Free Study Guide The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton|
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FREE PLOT ANALYSIS - THE HOUSE OF MIRTH
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 nowhere 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.
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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