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Free Study Guide The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

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FREE LITERARY CRITICISM - THE HOUSE OF MIRTH

BOOK 2 - CHAPTER 14


Summary

The next morning sees a sunny day. Lawrence Selden is hurrying to her boarding house. He has realized that he loves her and can make his way around all the social conventions that have kept him from her. When he gets to her house, he is surprised to find Gerty Farish there. He is frozen with fear at what has happened. He and Gerty climb the three flights of stairs and when they get to Lilyís room, he sees a semblance of her lying on the bed. He goes to her and kneels beside her bed. Gerty tells him they have only a short time to deal with Lilyís things before the coroner comes. She tells him they found a bottle of chloral beside her bed and had concluded that she had accidentally taken an overdose. Gerty leaves Lawrence alone in the room.

He goes to her desk and looks through her things. He finds a letter addressed to the bank and another addressed to Gus Trenor. Upon seeing the latter, he feels the condemnation of Lily return to him. He canít believe that after seeing him the night before she had written to Gus Trenor. Then he looks through her check book and finds that she had gotten the legacy and had paid all but a few dollars of it to creditors, the largest sum of which was paid to Gus Trenor. Then he realizes what had happened. He realizes she had borrowed from Gus Trenor but had paid it as soon as possible even though paying it meant destitution. He goes back to her bedside and kneels beside her. He realizes they never could have been together since they were raised with such different values. He bends over her and "in the silence there passed between them the word which made all clear."

Notes

The last chapter vindicates Lily in the eyes of Lawrence Selden, the one person who mattered to her, and it also vindicates Lawrence Selden in the eyes of any reader who might be inclined to condemn him for not coming to the rescue sooner. He has rushed to her boarding house to rescue her and has found that she is dead. Wharton seems to want the reader not to blame him for being so late in coming to Lily. At the end, she gives him the illumination that it is neither of their fault that they never could get together. "All the conditions of life had conspired to keep them apart; since his very detachment from the external influences which swayed her had increased his spiritual fastidiousness, and made it more difficult to live and love uncritically." They were conditioned to find each other attractive in some strong way, but also conditioned in such a way that they would never be able to live together. Lily was drawn to the material luxuries and Lawrence is detached from them.


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