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The House of Mirth Study Guide-Online Summary Free BookNotes-Edith Wharton
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Lawrence Selden is standing on the steps of the Casino in Monte Carlo. He has been here for three months, since he left New York upon seeing Lily with Gus Trenor. It is mid-April and he is alone until he hears Carrie Fisher call out to him. She is with Mr. and Mrs. Wellington Bry and Jack and Mrs. Stepney. Lord Hubert Dacey is leading them around. He functions as a sort of liaison between the new rich and the old rich. As the group of them stand around, Stepney exclaims upon seeing the Dorsetsí yacht. This initiates a discussion of Lily Bart, who has been taken up by the Duchess and other notable figures.

Selden doesnít say anything when he hears about Lily. He has heard that she is cruising the Mediterranean, but has been assuming that it would be unlikely that he would run into her. Upon hearing that she is arriving in Monte Carlo, he feels a sharp pang. He has been so busy running from her that he hadnít realized how wounded he felt by the loss of her. He takes a walk with Carrie Fisher and she tells him of all her troubles in getting the Brys into society since Mrs. Bry is constantly trying to be "queenly" instead of being flatly herself. Mrs. Fisher gets onto the subject of Lily Bart when she says Mrs. Bry is actually beginning to think if only she had Lily with her that she would be making more social successes. She tells about ten years earlier when Lily was in Aix. She had been courted seriously by an Italian Prince and had gotten to the critical stage of the marriage arrangements when his step-son came to visit. Lily had let him flirt with her and his father, her suitor, had dropped her. She says that at that point Mrs. Peniston packed herself and Lily up and headed back for New York. Carrie sums up that it is Lilyís habit to get this close to success and then blow her chances by doing something foolish.

Carrie Fisher returns to a narration of the present time. Lily is being used by Mrs. Dorset to keep Mr. Dorset busy while she pursues Ned Silverton. Now that she is close to having Ned Silverton as a lover, she is desperate for Lilyís services. Mrs. Fisher says that if Lily were smart, she would find the strategic moment to let Mr. Dorset know about Mrs. Dorsetís infidelity and get him to marry her, but that she knows Lily will never do this. In the midst of her story, Selden suddenly tells her he must leave. He rushes to his hotel and packs his bag quickly. He wants to get out of town so as to avoid seeing Lily. He feels foolish for running, but wonít stop himself. At the train station, he is reassuring himself that he is doing the right thing in leaving to avoid her when he runs into her. She is with the group of whom Mrs. Fisher had just been telling him. She is glowing in her beauty and handles the encounter with a smoothness that makes him feel sick.

Selden watches Lily as she maneuvers her way among all the members of her party, making herself attractive and easy for them. He thinks she has finally conquered her habit of sabotaging social- economic successes. That night he goes to a club and runs into Lord Hubert who joins him for a cigarette. Lord Hubert tells him Lily has gotten involved with the Duchess who is a dangerous influence. He wonders if Lily has any family who can be relied upon to help her. He remembers Mrs. Peniston as a woman who could manage to "bridge over chasms she didnít see."


Book Two opens with Lawrence Seldenís point of view. It is three months later and from his point of view, Lily has hardened into the role which, in the past, she played only half-heartedly. However, by the end of the chapter, this view of Lily Bart is reversed. Instead of leaving her the hardened manipulator of foolish and self- indulgent rich people, Lily is shown as an innocent among frighteningly depraved people. Lawrence Selden, who had intended to run from her, is called on at the end of the chapter to save her. Whether this man who has defined himself as nothing more than a spectator will be able to act in a decisive way is the question on which Wharton hinges the suspense of the first part of Book Two.

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