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The House of Mirth Study Guide-Online Summary Free BookNotes-Edith Wharton
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BOOK SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS

BOOK 2

CHAPTER 3

Summary

Lawrence Selden gets Lily Bartís telegram informing him that Mr. Dorset will be arriving at his hotel soon and asking him to help. He decides to take the case as a means to help Lily since he knows that she is somehow involved. Mr. Dorset arrives and spends hours with him telling him all the ugly secrets of his marriage. When Mr. Dorset leaves him, he has been convinced that he should act as if nothing were different. He sends a telegram to Lily telling her to assume that everything is as usual.

Meanwhile, life on the yacht goes on as usual, even the party that had been planned goes off as expected. Lily is puzzling over Berthaís attitude of "isolated defiance." She wants nothing more than to help Bertha but her friend has kept her distance from her since she got back to the yacht. After dinner, she goes to her room and notices that the Dorsets stay together and talk. She hears Bertha return to her room two hours later. The next morning, she is surprised to see that Mr. Dorset avoids her almost as much as Mrs. Dorset does.

She decides to go into the city and has herself ferried on shore. She meets a group of acquaintances there. As she is walking across the square, she encounters Selden and stops to talk to him for a moment, unable to detach herself from her group. She looks very worried and Selden reassures her, telling her he has just seen Mr. Dorset and everything is looking as though the uproar will subside.

When he walks away from Lily, Selden realizes he has given her more assurance than he actually feels about the situation. He had been surprised to find Mr. Dorset changed today. Instead of pouring out all the recriminations of his sense of being wronged, Mr. Dorset had held back a great deal. He seems to be under some other influence now than just Seldenís. Selden sits down to think and realizes he needs to talk to Lily again. He had noticed the look of anxiety in her eyes when he spoke to her on the square earlier and he wants to know what the situation is from her perspective. He canít find her, however. He comes upon Lord Hubert and Mrs. Bry who tell him Lily has just returned to the Dorsetís yacht with Mr. Dorset and would be dining with them that evening at a restaurant in Monte Carlo. They invite him to the dinner.


That evening when he arrives at the restaurant, he sees Lily and they step aside from the group for a brief moment. He begs her to leave the yacht, telling her he feels that she is in danger there. Lily is surprised and afraid. She asks how she could possibly leave Bertha in such a crisis. They then reassure each other that nothing will happen and rejoin the party. The dinner proceeds through course after course. Mrs. Bry is ecstatic to be dining with the Duchess and Lily Bart. Lawrence is able to sit back and watch Lily. He realizes she is superior in every way to the other women. He has always separated her from her surroundings when viewing her and now he sees fully how poorly she is set in such a social group. He hates the fact that she is content in this world where the food is stupidly costly, the talk is dull and showy, the speech never arrives at wit and romance.

Selden notices that Dabham, the society columnist for "Riviera Notes" is present and realizes all the show of the dinner is for the benefit of othersí inspection. The restaurant is filled with people intent on watching other people. At the end of the dinner, everyone is taking their leave. The Duchess and her sister are just about to leave to catch their train when Mr. Dorset calls Lily to come along. Just then, Mrs. Dorset says that Lily is not coming onto the yacht with them that evening. Everyone freezes. Mr. Dorset says itís a mistake, but only fumbles in his protestations. Mrs. Dorset adds, "Miss Bart remains here." Selden notices that Lily separates herself from the group a bit during this exchange. Then Lily says she is joining the Duchess in the morning and wanted to stay on shore that night. She reminds Selden that he promised to see her to her cab and they leave together.

Outside, they walk in silence and finally take a seat on a park bench. She has no where to go. It is improper for her to get a hotel room to herself especially at that hour and she knows no one who will take her in so late. Finally Selden says she must do as he says and go to the Stepneys, since Jack Stepney is her cousin. She resists, but finally gives in. They go to the Stepneysí hotel and Selden speaks to Jack. Jack Stepney is resistant and insists that Lily only stay the night, that she leave early the next morning, and that it be noted that his wife is asleep and has nothing to do with taking Lily in.

Notes

Lilyís trouble reaches its height in this chapter. She is snubbed in public by her hosts, the Dorsets, and it is in front of a group of people, including the society columnist, Mr. Dabney who already had word that she had been seen returning to the yacht alone the previous evening. Once again she turns to Selden as the only possible help among her group of friends and acquaintances. During the evening at the dinner party, Selden watches Lily and admires her beauty and grace. Here, Wharton returns us to his point of view in order to show Lily from the point of view of an admirer. She is thus shown in her best light just before she is publicly betrayed. In her avoidance of Lilyís own point of view, Wharton avoids centering the narration on Lilyís doubts and worries. These the reader will infer from the terrible situation she is in. From the outside, Lily seems innocent and quite naive. To have been betrayed by Mrs. Dorset once before, and that for a very small matter of having an afternoon walk with Lawrence Selden, Lily is markedly blind to Mrs. Dorsetís capacity for lashing out.

Whartonís portrait of the social world of this class of people turns out to be a scathing indictment. No one is trustworthy. Mr. Dorset lets Lily be betrayed, knowing her innocence, for the sake of appearances and out of moral weakness. Mrs. Dorset sacrifices Lily cruelly and publicly to save her own reputation. No one in Lilyís social circle is available for help. Even her cousin Jack Stepney, now respectably married to one of the wealthiest families of New York, will only give her the slightest help, thinking only of his own reputation and his wifeís opposition.

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