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The House of Mirth | Study Guide

Edith Wharton

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The House of Mirth | Book 2, Chapter 11 | Summary



Lily Bart stands on Fifth Avenue watching the carriages go by; she sees her old friends in some of those carriages and has a "fleeting glimpse of her past." She has been fired by Mme Regina. Lily does not question the firing because "since she had been brought up to be ornamental, she could hardly blame herself for failing to serve any practical purpose." She does not like her room in the boardinghouse so walks home slowly. But Simon Rosedale is at her door.

He is disgusted by the place where she lives. He tells her he will pay the debt she owes Gus Trenor, and she says she cannot let him do that. She realizes her stance makes him love her all the more. Later, alone, she thinks about how she had never been heard, how she was innocent, and wonders that she does not use Bertha's letters to save herself.

She is used to roaming the streets now that she has been fired, but because it looks like rain, she goes to a restaurant. The place is full of women busy having lunch before they go back to work. Back at home she dresses up, takes the letters, and walks toward Madison Avenue, intending to go to the Dorsets' house. But she remembers Lawrence Selden. She imagines what he would think of her using the letters. She goes to his house.


In some ways this chapter mimics the first. Lily Bart walks down the same street Lawrence Selden lives on and enters his apartment, as she did in the first chapter. But she is no longer coming from somewhere, going to somewhere. Instead she is aimless, watching others busily go by, herself useless.

Despite his lower social standing, Rosedale is more morally astute and thoughtful than many other characters in this novel. He had suggested that Lily get back at Bertha Dorset by blackmailing her with the letters, but this was no more immoral than what others—Bertha Dorset, Gus Trenor, even Carry Fisher—have been doing. In some ways, because of its simplicity and because Bertha herself had committed the crime of adultery, his suggestion was more moral. He offered it as a way to help Lily, and he did not do it without her, but he allows her to choose. He seems to truly love Lily. Now he is kind to Lily in a way no other man in the novel has been.

When compared with the lower-class women Lily is now interacting with, Rosedale serves as a moral lesson. Lily could certainly find better moral value and perhaps even friendship and camaraderie among her current cultural milieu, if she could bring herself to try.

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