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BOOK SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS
Lily appreciates having gotten the blunt news from Carry Fisher that her only hope is to marry and marry soon. She takes a walk with Simon Rosedale one afternoon and inwardly marvels at the ironic parallels this walk has to the walk she took last year with Lawrence Selden at Bellomont. She tells Rosedale that she is now willing to marry him. He colors and tells her he no longer wants to marry her. She is surprised, but maintains her composure. He is so taken with her composure that he presses her to let him explain himself. He says he is even more in love with her this year than he was last year, but now things have changed since she has lost her good standing in society. He has worked too long to risk losing his new position on the verge of entering this society. He says "A man ainít ashamed to say he wants to own a racing stable or a picture gallery. Well, a taste for societyís just another kind of hobby." It is a hobby he has begun to succeed in and associating with the wrong people is the surest way to lose his place in it.
When Lily withdraws again and tells him he must stop coming to see her if this is the case with him, he pushes back again. He tells her she should get even with Bertha Dorset and if she did that, he would marry her. She is intrigued by what he is proposing and remains to hear him out. He wants to know why she doesnít use the letters to blackmail Bertha Dorset into bringing her back into society. Then she could marry him and he could provide her with the material means to make Bertha Dorset powerless to hurt her any further. Lily listens to the whole story and at points begins to be seduced by the idea of solving all her problems. At the end, however, she knows she will never do it. She tells him she will not do it and he responds angrily with the conjecture that she is refusing to do it because the letters are addressed to Lawrence Selden.
Almost at the end of the novel, Wharton finally draws out the card she showed early on--the letters from Bertha Dorset to Lawrence Selden. They present Lily with an escape from her present social predicament and a chance to get even with Bertha Dorset. Wharton is careful in her characterization of her protagonist. Lily might be a person who schemes to flatter rich men into marrying her, but she is not the kind of person who thinks to use black mail. That has to come from the bad guy in the novel, Simon Rosedale. Here, Whartonís anti-Semitism surfaces again. Not only is he new rich and very successful at manipulating his way into the inner sanctum of the social circle of the old rich, but he has bad grammar, and, on top of all of that, heís a Jew. Since it is he who brings up the idea of using the letters to blackmail Bertha Dorset into returning Lily to her good reputation, it is clear that Lily will not take this path to social respectability. It is therefore a tantalizing hope of escape that will never be used. It serves as a means of showing the protagonistís essentially moral nature.