Study Guide

The House of Mirth Book 2, Chapter 11

By Edith Wharton

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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.

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