Study Guide

The House of Mirth Book 2, Chapter 14

By Edith Wharton

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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."

The House of Mirth Book 2, Chapter 14 Study Group

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