon after, Lily receives an invitation from Bertha Dorset to join her and her husband George on a cruise in the Mediterranean.

So, Lily heads for Europe. It's clear to everyone that Bertha invited her along to keep her husband, George, distracted while she carries on an affair with a young man named Ned Silverton. Lily is caught in the crossfire when scandal arises; Bertha is out all night with Ned, alone. In order to deflect the attention from herself, Bertha accuses Lily of having an affair with George and publicly disgraces her. Selden, who shows up in the Mediterranean just in time, tries to help Lily, but to no avail.

Lily heads back to America when her Aunt Julia (the rich aunt she used to live with) dies. Lily is relieved to finally stop worrying about her finances, since her aunt had about $400,000 to her name. Unfortunately, Aunt Julia heard about the scandal in Europe and essentially wrote Lily out of the will (she only left Lily ten thousand dollars, and it will take a year for her to see any of that money).

Distraught, Lily turns to two friends, Gerty Farish (Selden's cousin) and divorcee Carry Fisher. Both women try to help her through the difficulties. Mrs. Fisher sets Lily up as a social networker, first for a woman just below the elite on the social ladder, and then for someone lower down when that doesn't work out (thanks to Bertha Dorset's sabotage).

In the meantime, Lily has been trying to win back the affections of Simon Rosedale. Rosedale admits that he is in love with Lily, but he wants a wife who will root him firmly among society's elite, and Lily is no longer in a position to do so. He says that if she reconciles with Bertha Dorset, he will marry her. He suggests that she uses those blackmail letters she bought from the charwoman…

Lily doesn't want to break up the Dorset marriage, despite several pleas from George Dorset to help him do so. Instead, she sinks further and further into poverty, finally taking a job as a milliner (hat maker) but getting fired for being incompetent. She starts taking a prescription drug called chloral to help her sleep at night. She waits desperately for her ten thousand dollar inheritance, but she knows that she wants to pay Gus Trenor back for the "speculation" he did for her, so that she can get out of his debt. (She owes him about nine thousand dollars.)

On the brink of misery, Lily decides to take Rosedale up on his still-standing offer and blackmail Bertha Dorset with the letters. On the way to the Dorsets', though, she has a moral awakening and instead stops by Selden's place. She thanks him for always having faith in her as a good person, and burns Bertha's letters when he has his back turned.

Lily returns home for the night to discover that her inheritance check has finally come. She writes out a check to Gus Trenor for the nine thousand she owes him, puts everything in order, and takes her chloral – more than the maximum allowed dosage – to help her sleep. Whether or not Lily intentionally commits suicide or accidentally overdoses is unclear.

The next morning, Selden wakes up and decides that he's in love with Lily again. He rushes over to her apartment to propose, only to find that she's dead of an overdose. He goes through her personal things, finds the inheritance money and the check to Gus Trenor, and pieces together the whole story. He now loves the Lily more than ever.

  • Book 1, Chapter 1

    • The novel begins in New York's Grand Central Station, with Lawrence Selden suddenly "refreshed by the sight" of the beautiful Miss Lily Bart. He wonders what she's doing there and realizes that he's always intrigued by her presence.
    • Selden deliberately strolls past her to see if she'll say hello or not.
    • She does. Selden is so arrested by her beauty that he can't believe she's really twenty-nine (which was super-old for a single woman).
    • Lily explains that she's on her way to Bellomont, the Trenors' house, but missed her train and has two hours to kill. She wants to hang with Selden for a bit.
    • This amuses Selden, who tends to view things from a slightly aloof and removed vantage point. He agrees to be her escort for the afternoon, while internally musing (for several paragraphs, we might add) on her incredible beauty.
    • When Lily suggests going someplace "quiet," Selden invites her back to his place, a bachelor pad at an apartment building called the Benedick. He's pleasantly surprised that she accepts his invitation.
    • (Note: Given the time period we're dealing with here, around 1880, it was definitely risqué for a single woman to be hanging out in a single man's pad without a chaperone. Lily is risking her reputation by doing so, and Selden finds that attractive.)
    • Lily remarks that Selden's lucky to have his own place like this; too bad she's a woman and isn't allowed to live alone.
    • Selden notes that their mutual acquaintance Gerty Farish has her own place, but Lily writes her off as an unmarriageable girl who doesn't have to worry about a reputation she doesn't have.
    • Then, Lily remembers that Gerty is Selden's cousin and apologizes. She's almost envious of Gerty's freedom, since she herself has to live with her aunt, Mrs. Peniston.
    • Lily banters with Selden, asking why he doesn't come to visit her more often at her aunt's. It can't be that he's afraid she wants to marry him – right?
    • Selden agrees; he has never once thought that Lily wants to marry him. He is once again amused by her flirtations.
    • Lily cuts to the chase. She needs a male friend, one who isn't going to try and seduce her into marriage, but who is edgy enough to be honest with her.
    • Selden gives her a dose of that honesty on the spot: why isn't she married yet at her age? He remarks that marriage is her "vocation," what she was brought up for.
    • She's waiting for the right man. ("Right" = very, very rich.)
    • Lily takes a cigarette from Selden and moves around the room, smoking it and examining his book collection of "Americana," a.k.a. American books. He remarks that he's not rich enough to have all the books he wants (which explains why he's not on Lily's list of potential husbands). The books themselves are dull, he says, except to the "real collector" who "values a thing for its rarity." (Go ahead and highlight that line there. Or the second time he says it in the next paragraph. Either one.)
    • They discuss the very famous Jefferson Gryce collection and other fun facts. Selden's enjoying himself, but he can never spend long with Lily without wondering about her motives.
    • She questions his financial position further. As it turns out, he's a lawyer, but he doesn't mind having to work for his money.
    • The two of them briefly discuss the party tonight at the Trenors', and Lily realizes she'd better hurry if she wants to make it on time. They say their good-byes.
    • As she exits the building, Lily is nervous that someone will see her leaving. She resents the working woman scrubbing the stairs, who forces Lily to ask her to move in order to get by.
    • As she steps off the stoop, Lily is spotted by Simon Rosedale, a small, blonde, Jewish man with glasses who is new money (he's not from an old family with a history of wealth) and trying to climb the social ladder. Lily explains that she was just visiting her dress-maker at the Benedick.
    • But Rosedale knows something is up, since the Benedick is a place for bachelors and because, conveniently, he owns the building. But he implicitly assures Lily that her secret is safe with him, and offers to escort her to the train station.
    • Lily, nervous, refuses his offer and hails a hansom (19th century version of a cab).
  • Book 1, Chapter 2

    • Once safely alone in the cab, Lily berates herself for her indiscretion with Selden. Mostly, she thinks it's ridiculous that a woman can't enjoy herself for two seconds without getting in trouble for it.
    • Then, she realizes she's a fool for not just telling Rosedale the truth. By making up that story about her dress-maker, she made it sound like something fishy was going on, when in fact she only had tea with a friend.
    • She's also an idiot for not accepting Rosedale's offer as an escort, since snubbing someone who's got dirt on you is a bad idea. She knows that Rosedale is a big social-climber, and that being seen with her would do wonders for his reputation.
    • Lily is particularly worried since Rosedale makes it his business to know everything about everyone, and he's kind of a gossipy guy.
    • She remembers when her cousin, Jack Stepney, befriended Rosedale and got him into some big parties thrown by the fashionable Van Osburghs. It didn't go over well. Rosedale was rejected for being new money and for being Jewish. But Jack was undeterred, knowing how valuable Rosedale would be in the future. (In other words, Jack knew Rosedale was on his way to making lots and lots of money, and that it was prudent to make him an ally early on.)
    • Lily gets to the station and settles in on the train to the Trenors'. Looking around, she spots Mr. Percy Gryce, whom she zeroes in on as the perfect travel companion. Lily pretends to notice him when she's walking by and takes a seat across from him after confirming that he, too, is traveling to Bellomont.
    • The two of them share tea. Lily realizes that Percy is shy and painfully inexperienced in conversing with women, so she steers the conversation toward a topic he'll be comfortable with: Americana.
    • Remember Selden's discussion of the Jefferson Gryce collection? That was Percy's uncle. He died and left everything to Percy – lots of books, lots of cash. This explains Lily's interest in Percy…
    • Percy is ecstatic to have 1) someone to listen to him talk about Americana, and 2) someone who isn't falling asleep listening to him talk about Americana. Also, Lily is gorgeous, which doesn't hurt.
    • Meanwhile Lily is calculating how long it will take to get Percy to marry her. He's one of the most eligible bachelors around, on account of his money.
    • We hear the general back-story on Percy and his upbringing, which we can sum up in two words: mama's boy. Mrs. Gryce brought her son to New York to install him in all the right circles, and Percy's current occupation is accumulating as much wealth as possible.
    • As the conversation continues, Lily feels as though she's in complete control.
    • Unfortunately, at the next train stop they are joined by Mrs. George Dorset, who takes the seat next to Lily and ruins the tête-à-tête.
    • She asks for a cigarette from Lily, who exclaims with shock that she doesn't smoke. (This is, of course, for the benefit of goody-two-shoes Percy.)
  • Book 1, Chapter 3

    • That night, Lily plays bridge at Bellomont into the wee hours of the morning. As she heads up to bed, she looks back at the scene of opulence downstairs: women in expensive dresses and jewels, hunting hounds lounging about the floor, gilded furnishings, etc. Sometimes, she delights in seeing scenes like this, but, sometimes, it makes her realize that she doesn't have enough money to live like that – at least, not now while she's single.
    • She notices Mrs. Dorset drawing Percy aside for a little private chat. But she's not worried. Mrs. Dorset has nothing on Lily in the way of looks or charm.
    • Lily resents that she has to put up with the uber-boring Percy Gryce on the off-chance that he'll be taken in by her charms and ask her to marry him.
    • On the other hand, she doesn't have much choice (unless she wants to live like Gerty Farish, which she doesn't).
    • Lily isn't happy, especially since she's been spending a lot of time playing bridge for lots of money, and can't afford to pay off her gambling debts.
    • Lily knows that a young man named Ned Silverton is dealing with the same issue. He's a young scholar who's been taken in by rich divorcees, like Mrs. Fisher, who like his intellect and company, and often pay his way.
    • Lily would have given up bridge all together, but she spends a lot of time as a guest in other women's homes, and it's clear that, as a guest, she's expected to take part in the evening's activities – like bridge. She doesn't want to look stingy or boring or be a poor sport.
    • Back in her room this evening, Lily realizes she only has twenty bucks left. She discerns that she just lost 300 dollars. (Which, in the late 1800s, is quite extravagant.)
    • It gets worse when she remembers that she owes her dress-maker a ton of money, and that the 300 dollars was supposed to go towards paying down her debt (though not covering it completely, amazingly). She finds the universe particularly obnoxious when she realizes that Judy Trenor and Bertha Dorset – both married to obscenely rich husbands – walked away with piles of winnings.
    • Lily concludes that she is just like the maid of the house – forced to do her duty – except that the maid gets regular wages and Lily doesn't.
    • If the night weren't bad enough already, Lily looks in the mirror and sees two age lines by her mouth. (And, alas, not a Botox shot in sight.)
    • She tries to comfort herself by thinking of her impending victory over Percy Gryce, but the thought of a life-long marriage to such a dull man doesn't exactly perk her up.
    • Lily remembers her mother telling her that she would become very wealthy because she was so beautiful.
    • Which brings us quickly into Flashback Land. Lily remembers her youth, a time of maids and dresses and elaborate furnishings. Her mother, Mrs. Hudson Bart, was very skilled at keeping up appearances and "living as though one were much richer than one's bankbook denoted." Anyone who lived below her opulent standards was living "like [a] pig" and consumed by "dinginess."
    • Lily's father, Mr. Bart, was overworked and prematurely aged. And we're certain that you can correlate this description with that of his wife.
    • Everything changed for Lily when she was nineteen. She was sitting having a late lunch with her mother and remarked that they should have some fresh flowers for the table every day. She figures it will only cost about twelve dollars a day (!), so why not?
    • Lily's father enters and she asks him about getting this daily bouquet. He laughs and tells her mockingly that she might as well order twelve-hundred of them – he's ruined. ("Ruined" = broke)
    • Lily's mother sends her upstairs with instructions not to breathe a word to the servants.
    • After that, Lily remembers that her father didn't mean much to her mother, since he no longer fulfilled his purpose of earning her lots and lots of money. Her father became very ill, but Mrs. Bart held no sympathy for her husband. Then, he died.
    • Left with no money, Mrs. Bart took Lily with her on long visits to friends and relations. She felt the only thing she had left was her daughter's beauty, i.e., a quick ticket to cash.
    • This rubbed off on Lily, who began to expect the world handed to her on a silver platter on account of her looks. But she knew that it wasn't enough to be beautiful; she also needed to use this tool the right way to get what she wanted.
    • Unlike her mother, Lily thought chasing wealth and only wealth was vulgar. She wanted a man who was noble and good. And rich, of course.
    • About two years after Mr. Bart's death, Mrs. Bart herself passed away. Lily's remaining family got together to try and figure out who would take in Lily (she was twenty-one now, but a young, single woman couldn't live alone). No one wanted her, but Lily's aunt Mrs. Peniston (Mr. Bart's widowed sister) finally agreed to try her out for a year.
    • Lily was adaptable, so it worked out. But she soon realized that the "dinginess" which her mother so feared didn't refer only to poverty. She found plenty of "dinginess" in Mrs. Peniston's expensive lifestyle.
    • Mrs. Peniston comes from old New York money, but has always been more of a spectator than a participant in social goings-on. Because of this, Lily gets lots of expensive clothes and dinners and such, but very few opportunities to meet the right people (and get hitched, is the implication).
    • Lily adapts to Mrs. Peniston's passive and sedentary lifestyle in order to appease the woman, but this is problematic for her own social life.
    • The way Mrs. Peniston provides for her further hampers Lily. The periodic gifts, rather than a regular allowance, keep the young woman dependent.
    • Now, at twenty-nine, Lily essentially oscillates between hating herself for throwing away marriage opportunities and hating the fact that she has to get married at all. She wants an independent life, but realizes it wouldn't be much of a life since she'd be poverty-stricken.
    • She concludes that she's too dependent on wealth to stay single.
    • And that's that.
  • Book 1, Chapter 4

    • When she wakes the next morning, Lily finds a note from Mrs. Trenor asking her to help out with some "tiresome things" (like writing letters) since Mrs. Trenor's secretary is away. Lily drags herself out of bed and downstairs.
    • We get a brief description of Mrs. Trenor as the ultimate hostess, with her husband's massive bank account to back up her social ambitions. Because she has so much money, no one is a threat to her, which means she can be nice to everyone.
    • At the moment, she's worried about her upcoming party. Carry Fisher is going to be there; high society doesn't like her because she's had two divorces, yet all the husbands seem to enjoy her company.
    • Mrs. Trenor knows that Carry borrows money from her husband Gus Trenor all the time, but she doesn't say anything because Carry is one of few people who can keep Gus in good spirits. She'd pay her anyway just to keep him company.
    • Mrs. Trenor dishes more about the various people who are invited to her party, and those who are not. She mentions Lady Cressida Raith, a British woman whose sister is the Duchess of Beltshire.
    • Essentially, there's a territorial social war between Mrs. Trenor and Maria Van Osburgh over who gets to "have [the] right people" by her side and attend her parties.
    • Lily reassures her by stroking her social ego.
    • Then, Mrs. Trenor reveals that Mrs. Dorset is angry with her, because she told Bertha that Selden would be attending and now he isn't going to come after all.
    • Lily says she heard it was "all over" between Bertha and Selden, which implies that they had an affair in the past.
    • It is over, says Mrs. Trenor, but only according to Selden. Bertha isn't over him yet.
    • The women wonder who will entertain Mrs. Dorset if Selden isn't around. She can't have Lucius because Alice Wetherall has dibs, and, of course, Ned Silverton is all over Carry Fisher. Mrs. Trenor's own husband Gus doesn't even like Bertha, and Jack Stepney isn't going to do the trick either.
    • Mrs. Trenor admits that Bertha is a dangerous, manipulative woman who takes pleasure in making other people miserable, particularly her husband George.
    • Conversation finally moves around to Percy Gryce, and Lily admits that she's busy ensnaring him herself. Judy Trenor reveals that he makes about $800,000 a year (which is a ton of money now, and a massive amount of money back then). She encourages Lily to "go slow," to not be too forward in her pursuit, and to basically act like a goody two-shoes (no smoking, no sexy clothes, etc.).
    • Before she leaves, Lily asks Judy explicitly not to convince Selden to drop by.
    • The next few days go splendidly for Lily, who spends as much time congratulating herself on her abilities as she does charming Mr. Gryce.
    • One lovely September afternoon, Lily observes Gryce and Carry Fisher chatting it up. Mrs. Fisher is "small, fiery, and dramatic," and, at the moment, consumed with a zeal for municipal reform, whatever that is (hint: it doesn't matter). It's obvious that Percy doesn't care either (he's really bored by Mrs. Fisher), and Lily is amused at his predicament. Lily purposefully doesn't save him so that he'll spend more time longing for her.
    • Then, another couple catches her eye: her cousin Jack Stepney and Miss Gwen Van Osburgh. She resents that Jack gets to sit back while Gwen pursues him until he decides he's ready for marriage. Once again, men have it all, and Lily resents her gender.
    • Lily decides that she and Jack are similar, and that Gwen and Percy are similar. This sort of makes the two couples a foil for each other, in her mind. She and Jack have "all sorts of intuitions, sensations, and perceptions" that Percy and Gwen "don't even guess the existence of."
    • She stays on the terrace and refuses to join the crowd at the tea table below, since they represent her boring future fate of being someone's wife. Life still sucks.
    • Lily comforts herself with the thought of all the money she'll soon have when she marries Percy. She decides she wants to replace his Americana as "the one possession" in which he takes pride in and spends his money on.
    • Lily hears someone approaching and assumes it is Percy, having escaped Mrs. Fisher at last.
    • Nope – it's Lawrence Selden. Before he can greet Lily, Mrs. Dorset steps in and takes ownership of her former lover.
  • Book 1, Chapter 5

    • It's Sunday at Bellomont. As per routine, a little omnibus comes around and picks up the church-goers to bring them down the road for the service a mile away.
    • Lily decides this is the morning to officially seal the deal with Gryce. She's been playing the part of the wholesome little angel, and she figures that when Percy sees her head bent reverently towards her prayer book he'll just be overcome with the desire to propose. After church, they'll take a walk together around the estate, and he'll pop the question.
    • But, when the omnibus comes around, Percy waits anxiously for Miss Bart to join them; she never shows. He departs without her.
    • So…what happened? As it turns out, Lily meant to go to church. And it's likely that all would have gone as planned if Selden had not so inconveniently shown up.
    • Mrs. Trenor assured Lily that she didn't call Selden; he came on his own. She wonders if his thing with Bertha Dorset is still going on, and he actually came to see her.
    • This angers Lily. Even if Selden did come to see Bertha, Lily will make sure she can steal the show.
    • At dinner the Saturday night before, Lily was given the opportunity to directly compare Selden and Gryce.
    • Bad idea. Lily starts wondering why she is suddenly so interested in Selden when she's known him for eight years and has never wanted him before.
    • She decides that what she likes his detachment; Selden is removed from the gilded cage of society, which reminds her that there's a world outside it. She starts viewing her own little world through his eyes. Suddenly, all these rich people look trivial and boring.
    • Mr. Dorset is sitting next to Lily, and down the other end of the table Mrs. Dorset is by Selden. Mr. Dorset is jealous of his wife making a spectacle of herself by being all over Selden, so he makes a joke about it to Lily to cover his insecurities. Then, he chews her ear off all night.
    • Meanwhile, Jack is discussing his upcoming engagement to Gwen Van Osburgh. He jokes about having Simon Rosedale as the best man.
    • Lily freaks out a bit when she hears Rosedale's name. She realizes if, for some reason, she doesn't marry Percy, she may some day have to marry a man like Rosedale.
    • OK, so that was Saturday night. Now, we return to Sunday, the morning Lily was supposed to go to church but didn't. Lily gets up early and was just about ready to go until she realizes that, if she marries Percy, she's going to have to go to church with him every Sunday.
    • So she passes on church. But she does spy out the window and notices that Percy looks very, very disappointed at her absence, so she figures maybe it was a tactical ploy anyway. After all, she's still planning to walk with him later, and maybe he will have missed her so much at church that he'll be even more inspired pop the question.
    • She runs through all the guests at Bellomont and decides that everyone is away and occupied, except Mrs. Dorset, which means she can do whatever she wants for the next few hours.
    • Lily heads for the library. There she finds… Selden and Mrs. Dorset. Of course.
    • Bertha is furious that Lily interrupted their tête-à-tête. Lily first gets Mrs. Dorset to offer to leave Lily alone with Selden, then refuses the offer on the grounds that she's going to walk to church.
    • Which, she does, alone. All the way there, she fumes over what seems to be the inevitable conclusion: Selden came to Bellomont to see Mrs. Dorset, not to see Lily.
    • On the way to church, Lily stops at a scenic little bend in the path, mostly because it's a beautiful location and she feels beautiful, and she figures that if she sits around looking picturesque for half an hour or so, someone will pass by and be struck by the loveliness of it all.
    • But no one comes by, and the opportunity to witness such beauty is lost to the world.
    • Lily continues to church. Shortly after, Selden catches up with her, having walked from Bellomont himself.
    • And we make with the banter. Flirt, flirt; wink, wink; loaded triple entendres – you get the picture.
    • The crowd that actually did go to church now approaches, walking back towards Bellomont now that the service is over. Selden spots Percy and realizes that he is Lily's target. "Now I see why you were getting up your Americana!" he remarks.
    • Just as the church crowd approaches, Selden asks Lily to accompany him on a long afternoon walk.
  • Book 1, Chapter 6

    • Lily is taking a walk around Bellomont with Selden.
    • Lily is conflicted; she feels excited at "escaping" the gilded cage of society with Selden, but she also feels scared at the risk of losing Percy.
    • She wonders briefly if she feels love for Selden. She's only been in love once before, with a man named Herbert Melson, who ended up marrying one of the Van Osburgh daughters.
    • Lily muses on what it is about Selden she likes so much. She believes he acts as though he's part of a superior race – even more so than the richest men she knows.
    • Selden admits to Lily that he came to Bellomont to see her, not Mrs. Dorset. He says Lily is a "wonderful spectacle" and he wanted to see what she was up to.
    • He also calls Lily out on her manipulative abilities. He thinks she's probably using him somehow to get to Percy – not that it bothers him.
    • Lily admits to herself that this is about right – she doesn't want to seem over-eager with Percy, anyway.
    • They banter some more, this time about the definition of success. Lily says it is to get as much out of life as one can. Selden disagrees; he thinks success is personal freedom. (Important stuff, readers.)
    • Lily admits she only knows personal freedom around Selden.
    • This lament hits home for Selden; he realizes that Lily has a weakness, and that makes her more interesting to him (rather than just a pretty object to look at).
    • Selden tells Lily that she'll have a hard time finding personal freedom after she marries a rich man.
    • Lily counters that Selden sure spends a lot of time hanging around the socialite people he claims to despise.
    • This is true, he says, but he considers himself amphibious – he can live in her world, but he can breathe in another environment as well.
    • After they talk some more about marriage and society, Lily concludes that her future is rather miserable, and that it looks even worse when she sees it through Selden's eyes.
    • She particularly resents that he condemns her life choices without offering her any alternatives.
    • Selden admits that, no, he has nothing to offer her as an alternative – but if he did, he would give it to her.
    • Lily cries a bit and he tries to comfort her. She asks if he wants to marry her; he says no, but if she did, then he would. (Argh.)
    • Then, they go back and forth calling each other cowards.
    • Basically, they both know that if Lily did marry Selden she couldn't maintain her current (and very expensive) lifestyle. Lily says that she would look hideous in the "dowdy clothes" she would have to wear as a woman of limited means, but that at least she knows how to trim her own hats.
    • This light note effectively ends the conversation, and the couple heads back to the house.
  • Book 1, Chapter 7

    • Mrs. Trenor berates Lily for being completely flaky and indecisive. Because Lily took Selden away from Bertha, Bertha retaliated and turned Percy against Lily by giving him all the dirt on her. She told him how Lily gambles, smokes, and doesn't go to church.
    • Now, Percy has left Bellomont, essentially to run away from Lily.
    • It takes a while, but Lily finally realizes how screwed she is.
    • At lunch, Lily discovers that Selden has departed from Bellomont, in addition to Percy.
    • Mrs. Dorset is there, playing nice on the surface, but obviously mean underneath. She's all, "Oooh, Lily, I wonder why Mr. Gryce isn't here anymore! How curious!" and that sort of thing.
    • Lily suffers inwardly at the thought of the rich life she just lost.
    • As Lily heads away from the table, Mrs. Trenor asks her to go to the station and pick up her husband, Gus Trenor, and bring him back to Bellomont. She said she would send Carry Fisher, but she knows that Mrs. Fisher is always trying to get money out of Gus.
    • On the way to the station, Lily devises a plan to get out of her hidden debt with the help of Gus Trenor. Of course, Lily knows that a married woman can do things (like borrow money) that a single girl cannot (because of the implications that favors were traded for the cash). She decides that she'll have to tread carefully.
    • Gus Trenor is "red and massive." Lily is well aware of the fact that he finds her attractive.
    • Trenor starts talking about his work. He admits to Lily that it takes a lot of time (and causes him a great deal of stress) to keep Judy in the lifestyle they live. (He's in the stock market.)
    • He also says that he's made a good deal of money trading on tips from Simon Rosedale – he wishes his wife would stop being so snobbish and invite Rosedale to dinner, since he's such a useful business acquaintance to have.
    • Lily realizes this is the angle she can work. When they arrive at Bellomont, she asks Trenor to keep driving, so they can enjoy this nice little carriage ride together a bit more.
    • Lily starts lamenting how awful her financial situation is, how she can't play bridge anymore and can't buy such pretty dresses, etc. She asks for Trenor's help in explaining to Judy that Lily can't stay with them as she does. She needs to go back to her aunt's, where the social pressure to spend money all the time isn't there.
    • This touches Trenor. He hates the thought of the beautiful Lily Bart having to do without. He asks for her to give him the small amount of money she has – about 500 dollars – and let him speculate with it on the stock market.
    • Lily is relieved, and exhilarated with the sense of her own power.
  • Book 1, Chapter 8

    • Next thing we know, Lily's getting a thousand dollar check from Gus Trenor. Score.
    • Lily makes some payments to the dressmakers, shoemakers, etc. she owes, but doesn't stop herself from putting in some new orders, too.
    • Meanwhile, it's easy to keep Gus happy and on her side. All she has to do is laugh at his jokes and pretend his stories are entertaining. And Mrs. Trenor just figures Lily is paying her back for her kindnesses by being a good friend to her husband.
    • Lily assumes that Gus is still speculating on the stock market and that he just happens to keep winning with her money. She's sure that if he lost with it, he would tell her and she would pay him back.
    • Meanwhile, Jack Stepney is marrying Gwen Van Osburgh. Lily passes on being a bridesmaid, since she'd rather wait until she's the bride to take part in another wedding.
    • At the wedding ceremony, Lily spots Percy Gryce. Lily knows that she looks really good today, and she figures she can win him back sometime between the vows and the rice-throwing.
    • But, then, she spots Selden, too. She doesn't want to see him since he's a reminder of her big blunder back at Bellomont, when she lost the prospect of marrying Gryce.
    • Lily also sees Gerty Farish, whom she considers "dingy," particularly when she assesses her wardrobe. "It is almost as stupid to let your clothes betray that you know you are ugly as to have them proclaim that you think you are beautiful," Lily thinks.
    • Gerty is apparently unaware of Lily's disdain. She chatters on like they're old friends. Gerty is particularly excited because Selden escorted her to the wedding and invited her to have dinner with him afterwards. She says she told Selden he ought to marry a nice girl, but he responded that he didn't care for the nice girls, and the other kind didn't care for him.
    • Meanwhile, Lily checks out the bling at the wedding and feels as though it compliments "her own jewel-like rareness."
    • Gerty points out the massive diamond pendant which was a wedding gift for the bride from Simon Rosedale. And a big sapphire from Percy Gryce. (Salt in the wound. Ouch.)
    • Then, Gerty drops the bomb: Percy is all over Evie Van Osburgh these days. The real kicker is that the Van Osburghs are so wealthy that Evie doesn't need his money at all.
    • Lily is horrified. So, it's not the best moment for Gus to come up and put his hand on her as though they're best buds. This angers her even more, especially when he calls her "Lily" instead of "Miss Bart" and comments on how attractive she looks.
    • He also announces – loudly – that he has another check for her, which alarms Lily. (The loud part, not the check part. The check part is good.)
    • Lily again returns her thoughts to Percy. She decides to steal him back from Evie.
    • Except, while she is plotting, Gus is still standing there, disgruntled that Lily isn't paying more attention to him. He tells Lily to come see him at Bellomont that night, since Judy won't be around.
    • Lily says she can't; Trenor again expresses his frustration with her for not spending more time with him.
    • So, Trenor asks for another favor in return for all this dough he's been giving her: be nice to Simon Rosedale, since he's the guy supplying all these great tips on the stock market.
    • Lily agrees, and the two of them go looking for Rosedale. On the way, they bump into Selden, which makes Lily's heart go pitter-pat, or possibly all-aflutter. They haven't seen each other since that private walk at Bellomont.
    • They banter for a bit about Lily's fate in society, but Trenor soon drags Rosedale over and interrupts congenially. His "we're best buddies!" tone of voice ticks off Lily some more.
    • Lily knows it's time for her to start the charming Lily Bart act, but she has trouble performing in front of Selden. She gives Rosedale a look that says, "Do you seriously expect me to talk to you?"
    • Rosedale responds by casually mentioning Lily's dressmaker at the Benedick…
    • And that does the trick. Lily goes off for a little chat with Rosedale, knowing all the while that Selden must have picked up on what happened outside his flat in New York.
    • As the party draws to its conclusion, Lily realizes she hasn't been able to find Percy yet. Evie is also nowhere to be seen, which she takes to be a bad sign.
    • Finally, she bumps into Mrs. Van Osburgh, who is all flustered and excited. She tells Lily that Evie and Percy have just gotten engaged.
  • Book 1, Chapter 9

    • Lily is now back living with her aunt, Mrs. Peniston, who is redecorating with zeal.
    • When Lily returns from the wedding, she passes a charwoman cleaning the stairs who doesn't move to let her by.
    • Lily firmly asks the woman to move, and realizes that it is the same charwoman from the Benedick, who gave her such a sullen look when she was leaving Selden's place (way back in Chapter One, remember?).
    • Mrs. Peniston considers the upcoming fall season. She would rather her other companion, Grace Stepney, help out with re-decorating, although generally she finds Lily to be a more interesting person.
    • Cut to Lily, who, alone, hears the doorbell ring and is told that a "Mrs. Haffen" is waiting, whoever that is.
    • Lily agrees to see her, and it turns out to be the same charwoman we've now met twice. She has something to show Lily, a package wrapped in dirty newspapers.
    • This can't be good.
    • It turns out to be a packet of letters. Mrs. Haffen starts talking about her own financial problems. And we all smell blackmail…
    • The package turns out to be a collection of letters which Selden threw out, but failed to burn. He only ripped them up into big pieces, which the charwoman put back together.
    • Lily feels physically ill from being a part of this "vileness." But she does happen to recognize the handwriting in the letters: Mrs. Dorset's. She also realizes that these letters from Mrs. Dorset to Selden are actually quite recent.
    • Lily suddenly concludes that she has major, major power over Mrs. Dorset (who, as we know, burned Lily bad back there with the whole Percy thing).
    • But, the fact is, she's just too disgusted by the dinginess of the situation to want to take part in it. She tries to turn the charwoman away.
    • But Mrs. Haffen presses her. She needs money for them; otherwise, Lily's reputation will be ruined.
    • Now Lily understands: this charwoman thinks the letters came from her (Lily).
    • Lily considers the fact that Selden, too – not just Mrs. Dorset – is on the line here.
    • So she negotiates the price and purchases the letters. Mrs. Haffen leaves.
    • (Note: it's important to realize that Lily doesn't have any machinations in mind here. She's not planning on screwing over Mrs. Dorset, or using the letters to curry favor with the woman – she simply wants the matter put to rest. She's also a bit disgusted that she had to be involved in the sordid affair at all.)
    • Just about then, Mrs. Peniston shows up, wanting to hear all the juicy details about the wedding: who was wearing what, who gave what as gifts, what were the decorations like, etc.
    • Lily doesn't feel like playing this game, considering everything that's just gone down.
    • Mrs. Peniston, who apparently doesn't know about Lily's past with Gryce, talks excitedly of his engagement to Evie. She says that Mrs. Dorset played Cupid in the matchmaking…
    • Lily excuses herself and heads up to bed.
    • Now, she had planned on burning the letters – until Mrs. Peniston reminded her of Mrs. Dorset's vindictiveness. Lily tucks the letters away in her closet….
    • She also realizes ("with a flash of irony") that she is indebted to Gus Trenor for the money she used to buy them.
  • Book 1, Chapter 10

    • Autumn continues, and Lily remains with Mrs. Peniston. She spends all the money she keeps getting from Gus, without any forethought or squirreling some away for a rainy day.
    • One day, while she is out shopping (of course), Lily runs into Gerty Farish. Gerty has just come from a meeting regarding her latest philanthropic cause, a Girls Club for working-class women.
    • Lily is touched by the thought of charity and gives a chunk of dough to Gerty for the cause. This makes her feel good about herself, which is why she did it.
    • Around this time, Lily receives an invitation to spend Thanksgiving in the Adirondacks, organized by Carry Fisher. The party is hosted by Mrs. Wellington Bry, "a lady of obscure origins and indomitable social ambitions." Her husband, known as Welly Bry, is a stock exchange guy and Louisa Bry's second match. She dumped the first because he was getting them nowhere. Now she has essentially hooked onto Carry Fisher, who spends Mrs. Bry's money in exchange for pulling her up the social ladder.
    • Mrs. Bry also admires Lily, which is some nice ego-stroking for our heroine. She attends the Thanksgiving festivities and returns home elated.
    • Unfortunately for her spirits, Mr. Rosedale stops by to visit her a few days after she comes back. Now, Lily suspects that he has something to do with her "good luck" on the stock market, so she has to tread carefully here.
    • Rosedale invites her to a seat in his opera box on opening night, adding that Carry Fisher and Gus Trenor will be there as well (and that Gus is pretty desperate to see Lily).
    • Lily finds this whole thing distasteful, but, when Rosedale mentions her recent "luck" on Wall Street, it pretty much drives the point home. She agrees to go.
    • On his way out, Rosedale congratulates himself for playing his cards just right. He knows he "took advantage of [Lily's] nervousness" regarding her relationship with Gus Trenor (and Gus's money).
    • Once alone, Lily fumes that Gus dared to tell Rosedale of their little financial arrangement. Still, she knows that Mrs. Trenor is going to break soon and finally introduce Rosedale to society at her arm, so Lily figures she might as well reap the benefits of being one of his early friends.
    • At the opera, Lily spends a few paragraphs basking in the glow of her own radiant beauty and the admiring gazes from those around her.
    • Of course, she doesn't realize that Gus's money paid for that radiant dress she's wearing.
    • But Gus does. And he's mad that he gets no greater privilege with Lily than all the other guys staring at her.
    • When the two of them are alone between acts, Gus asks Lily (somewhat gruffly) why it is that he never gets to see her anymore.
    • Lily is offended by his implication that she owes him, but she responds that he can visit her any time he likes at her aunt's.
    • That's not what he had in mind. He wants to be alone with her.
    • They continue to argue until George Dorset's arrival interrupts the discussion. Lily is relieved to see him; she's one of the few women who have taken the time to be nice to Mr. Dorset, and she feels that it will pay off.
    • Dorset chats with Lily for a bit and says that his wife wants him to invite her down to their place next Sunday, to help them deal with all of Ned Silverton's intellectual bores who will be in attendance. He mentions that Ned and Bertha have been getting very close lately.
    • Lily is ecstatic; if Mrs. Dorset wants her over for dinner, it must mean that she intends for them to be friends again. Lily feels no desire for revenge against Bertha – she just wants the malice between them to dissipate.
  • Book 1, Chapter 11

    • The holidays end and the real social season opens. Mrs. Peniston enjoys watching from above and commenting on the goings-on.
    • The fall didn't go well on Wall Street, so everyone "feels poor" except for Welly Bry and Simon Rosedale.
    • Because of this distinction, Rosedale has become particularly popular lately. Mrs. Fisher has latched on to him, which, by this point, shouldn't surprise you at all. But he still wants Lily by his side.
    • Grace Stepney – Mrs. Peniston's companion – has definitely noticed the attentions Rosedale pays to Lily. She's a big gossip, and she doesn't fail to inform Mrs. Peniston of her niece's activities.
    • Grace is one of those people concerned primarily with herself. She dislikes Lily only because she thinks Lily dislikes her. And Lily is too self-absorbed to realize the dangers of a person like Grace Stepney and to take measures to befriend her.
    • Meanwhile, Jack Stepney and Gwen return from their honeymoon, and Mrs. Peniston gives a dinner for them. She invites Grace because it's a family dinner.
    • Grace is elated; she is often ignored socially, so this is a big deal for her.
    • Then, Mrs. Peniston suddenly changes her mind, and says that it would be better to have Grace another night instead. Grace realizes that Lily stepped in and got her un-invited.
    • Now, Grace is out for revenge…. She goes to Mrs. Peniston and tells her that rumors are flying about Lily and Gus Trenor.
    • Mrs. Peniston is shocked and refuses to believe it. She turns on Grace and berates her for wasting her time with such baseless accusations. Besides, she says – she pays Lily's bills herself, so Lily has no need to get money from a married man like Gus.
    • Then Grace drops another bomb: Lily has some rather intense gambling debts to pay off.
    • This horrifies Mrs. Peniston, who is uncomfortable with the idea of her niece gambling.
    • Outwardly, Mrs. Peniston writes all this off. But, inwardly, she feels "contaminated" at being part of such vileness and harbors some resentment toward Lily for provoking this gossip in the first place, even if it isn't true.
  • Book 1, Chapter 12

    • Lily has become quite good friends with Bertha Dorset, mostly because Ned Silverton moved away from Carry Fisher and toward Bertha, which means Bertha needs someone to distract her husband while she flirts with the young poet.
    • Lily is fine with this – not because she's getting any money out of George, but because of the social stability that comes with their association.
    • Meanwhile, things are getting out of hand with Gus. Lily is used to playing verbal games, keeping everything in innuendos and subtleties, but Gus doesn't really know how to do this, and he's increasingly frustrated by their conversations. Also, he lost money, like everyone else in the fall.
    • Mrs. Trenor hasn't asked Lily back to visit Bellomont, which is disconcerting as well; Lily doesn't know if she's heard the rumors regarding her husband.
    • So, early in January, Lily asks Judy if she can join a party at Bellomont. Judy responds that she should "come by all means," which assuages Lily's concerns.
    • The party is a bit boring. Lily figures it's her job to get the party going, but she senses that Mrs. Trenor resents her efforts. She realizes that she's under suspicion, so she takes effort to avoid Mr. Trenor at all costs (and therefore cool the fires of gossip).
    • She returns to town from Bellomont, where the Brys are organizing a big social function. The plan is for a dozen "fashionable women" to display themselves in a series of living portraits done by the distinguished painter Paul Morpeth.
    • Lily is one of the fashionable women, and she's stoked to put her beauty on display.
    • All of society is bored, so they decide to come to the event. Even Selden.
    • All are awed by the grandeur of the newly-built Bry house.
    • Gerty attends as well, and is ecstatic to be near Selden. She's grateful to Lily for extending the invitation to her, and chats about how wonderful a girl Lily is – she even gave 300 dollars to Gerty's charity! She seems to think Lily is the cat's meow.
    • Selden greatly admires the living portraits, which are essentially a bunch of rich people inserted into classic scenes from famous paintings. Among the women featured are Carry Fisher, Mrs. Van Alstyne, Kate Corby, and, of course, Lily Bart.
    • Lily's portrait is the most beautiful. Rather than insert herself in a historic scene and pretend to be another person – like Cleopatra, for example – she chose a figure that basically looked like her already. This way she's not disguising herself at all. (See the portrait here.)
    • Ned Van Alstyne says something along the lines of, "Wow, that's gorgeous," which offends Selden, who feels a little protective of Lily. He decides he wants her again.
    • Later that night, Selden finally finds Lily alone. He hasn't seen her since the Van Osburgh wedding.
    • Lily gets all butterflies-in-the-stomach as he approaches; she feels as though she desires to be beautiful only for him.
    • He offers her his arm without speaking; in silence she takes it and they move out into the garden.
    • Finally Selden gets around to admitting that he's in love with her. They kiss; Lily tells him he can love her but he shouldn't tell her so, and then she runs away.
    • Oh, the drama. We just can't take anymore.
    • Selden, a little at a loss (poor guy), goes inside and meets up with Ned Van Alstyne and Gus Trenor. Trenor is angry that Lily put herself on display for men to ogle (he wants her all to himself, it would seem).
  • Book 1, Chapter 13

    • Lily wakes up the day after the party to find two notes for her. One is from Mrs. Trenor, who wants to see Lily that afternoon. The next is from Selden, who was called away on business but would like to see her the following evening.
    • Lily is irritated by Selden's note – it makes her life more complicated. Also, she's made it clear that she doesn't intend to marry him, so what is he doing? She enjoys having power over him, but she knows it would be dangerous for last night's scene to "have a sequel."
    • Still, she answers his note with a message to meet her tomorrow at 4pm, figuring she can tell him off in person.
    • In the meantime, Lily can rest easy that Judy is again her friend (because of the invitation).
    • Lily has dinner with Mrs. Fisher and then heads to the Trenors' after 10pm to see Judy. She finds it odd that the house is mostly dark, and that a shabby caretaker opens the door for her rather than the usual footman.
    • Gus Trenor greets her and leads her into the den where he sets about getting her a drink.
    • Lily asks where Judy is, but he says she's upstairs in bed with a headache and not to worry about it. He keeps trying to change the subject.
    • Lily says that if Judy isn't well enough to see her, she'll have to come back tomorrow to visit instead. She asks repeatedly for a cab, but Trenor keeps refusing to call her one. He starts in again on how Lily just wanted to use him for stock tips, and now that she's gotten what she wanted, she never spends any time with him.
    • Lily explains that it's past eleven and therefore inappropriate for the two of them to be alone together while Judy is upstairs. She says if he won't call her a cab, she'll go upstairs and get his wife.
    • Then, Gus admits the truth: Judy isn't here. She's at Bellomont. He orchestrated the evening to get Lily alone with him in the house.
    • Lily is all, "This is so indecent!", which enrages him further. He says that he's been giving Lily tons of money and, in return, she owes him. He never explicitly says anything about sex, but it's clear that that's what he's talking about.
    • Lily is indignant; she thought he was simply investing her money on the stock market for her.
    • Gus doesn't think a woman like Lily – who "goes to men's houses in broad daylight" – has any right to take the moral high road with him. Lily realizes that Rosedale told him about the afternoon he found her leaving Selden's room at the Benedick.
    • Finally, she says that if she owes Gus money, she will surely pay him back. He doesn't want money (obviously) – he wants something else. But Lily insists she will pay him back and then runs out of the house.
    • As she gets into a carriage and departs, she thinks she recognizes the outline of a pair of gentlemen outside on the street…
    • Lily is horrified and distraught. Seeing that it's only 11:30, she doesn't know where to go for the rest of the night. She doesn't want to be alone. She decides to go stay with Gerty Farish, who has always been so kind to her.
  • Book 1, Chapter 14

    • Now, we go back in time to the morning of this same tumultuous day – the morning after the living portrait party at the Brys' place. This time we focus on Gerty Farish, who wakes up in a fantastic mood.
    • Said mood stems largely from the fact that she has a huge crush on Selden. He's been spending a lot of time with her lately, and now it seems that they have a shared affection for Lily Bart. Gerty doesn't at all suspect that Selden has feelings for her friend Lily.
    • When she receives a telegram from Selden asking her to have dinner with him that night, she's happier than ever.
    • Now we cut to Selden, who spends the whole day thinking about Lily. We get a bit of his personal history, too. He had a charming mother and a father who was completely taken in by said charm. They didn't particularly care for money, but also didn't respect it and lived beyond their means. It was from his mother that he inherited his distinct personality traits: "the Stoic's carelessness of material things, combined with the Epicurean's pleasure in them."
    • Anyway, at this point, he's sure that Lily will agree to meet him and then agree to marry him when he proposes.
    • Selden is certain that Lily will fulfill what he wants in a woman: a justification of "his point of view" of life. In the midst of fantasizing about a marriage to Lily, he hastily scrawls the note to Gerty Farish (which we already know she dotes over).
    • Later, he is disappointed to see that Gerty has responded to his note, but Lily hasn't yet.
    • At his men's club, Selden bumps into Gus Trenor, who asks him to have dinner with him. Selden refuses on account of his prior engagement, and takes a moment to feel disgusted at Gus's overweight, ruddy figure and the rumors that associate his name with Lily's.
    • Now, we cut to Selden at dinner with Gerty. He notices that she's not that bad-looking. He compliments her dinner and tells her that she ought to marry soon (which we know Gerty is going to interpret as flirtation on his part).
    • After dinner, it becomes clear to us (and to Gerty) why Selden came to dinner with her: in order to talk about Lily.
    • Gerty, who started the day thinking Lily was her best friend, now wants to murder the woman for stealing her man.
    • Selden leaves for the night in pursuit of his crush
    • Selden arrives at Mrs. Fisher's dinner, but Lily has just left (to go visit Mrs. Trenor who turns out to be Mr. Trenor. But you knew that).
    • In front of Selden, some of the other dinner guests discuss the ugly rumors flying around town regarding Lily. They also talk about Rosedale wanting to marry her and, of course, how amazing she looked in her living portrait.
    • Selden leaves, angry at this gossip but wishing more than ever to sweep Lily off her feet and rescue her from these awful people.
    • Outside, Ned Van Alstyne joins Selden on his evening walk. Ned discusses the newly built Wellington Bry house as they make their way toward the Trenors'.
    • They realize that Mrs. Stepney was right in saying that Mrs. Trenor isn't in town, as the house is dark. Selden then assumes that Lily can't be there (because, with Judy gone, it would be a scandal).
    • Then, both men see the door open and Lily rush out and get in a cab.
    • Ned Van Alstyne, who is Lily's father's cousin, tells Selden that they had better keep this business to themselves. The men part ways for the night.
    • Cut to Gerty once again. She's alone and still fuming mad at Lily Bart. She's especially angry because she can't imagine that Lily would ever marry Selden, because of the money issue. She goes to bed, raging inwardly.
    • Later that night, the doorbell rings, waking Gerty. She is of course surprised to find that it is Lily Bart, and a rather distraught Lily at that.
    • OK, "distraught" is an understatement. Lily looks so miserable and crazed that Gerty immediately forgets all about hating her and takes her in.
    • She helps Lily warm herself up by the fire and listens. Lily rants about how she hates herself and can't bear to see her own reflection in the mirror. She's a bad person and people will always say bad things about her.
    • Gerty comforts her and even lets her know that Selden was looking for her earlier that night. Lily admits that he tried to warn her long ago of the dangers of society.
    • Gerty realizes that Lily didn't have to try to seduce Selden – he just fell in love with her of his own accord. This dissolves any lingering resentment she may have felt against her friend.
    • Lily asks if Gerty thinks Selden would help her if she told him the truth – or would he condemn her like all these other men?
    • Gerty is definitely tempted to turn Lily away from Selden, but she tells her that, yes, Selden will help her – he's not like other men.
    • The women get ready for bed. Lily doesn't want to be alone (she's still a little hysterical), so she makes Gerty lie next to her and hold her while she goes to sleep.
  • Book 1, Chapter 15

    • When Lily wakes up the next morning, she is more herself again. Which means that she realizes that she spent the night in a cheap bed in an inexpensive and poorly-furnished apartment – and there's no maid to pick up after her.
    • She quickly says her thank-yous to Gerty, explains that she was not herself after a panic attack last night, and returns home to Mrs. Peniston's.
    • Lily collects herself and thinks more reasonably on last night's events. She does the math and realizes she probably owes Gus Trenor about $9,000.
    • She asks to have a private conversation with her aunt. Once alone, she tells her aunt that she owes a great deal of money and needs help.
    • Mrs. Peniston says she will pay the dressmaker another thousand dollars if that's the issue.
    • Lily explains that these aren't bills to tradespeople, and that it's a great deal more than $1,000. She doesn't want to admit the truth, so when Mrs. Peniston presses her for more details, she explains that these are gambling debts.
    • Mrs. Peniston is horrified by the thought of her niece playing cards for money. She refuses to condone Lily's behavior by bailing her out.
    • Lily leaves, more desperate than ever for Selden's help. She knows he's supposed to arrive at 4pm for tea, so she settles down to devising her plan of attack.
    • Unfortunately, 4pm comes and goes with no Selden.
    • As does 5pm.
    • Even more unfortunately, Mr. Rosedale arrives to see Lily before the afternoon is over. He makes with the small talk for about, oh, 2.5 seconds before explaining that he wants to marry her.
    • He knows Lily doesn't love him, but quite frankly, he doesn't care. She needs cash, and he needs the right woman by his side to continue his social ascent.
    • Lily isn't interested, but she's also not stupid enough to turn him down outright. She tells him to give her time to think it over and bids him good-bye.
    • As she is about to write yet another note to Selden, Lily spots a line in the social papers saying that Selden left that morning for the West Indies. She begins writing a letter to Rosedale instead, but struggles with forcing herself to write it.
    • Before she can finish, a telegram arrives from Mrs. Dorset, asking Lily to join her and her husband George on a cruise in the Mediterranean.
  • Book 2, Chapter 1

    • Selden has just come from business with a client in Paris and is now relaxing for a week in Monte Carlo.
    • It's mid-April, and while strolling about Selden bumps into Mrs. Fisher, Mrs. Jack Stepney (formerly Gwen Van Osburgh), and Mrs. Wellington Bry. They're all standing around arguing over where they should have lunch. (The husbands are there, too, including a new guy named Lord Hubert Dacey.)
    • While they continue the lunch debate, Jack Stepney spots the Dorsets' yacht, the Sabrina, returning to shore, and remarks that they are back. Both Lily and Ned Silverton are on board with the couple.
    • The socialites are pleased that Lily is back, because she's been a smash hit among the social elite here in Europe. The Big Kahuna with whom everyone wants to be seen is the Duchess, who has taken a great liking to Miss Bart.
    • Selden is all, "Can I ever get away from this woman?" He thought he was done with her, but seeing the yacht and hearing her name makes him realize he's not over Lily just yet.
    • After lunch, Selden chats with Mrs. Fisher. She explains that she came along as a companion (and social coordinator) to the Brys. The Brys have money, but no social currency, so it's Carry's job to ingratiate them with all the right people.
    • It seems that, when Lily was in Aix ten years ago with Mrs. Peniston, a rich, gorgeous Italian prince wanted to marry her. Then his stepson showed up and she flirted with him, which nixed the marriage proposal. (In other words, Lily has been doing this for years.)
    • Mrs. Fisher offers one explanation: Lily does these things because she secretly despises the life she's trying to obtain. She thinks that's what makes Lily so interesting.
    • Then, she explains the current situation aboard the Sabrina: Bertha is pursuing an affair with Ned Silverton, and she needs Lily around to distract her husband George. Also, Lily has been snubbing the Brys, which is likely a bad decision on her part.
    • Selden is all, "Oh, look at the time" and excuses himself, explaining that he needs to return to Nice. Later, alone in his hotel room, he wonders aloud what he's running away from.
    • He feels that if he can go long enough without seeing Lily, he can "return to a reasonable view" of her.
    • Unfortunately, he bumps into her at the train station. (There goes that theory.) She's there with Ned Silverton, the Dorsets, and Lord Hubert Dacey. And they're all headed to Nice to dine with the Duchess.
    • On the train, Selden has time to observe Lily in earnest: he finds that her beauty has "hardened" and she looks less youthful. He sees that she's made herself a useful tool to everyone around her. Selden also thinks she is "on the brink of a chasm," which sounds to us like some pretty creepy foreshadowing.
    • Later, once in Nice, Selden has dinner with a companion of his and then wanders around outside for a bit. He notices two figures getting into a cab together late at night – Bertha and Ned.
  • Book 2, Chapter 2

    • The next morning, Lily considers her position with the Dorsets. She feels she was lucky to get their invitation when she did. Away from New York, she no longer feels as though she's under Gus Trenor's obligation for the nine grand she owes. Distance makes it all seem irrelevant….
    • She's also psyched that she's been so well-accepted in Europe. Everybody loves her.
    • She does worry a bit that her personal funds are so low, but, for the moment, she's living off the Dorsets and it doesn't matter.
    • Lily heads ashore for breakfast with the Duchess, but Mrs. Dorset is not invited. Her Grace doesn't care for Bertha, so Lily has had a hard time getting her invited to important events.
    • On her way, Lily bumps into Mrs. Fisher, who plays the same role for the Brys that Lily does for the Dorsets. That is, she's a single woman (Mrs. Fisher is divorced, remember?) who acts as a social coordinator and companion in exchange for expensive dinners and lodgings.
    • Mrs. Fisher reveals that she's had "an awful row" with Mrs. Bry, who's angry that the Duchess hasn't been seeing more of her lately. Mrs. Bry thinks it's Mrs. Fisher's fault.
    • As a result, Mrs. Fisher is leaving the Brys and joining Mr. and Mrs. Sam Gormer, who need her help climbing the social ladder more than the Brys do. She's decided to leave the Brys to Lily to take care of.
    • She knows that Lily has snubbed the Brys, but adds that it's not too late. If Lily just gets the Duchess to dine with them tonight, everything will be fine.
    • Mrs. Fisher adds that a writer from the gossip pages – a guy named Dabham – took note of the fact that Lily and Dorset came back to the ship alone after midnight last night. Lily laughs; the only reason they were alone is that Bertha was off with Ned Silverton and couldn't be found!
    • Mrs. Fisher believes Lily, but she sincerely hopes that Lily won't pay for Mrs. Dorset's indiscretions. (This can't be good.)
    • The two women part.
    • Lily immediately sees Mrs. Bry and is all, "We should hang out!", which appeases the woman. Lily realizes it's so easy to do these things, and wonders why she doesn't do them more often – maybe because of her pride?
    • Next, she runs into Dorset, who seems particularly upset. He tells her that Bertha didn't come aboard the ship until 7am, which means she was out with Ned Silverton all night.
    • Lily realizes what's going on and does her job: distracting Dorset. She tells him that it was nothing and not to worry about it.
    • Dorset responds by unloading all his woes on Lily for the next hour or so. He concludes by saying that he wants Selden as a lawyer.
    • Lily tries to talk him out of pursuing a divorce and out of using Selden as his lawyer. But Dorset is insistent. He says he would have done this long ago if it weren't for Lily's companionship keeping him happy.
    • He departs. Now alone, Lily actually feels sorry for Bertha Dorset, who has been generous to her and who is now basically screwed. As she heads for the yacht, her sympathies build. But, when she finally goes aboard, she finds Bertha with the Duchess and Lord Hubert, having tea. Once the couple departs, the two women are alone.
    • Lily tries to figure out what happened last night, but Bertha tells her that George simply "had one of his worst attacks" and told Lily an odd "version" of the previous night's events. She then blames Lily for being alone with her husband in the small hours of the morning.
    • Lily is all, "Are you kidding?" since the only reason she was alone with George is that Bertha was off with Ned Silverton. But Bertha is hearing none of it; she's determined to blame Lily for this. From the subtext, we can tell that Bertha is jealous of Lily's popularity in Europe and angry that Lily hasn't made a greater effort to keep her included in her social activities with All the Right People.
    • Lily leaves without trying to defend herself against Bertha's accusations of her relationship with George.
  • Book 2, Chapter 3

    • Selden receives a telegram from Lily asking for help in this Dorset mess. He wishes to help avert a scandal, and especially doesn't want Lily involved in "the public washing of the Dorset linen."
    • He meets with Dorset and tells him to appear non-committal to one course of action or the other when in public. Then, he sends a telegram back to Lily telling her to "assume that everything is as usual."
    • Everyone does. Lily finds it absurd that Bertha acts so defiantly toward her, when in fact Lily is the one who can help her smooth out the situation. She feels as though Bertha is "pushing away her rescuing hand." She also notes that Ned Silverton is absent from their company.
    • When Lily bumps into Selden, he tells her not to worry, as he thinks that he's calmed George down.
    • The truth is, Selden has noted a change in Dorset's attitude, but he doesn't credit himself for effecting the change. He's not sure why Dorset is suddenly placated, but the unknown source of this shift in attitude makes Selden nervous.
    • Selden also feels bad for Lily. He knows that this whole scenario is undeniably Bertha's fault, but he also knows that when blame lies so clearly with one party, that party is likely to try and blame someone else. He also remembers Carry Fisher telling him that George Dorset would definitely marry Lily if his marriage to Bertha fell apart.
    • He runs into Lord Hubert and Mrs. Bry, who invites him to join them, the Dorsets, Lily, and the Duchess for dinner ashore. He does.
    • At dinner, the Stepneys and Lord and Lady Skiddaw are also present. In other words, everyone who matters is at this dinner.
    • Before the meal, Selden takes Lily aside and begs her to leave the Dorsets and their yacht. He doesn't want her involved in the mess that's unfolding between George and Bertha. Lily thinks he's being absurd and insists that nothing will happen. Besides, she still feels loyal to Bertha for providing so well for her.
    • Over dinner, Selden has the opportunity to observe Lily at length. He muses on her beauty, but also her charm and grace, and decides that she is "matchless" among these other women. He admires her, but there is little "personal feeling" left in his observation. In other words… he's over her.
    • Selden also notices the gossip columnist, Dabham. Selden wonders how much he knows about the Dorset mess.
    • Dinner draws to a close and George rises to get Lily's coat so that they can all go back to the yacht. Then, Bertha says, loudly enough so that everyone can hear, "Miss Bart is not going back to the yacht."
    • George tries to insist that this is some sort of mistake, but Bertha simply repeats herself.
    • Lily, trying to make a good show of it, explains to everyone that she has some business to attend to early in the morning and it is easier for her to remain ashore. We're pretty sure no one buys it.
    • The party breaks up and Selden escorts Lily outside. She asks him if he knows anywhere where she can spend the night without running the risk of a scandal.
    • Selden says she should go to the Stepneys – Jack and Gwen. Lily begs him to come up with something else, but Selden insists it's the only option.
    • Selden meets with Jack and discusses the matter with him privately. Jack agrees to let Lily spend the night on the conditions that she is gone early in the morning and that his wife not know about it.
  • Book 2, Chapter 4

    • We're back in New York, two weeks after Lily's return from Europe. Mrs. Peniston has died, and everyone has gathered to hear the reading of her will. Her estate, valued at about four hundred thousand dollars, is assumed to be left to Lily.
    • Unfortunately for our protagonist, Mrs. Peniston, having heard of Lily's scandalous break with Bertha (and the rumors of her affair with George), leaves only ten thousand dollars to her, and the rest to Grace Stepney.
    • Lily is shocked but manages to keep herself under control, say something nice to Grace, and watch as the crowd of social elite leaves the room with the now-rich Grace. Lily remains alone with Gerty Farish, realizing that she's now completely insignificant to the People Who Matter.
    • Lily and Gerty go back to Gerty's place, mostly because Lily has no other place to go. She finds it amusing that her legacy from her aunt is only a thousand bucks more than the nine grand she owes Trenor.
    • Gerty is firmly on Lily's side. She thinks it's ridiculous that Grace got the inheritance, as she certainly didn't have any "right" to the money.
    • Lily is almost able to laugh at her situation because she realizes she's completely, completely screwed. She knows that it's easier for society to believe Bertha's version of the story than her own, because Bertha is loaded and Lily has nothing to her name at this point.
    • Still, she doesn't seem angry, and she's not blaming Bertha or anyone else for her current situation. "It's in my blood," she says, meaning it was her upbringing to require luxury and be dependent on things like appearances and reputation.
    • It's now the last week in June, and Lily is staying at a hotel in New York. She recounts recent events: after Bertha turned her off the yacht, Lily made plans to return to New York. Unfortunately, she got there too late, and news of the break with the Dorsets had already reached the social circles in the city.
    • Rather than defend herself by telling the truth, Lily merely accepted what had happened. She muses that a feeling of "half pride and half humiliation" kept her from trying to bring the real story to light.
    • She knows that it was her job to distract George from Bertha's affair, that she was required to perform that service in order to earn the right to live in luxury aboard the Sabrina.
    • Lily now knows that her goal is to regain her social position in New York, and she's hoping that Mrs. Trenor can help her do that.
    • One day, out to lunch with Gerty, Lily does indeed spot Mrs. Trenor, out with Mrs. Fisher, Mr. Trenor, Simon Rosedale, and others. Lily has been waiting for such an "accidental encounter" to re-instill herself in Mrs. Trenor's good graces, but Mrs. Trenor gives her the cold shoulder.
    • This greatly concerns Lily, since "where Judy Trenor [leads], all the world [will] follow."
    • She suddenly remembers how much Mrs. Trenor always disliked Mrs. Fisher's mooching off her husband, financially. Lily realizes that Mrs. Trenor isn't jealous of her husband's affections – only his wallet.
    • Lily immediately commits herself to paying Gus back the nine thousand, just as soon as she gets her legacy from Aunt Peniston's will. She realizes that, with that inheritance gone, all she will have to live on is a very small income – even less than Gerty Farish.
    • Another problem is the delay in getting the cash from the will. Apparently it's going to take a year for the lawyers to sort out the details, which leaves Lily high and dry in the meantime. She realizes she'll have to ask Grace Stepney to loan her the ten thousand ahead of time.
    • So, Lily goes to Mrs. Peniston's former house to see Grace. Grace is mourning over Mrs. Peniston's death, and tells Lily that she herself is in the same position – she hasn't yet received her own (much larger) inheritance.
    • Lily asks if Grace could borrow the money on Lily's behalf, but Grace refuses. Mrs. Peniston hated the idea of debt, and in fact it was the news of Lily's own debts that made her so ill and probably caused her death. Grace wouldn't dare to disgrace her memory by taking on a debt for the inheritance.
  • Book 2, Chapter 5

    • As Lily leaves Grace's, she feels completely hopeless. It's a ripe opportunity for Mrs. Fisher to pull up in a carriage and tell Lily that she should come away with her to dinner at the Gormers'.
    • Remember that Mrs. Fisher became their social coordinator after she left the Brys in Monte Carlo. The Gormers are sort of second tier socialites, as opposed to the most elite group with whom Mrs. Fisher and Lily associated with in Monte Carlo. (Mrs. Fisher calls the Gormers "a social Coney Island.") The wife, Mattie Gormer, has big aspirations to join the social elite.
    • Lily agrees and joins them all for dinner, and is pleased to see that none of them take issue with the rumors of her recent past.
    • At first, it hurts Lily's pride to be a part of the lower social tier. Then, again, she enjoys schmoozing around in luxury once again.
    • Afterwards, she is faced with the question of where to spend her summer. (Most of the rich people Lily spends time with migrate from New York in the summer to avoid the heat.)
    • Mrs. Fisher comes to the rescue again. The Gormers want Carry to go with them to Alaska, but the Brys also want her back to spend the summer in Newport with them. She decides she'll go with the Brys – who are higher on the social ladder – so she gives Mattie Gormer and the Alaska trip to Lily.
    • Lily realizes that Mrs. Fisher's strategy is to keep her away from the elite crowd who want to see her ruined right now, but Mrs. Fisher kindly responds that the idea is for them to all realize how much they miss Lily when she's not there.
    • So, Lily goes to Alaska with the Gormers. Gerty disapproves, because she thinks Lily is "cheapening" herself by hanging out with people she otherwise wouldn't have.
    • Gerty is committed to continue helping Lily, and has been ever since that night when she gave up her own hopes for Lawrence Selden in order to rescue Lily from despair.
    • Meanwhile, Lily starts to appreciate all the differences between the second tier and the top tier of the social ladder, and she longs for the old crowd. Still, she doesn't have another option at the moment, so she stays with the Gormers after they come back from Alaska.
    • Among the set is Paul Morpeth who, as an artist, especially appreciates Lily's beauty. There are also those – like Kate Corby and Mrs. Fisher – who spend in time both in the world of the Dorsets and Trenors, and also in the world of the Gormers.
    • One day, Mrs. Fisher takes Lily aside and tells her that she (Lily) has to marry as soon as possible. Mrs. Fisher has two candidates in mind. The first is George Dorset. Mrs. Fisher says all Lily has to do is firmly state that Bertha indeed had an affair with Ned – to give weight to Dorset's suspicions – and then he'll divorce his wife and marry Lily.
    • Lily vetoes this.
    • The second option she has in mind is Simon Rosedale. Lily certainly doesn't object to this as much as she used to, but she thinks that Simon is probably no longer interested in her, since her fall from grace.
    • Later, Lily re-considers. She knows Rosedale is very much attracted to her and has been for a long time. But she also knows he wants a wife who will keep him in the good graces of people like Bertha and Judy. She decides that, since she can't make him marry her for the social benefits, she'll try and make him marry her for love.
  • Book 2, Chapter 6

    • While visiting the Gormers' country-house on Long Island, Lily goes on a long stroll by herself and bumps into George Dorset.
    • Lily wants nothing to do with George; she says it's inappropriate for them to meet under any circumstances because of the rumors.
    • George tries to apologize for what happened in Monte Carlo, claiming that he, too, was deceived.
    • Lily says she's sorry for whatever happened to him, but, considering that she was sacrificed to save his marriage, she'd rather not jeopardize it now.
    • George explains that he's a prisoner in his own marriage and that only Lily can set him free. He begs her to tell him the truth about Bertha – to testify firmly that she did indeed have an affair. He wants to end their marriage, but he can't until someone reveals with certainty that Bertha cheated on him.
    • Lily is suddenly struck by how great this temptation is (remember those letters she bought?). But she refuses to help George.
    • When Lily returns to the house from her walk, Mrs. Gormer reveals that Bertha Dorset stopped by to say hello.
    • This is very odd. Bertha Dorset, the social elite herself, would never stoop to making friends with a person of a lower social standing like Mrs. Gormer unless she had some other agenda. Lily realizes that, if Mrs. Gormer becomes friends with Bertha, she'll have to drop Lily like a hot potato.
    • Lily returns to the city and finds a small hotel to stay in for the winter season. With her finances severely strained, she realizes she has to marry Rosedale – and soon.
    • George Dorset pays Lily another visit, this time in her room at the hotel. He again begs for her to help him escape his marriage, but she again insists that she "know[s] nothing" about Bertha and Ned.
  • Book 2, Chapter 7

    • Lily has seen Rosedale a few times since her talk with Mrs. Fisher, and it's clear to her that he "admires" her more than ever.
    • While visiting Mrs. Fisher at the Brys' house, Lily bumps into Simon Rosedale again. She observes him with the hostess's daughter and, at seeing him play the paternal role, realizes that he's a kind man.
    • Lily soon realizes that she and Rosedale are Mrs. Fisher's only guests, and that this was match-making on Mrs. Fisher's part.
    • Recently, Mrs. Fisher made it clear to Lily that Mrs. Dorset befriended Mrs. Gormer in order to screw over Lily. In her mind, this means that Bertha is still afraid of Lily, and the only way to stop being enemies with Bertha is to marry someone else (so that Bertha stops worrying about Lily stealing her husband).
    • With this in mind, Lily asks Rosedale to take a walk with her.
    • It's November and, as Lily strolls about with Rosedale, she's reminded of the walk she once took with Selden at Bellomont.
    • But she pushes that thought out of her mind. She needs to marry Rosedale so that she'll have the money and power to beat Bertha, once and for all, in the social game.
    • So, she blurts out, "I'm ready to marry you whenever you wish."
    • Rosedale says that, since she turned down his first proposal, he had given up hope of marrying her.
    • Lily is all, "OK, well, nice knowing you," and gets ready to part ways.
    • But Rosedale doesn't want that, either. He wants to hang out with her, just not marry her.
    • Lily says that's impossible.
    • So Rosedale gets down to business. He's in love with her, he says, even more so than when he first proposed. But the situation has changed since then. He needs a wife who can get/keep him on terms with society's elite, and Lily is no longer in a position to do that for him.
    • He offers a solution: make up with Bertha Dorset, and he will marry her.
    • Lily doesn't even want to talk about this, but then Rosedale says that she ought to use those letters she bought from the charwoman.
    • Lily is shocked to hear that he knows about that, but Rosedale reminds her that he owns the Benedick and is aware of everything that goes on.
    • Lily takes the high and mighty moral road, implying that she would never do anything so base. This angers Rosedale, who assumes that her decision is based on Selden's involvement in the letters and her fear of tarnishing his name.
    • The two of them they part ways.
  • Book 2, Chapter 8

    • Lily attends a horse show with Mrs. Gormer, but she can tell that she has "failed to make herself indispensable" and that Mrs. Gormer is getting ready to sacrifice Lily so she can be friends with Bertha.
    • Lily realizes that, if she took Rosedale's offer, she could easily best Bertha Dorset. She starts dreadfully missing even the most mundane activities of her former social life.
    • Gerty Farish is more than ready to help her friend, but Lily has been staying away from Gerty's place since she came back to town.
    • On one particular visit, however, Gerty tells her the story of Jane Silverton – Ned Silverton's sister, who is stricken by her brother's gambling debts. The news is that Bertha has broken with Ned and now the Silverton family is up a creek without a paddle, social or financial. Meanwhile, the Van Osburghs dislike Ned for being a bad influence on young Bertie Van Osburgh, who is thinking of marrying some "dreadful" woman of whom his family does not approve.
    • Lily, realizing that she will soon be in the same debt-stricken situation as the Silverton sisters, asks to know more.
    • Gerty explains that she's trying to find them some work, but they don't have very many employable skills.
    • Gerty notices that Lily looks particularly tired and distraught. Lily explains that she hasn't been sleeping at night, and then takes great offense at being told she looks that way. (It means that she's ugly, in her mind.)
    • Lily rants about how living with the rich is expensive, and how she has to pay taxes on the luxuries they provide.
    • Lily admits that she's "sick to death" of all of this, but the thought of giving it up kills her. She's nearly at the end of her rope and can't go on much longer.
    • Finally, she excuses herself, as she has to go meet Mrs. Fisher.
    • As she hurries away, Lily realizes that she, too, will soon have to find a way to earn a living. She finds this an odious thought.
    • She also thinks herself incapable of doing a real day's work.
    • Still, she trusts that Mrs. Fisher will create an artificial demand for whatever talents Lily can supply.
    • Meanwhile Gerty thinks about Lily's plight and decides to entreat Selden's help, mostly because it's an excuse to spend time with him.
    • Selden, who is still completely clueless as to Gerty's feelings for him, tells Gerty that, actually, he hasn't even seen Lily lately. He's not involved in her affairs whatsoever. However, he has heard the rumors, and he knows that she's been exiled socially on account of Bertha Dorset.
    • Gerty thinks that Selden can help Lily by being a friend to her. He doesn't think this will do anything for Lily, but admits that he'd help her if he could.
    • Gerty says that he should talk to Lily and show her that she can indeed live a full life without exorbitant cost. She informs him of Lily's seeming depression and adds that she's recently taken a job as a social secretary.
    • Selden agrees to talk with Lily. He doesn't admit to Gerty the truth, that he's actually been avoiding Lily intentionally. He was not pleased to hear that she had joined the Gormers and their friends, because it shows that she wants a life in society at any cost. He feels that she has moved further than ever from the common ground she and he once shared.
    • In trying to contact Lily, Selden finds that she's moved away. He gets a new address, sees that it is "care of Mrs. Norma Hatch," and becomes further disgusted. In his mind, Lily has sunk to a new low.
  • Book 2, Chapter 9

    • At taking a job as secretary to Mrs. Norma Hatch, Lily at first feels relief. She gets to stay in a fancy hotel once again and be waited on by servants.
    • Mrs. Hatch came from the West, brought a lot of money with her, and is trying to break into the New York social scene. She's been divorced more than once, and Mrs. Fisher knows her through a mutual acquaintance, a lawyer named Melville Stancy. Mrs. Hatch and her friends are lower down the social ladder than the Gormers.
    • Lily is awed by this very different world of New York society. She regards the people in it as mere shades or shadows and soon discovers that her boss, Mrs. Hatch, is a central figure among them, as is young Bertie Van Osburgh, who is in a romance of sorts with Norma.
    • Lily is well-suited to the job of managing Mrs. Hatch's social life, but it's hard to find common ground between what Mrs. Hatch wants – to be "lovely" and "nice" – and Lily's own ideals.
    • Lily is amused by Bertie's romance with Norma, and she has the feeling that he wants to work together with Lily to make her suitable for society. Still, Lily finds the thought of introducing Norma to the world at a Van Osburgh party to be laughable.
    • Finally, Selden comes to Norma's hotel to talk to Lily. He says that he came because he thought he could be of use to her – he knows that that's the only way she'd want to see him, anyway.
    • Then, he clarifies: he wants to be someone that she can talk things over with.
    • Lily evades his point, claiming that there's nothing to talk about and that her life is just fine and dandy.
    • Selden isn't fooled. He knows Lily is stooping by associating with these people, and he asks her to let him take her away from here, back to Gerty, who can help her. He tells her that she could live a very reasonable life off of the ten thousand dollars her aunt left her.
    • Lily then informs Selden that she owes her entire legacy already.
    • He's shocked to hear this, but still insists that Gerty could help Lily get on her feet.
    • She again refuses. Then she references their conversation at Bellomont: didn't Selden tell her that the "sole object" of her upbringing was to get what she wanted?
    • Selden responds that he never thought of Lily as a successful example of such an upbringing.
    • Lily says to give her time, that she "may still do credit to [her] training."
  • Book 2, Chapter 10

    • Lily is working as a milliner (a person who makes women's hats) and getting reprimanded by the forewoman for sewing the spangles onto a hat crookedly. She's in a small room with about twenty other working women.
    • It seems that Lily separated from Mrs. Hatch a few weeks after Selden visited. She went back to Gerty, who convinced her that she could use her artistic abilities to make and sell hats. Of course, she wouldn't have to do the grunt-work of sewing – she could just be in charge of the final touches, like ribbons or feathers.
    • Er, not so much. Lily is basically at the bottom of the totem pole since she can barely get her stitches straight.
    • Meanwhile, Gus Trenor and Simon Rosedale "rescued" Bertie Van Osburgh from Mrs. Hatch, and now they all blame Lily for trying to trap him in a marriage beneath his dignity.
    • Mrs. Fisher felt guilty at setting Lily up with Mrs. Hatch in the first place, so she goes to Judy Trenor and tries to get her to take Lily back as a friend. But Judy is having none of it. Mrs. Fisher reprimands Lily, who should have known better than to take money from Mr. Trenor.
    • So Mrs. Fisher and Gerty placed Lily as a milliner in Madam Regina's hat shop.
    • Lily began her work in January, and has been a milliner for about two months now. All the other women laugh at her because she used to be a member of the social elite, but now she's just a terrible hat maker.
    • Awkwardly enough, the other women talk about the ladies who will receive these hats – like Mrs. Dorset and Mrs. Trenor.
    • Miss Haines, the forewoman, tells Lily that her spangles are so awkward that she had better just give the hat to another woman to finish and "go back to binding edges."
    • After leaving work, Lily remembers that, when she was rich, she used to think that the working classes were an interesting group of people. Now, she just finds them to be boring.
    • She returns to her ugly, ill-furnished apartment. On the way, she stops at a chemist's (i.e., a drugstore) to fill one of Mrs. Hatch's old prescriptions which she pretends is her own. It's for a drug to help her sleep at night. The pharmacist remarks that it's strong and she should be careful not to take too much.
    • Uh-oh.
    • Lily hurries back to her apartment but, on the way, bumps into Rosedale. Lily is so out of it that she can barely carry a conversation, but he offers to get some tea with her and she complies.
    • Rosedale is enthused to have bumped into Lily, and wants to hear all about her life. Lily doesn't hold back; she tells him everything about her current situation. He is shocked that a beautiful woman like Lily has to work for a living.
    • When he asks about the inheritance from her aunt, Mrs. Peniston, Lily explains the whole situation with Gus Trenor and why she owes the money.
    • It's the first time she's really comes clean about everything. She wants someone to hear her story, and she hopes that the news will reach Judy Trenor, who will finally understand that Lily didn't mean to take money from Gus and that she's trying to pay it back.
    • Rosedale offers to help her, but Lily says walking her home is help enough.
    • Later, alone in her rooms, Lily wonders why she revealed everything to Rosedale like that. She determines that she's very lonely, cut off most of her friends – even Mrs. Fisher. Lily's avoiding Gerty, too, because she's afraid of accidentally bumping into Selden while she's over there.
    • Lately she's been turning more and more to the sleeping medication, which at least allows her to wake every morning with a feeling of "obliteration."
    • Meanwhile, she's tempted to use the ten grand inheritance (which she still has not received) to start her own hat shop, but she worries that, if she does, it might take years to make enough to pay Trenor back, and she doesn't want to remain under his obligation in the meantime.
    • Lily is also concerned that she isn't strong enough to avoid temptation until she gets her inheritance. (Remember, at any moment she could use the letters to crucify Bertha and marry Rosedale.)
    • She also knows that, as another temptation, Rosedale would be more than happy to lend her the money she needs to pay back Trenor.
  • Book 2, Chapter 11

    • It's now late April. Lily is walking by Fifth Avenue and takes a moment to observe the scene. She sees Mrs. Van Osburgh with Percy and his new son. She also spots Mrs. Hatch, Judy Trenor, and Lady Skiddaw.
    • Lily has been fired recently from her job at Madam Regina's, so she returns home with nothing to do. She's not upset over the loss of her job, as she knows she was a useless worker and deserved it.
    • When she returns home, she finds Mr. Rosedale waiting for her outside. A few days after their first encounter, he had called her to see how she was, but since then she hasn't heard from him at all.
    • Lily brings him inside; he is horrified at her living conditions. Again, he grows flustered, insisting that a woman like Lily should never have to work for a living.
    • Rosedale reveals that he's leaving for Europe next week, and that he just can't go away leaving Lily like this. He understands what she's trying to do about her debt to Trenor, and he respects her for it. He proposes a strict business arrangement in which he lends her the money to pay Gus back.
    • Lily refuses, claiming that Trenor, too, had called theirs "a strict business arrangement."
    • Rosedale is all the more attracted to her because of her moral scruples. It makes her as much of a rare collector's object as her good looks do. (Collectors, objects – remember this stuff, Shmooper.)
    • Lily realizes that Rosedale is renewing his offer to marry her if she would only reconcile with Bertha Dorset. More than ever she feels drawn to Rosedale, whom she now perceives as a good and kind person.
    • "If you'd only let me," he says, "I'd set you up over them all! – I'd put you where you could wipe your feet on 'em!" he says.
    • That night, Lily doesn't take any sleeping medication. She lies awake thinking about Rosedale's offer. After all, she considers, why should she owe a debt – financial or moral – to a society which condemned and banished her without fair trial? She was never even given a chance to defend herself before they chucked her out.
    • She knows that she could never make it among the working classes, since she simply wasn't designed for such a life. She was designed to want luxury and ease – it's not her fault.
    • When she finally gets out of bed the next morning, Lily has nowhere to go. She's been fired from her job and she hasn't gone to see Gerty since.
    • She gets dressed and leaves her house for the park. On the way, she stops in a restaurant and has tea, finding, by the end of the meal, that she has "unconsciously arrived at a final decision."
    • Almost excited, Lily rushes home, firm in her resolve and convinced that it's going to be easier than she previously thought. Lily sends a note to Mrs. Dorset, knowing that she can always be found home after 5pm.
    • She collects the letters and leaves the house for Bertha's. On the walk there, she is suddenly reminded of a walk she once took with Selden down these same streets. Suddenly, she sees what she is about to do (blackmail) through Selden's eyes, and the vision fills her with shame. She remembers that Selden was twice ready to give his love to her, and she decides to go see him instead of Bertha.
  • Book 2, Chapter 12

    • Sitting in Selden's easy chair and looking around his flat, Lily realizes that everything looks exactly as it did that day they had tea together so long ago (in the first chapter of the novel). Finally, she speaks; she tells Selden that she's sorry for what she said to him that day he came to see her at Mrs. Hatch's.
    • Selden responds that he is sorry, too. He notices how tired and run-down Lily looks.
    • Lily informs him that she left Mrs. Hatch shortly after he gave his advice. He knows this.
    • As Lily sits there, she realizes that "her presence [is] becoming an embarrassment" to Selden. She feels lonelier than ever as she determines that she has been "shut out from Selden's innermost self." Consciously, she visited because she merely wanted to see him. But it's clear to her now that secretly she was hoping for something else from him (like yet another declaration of love and offer of marriage).
    • Lily says she has to go, but first she thanks Selden for what he said to her during their walk at Bellomont. She claims that his words have saved her from becoming what so many people thought her to be.
    • Selden says that he made no difference, that the difference was in Lily herself and always would be. But she doesn't think so.
    • Lily rises to leave. She tells Selden that he twice offered her the chance to escape from her life, and she refused it because she was a coward. Still, the fact that he believed in her has been a light in the darkness of her life and saved her from the larger temptations, even if she is guilty of submitting to the smaller ones.
    • "I have tried," Lily says, "but life is difficult, and I am a useless person." She knows that she was merely a cog in the machine of society, and that she has no value as an independent entity now that she has dropped from it.
    • Selden asks her if she's planning to marry. Lily says that she will have to come to that, but that first she wants to say good-bye to the old Lily Bart, the one that Selden knew and loved. She's leaving her behind, she says, here with Selden.
    • Selden asks if he can help her, and she remembers him once saying that the only way he could help her was by loving her. He did love her, and it did help her – but that is all in the past.
    • Yet Lily still feels a "passion" and "flame" between them. She realizes, though she does not say, that she can't go away and leave her old self with Selden. She knows it is still a part of her.
    • Lily asks Selden to build up the fire for her, as she's cold. As he does so, he notices how much thinner and more angular Lily has grown lately.
    • When Selden isn't looking, Lily drops the packet of Bertha's letters into the fire.
  • Book 2, Chapter 13

    • Lily, more weary than ever, begins her walk home. She has nothing to look forward to but the bottle of chloral (the medication that helps her sleep) by her bedside. She knows that lately it hasn't been as effective as it used to. (She's building a tolerance.)
    • Someone recognizes Lily and stops her. It turns out to be a young woman named Nettie Struther, who used to belong to Gerty Farish's Girls Club. (Remember that Gerty is a philanthropist, and that Lily used to make donations to help out.)
    • Nettie recalls that it was Lily's donation that once saved her life. Nettie had been ill and was able to go to the country for rest and rehabilitation with the money Lily gave.
    • Lily realizes that, ironically, it was Gus's money that enabled her to make such a donation.
    • Nettie is shocked to see Lily in such a weary state. She says that whenever she was ill she used to imagine the beautiful and kind Lily Bart living a life of luxury and happiness, and it cheered her to think there was such justice in the world. She offers to take Lily back to her place to rest by the fire. Lily agrees.
    • Once at Nettie's place, Lily realizes how clean and lovely and quaint it is, even though it's small and clearly inexpensive. Nettie is married, but her husband works the night-shift and isn't there. They have a baby, which Nettie now tends to while entertaining her guest.
    • As she feeds her infant its milk, Nettie tells Lily that, originally, she was dating a rather wealthy man whom she thought she was going to marry. But, it soon became clear that he wasn't going to wed a girl from the working class. He took off, and then that's when she came down with her illness and needed the trip to the country. When she came back, George – now her husband – asked her to marry him.
    • Lily offers to hold the baby, and Nettie places her in Lily's arms. Lily feels as though the child becomes a part of her as she sits with it.
    • Nettie hopes aloud that her child grows up to be just like Lily.
    • Lily doesn't.
    • Lily resumes her walk home, feeling much stronger than she did before she ran into Nettie. She had never before seen the affect of her generosities, and she feels less alone having made a human connection. Once home, however, she again sinks into a "deeper loneliness."
    • Lily goes through her remaining possessions, taking out what fancy dresses she has left and spreading them on her bed, trying to re-live the glamour of her former days.
    • Last she comes to the dress she wore at the Brys' party as a living portrait.
    • Lily puts the dresses away just as the apartment building's maid brings by a letter to her from her aunt's lawyers.
    • The letter turns out to be Lily's check – her ten thousand dollar inheritance from Mrs. Peniston. Lily muses that ten months ago, when she first heard the news of the will, ten grand seemed like poverty. Now, it represents incredible wealth to her.
    • Lily sits down to do some book-keeping. She realizes that after paying off her debts she'll barely have enough to live on for three months.
    • Lily finds it miserable to be poor, but she finds it more miserable to be alone. She feels insignificant and rootless, and concludes that "there ha[s] never been a time when she ha[s] had any real relation to life."
    • She feels as though all the men and women she knew in high society were similarly rootless, "like atoms whirling away from each other." The first example she has seen of "the continuity of life" was just now, with Nettie Struther.
    • Lily realizes that Nettie's world is built by her and her husband, that a woman can do wonders if she has the love of a man. She realizes that Selden twice offered this love to her, but is now incapable of doing so again.
    • Lily remembers the feeling of holding Nettie's child; she felt "possessed" by her old "life-hunger." She wants happiness, but all that is left for her now is "the emptiness of renunciation."
    • It's getting late and Lily is tired. She worries that she'll wake up tomorrow and fail to send Gus Trenor the money she owes him, and that she'll continue to put it off, day after day, until the legacy is gone and she slips into tolerating the debt forever. She wishes that life could end now – while she has just come from Selden's and still has her moral resolve.
    • At her desk, Lily writes a check out to Trenor for the nine thousand. She puts it in an envelope with his name on it. Then, she places the check from Mrs. Peniston's estate in an envelope addressed to her own bank (for a deposit) and places the two envelopes side by side on her dresser.
    • Having not slept fully in two days, Lily lays down in bed expecting to doze off. But, she can't. She turns to the bottle of chloral by her bed. She knows she's raised it to the maximum dosage lately, but she feels that it couldn't hurt to add just a bit more tonight.
    • Lily knows this is taking a risk – the pharmacist warned her of the chance of overdosing – but she feels it's only a one-in-a-hundred shot. Wharton writes that Lily "did not, in truth, consider this question very closely."
    • After taking the chloral, Lily feels much better. As she lies on the bed, she doesn't feel alone anymore – she feels as though Nettie Struther's child is in her arms.
    • Lily tries to repeat "the word" that she knows she must tell Selden, but she can't grasp what it is. Lily sleeps.
  • Book 2, Chapter 14

    • Selden wakes early the next morning, elated. He's decided that, once again, he loves Lily Bart and wants to marry her.
    • At 9am, he makes his way over to her boarding house. Looking up at the windows from the outside, he decides that the sill with the flower pot on it must be hers, as it's the only attractive aesthetic touch on an otherwise dingy building.
    • Selden rushes up the stairs, having found "the word" he has to say to Lily. He finds it odd that he was never able to speak this word before, but is ecstatic that it's finally come to him now.
    • At Lily's floor, Selden finds Gerty Farish, who cries out, asking him how he got there so quickly.
    • Uh-oh.
    • Gerty leads him into Lily's room, where Lily lies dead on the bed. Selden recognizes the body as "the real" Lily Bart. Gerty informs him that the doctor found a bottle of chloral and determined an accidental overdose as the cause of death.
    • Gerty decides to leave Selden alone with Lily while they wait for the doctor to come back, since that is what Lily would have wanted.
    • Alone with Lily, Selden realizes they have never been at peace together before. He looks around the room but finds no trace of Lily's personality in this dingy setting.
    • Then he sees the letter addressed to Trenor on her desk and is immediately horrified. Suspicions rise as he wonders if the rumor of their affair was true. Perhaps he doesn't know Lily the way he thought he did….
    • He looks through her desk some more and finds that she saved a note he had written to her in the past.
    • Next, Selden examines her checkbook, which he finds to be in perfect order – she has no outstanding debts. He sees that she entered her ten thousand dollar legacy from Aunt Peniston in the ledger last night, but that she still shows no remaining balance in her records. Where did the money go?
    • He looks over her check stubs and finds one for nine thousand addressed to Gus Trenor. Selden puts all the pieces together. Lily must have indeed taken money from Trenor in the past, but it's clear that the moral weight of owing him money was too much for her to handle. For this sense of obligation, Selden admires her once again.
    • Selden looks back to Lily, still lying on the bed. He feels as though fate has contrived to keep them apart all these years. Still, he's happy that he loved her as he did, and he decides this love between them saved both of them from utter ruin.
    • He kneels by the bed and leans over her, "and in the silence there passed between them the word which made all clear."