Study Guide

The House of Mirth Book 2, Chapter 2

By Edith Wharton

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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.

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