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The House of Mirth: Book Two – Chapter 11,12

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Summary – Chapters Eleven and Twelve

On a day in April, Lily stands on Fifth Avenue and looks at the spectacle of those from her set driving by. The season is over in society and millinery and she has been told her services are no longer required. When she gets home, Rosedale is there waiting for her and she feels a sense of triumph. He tells her he is going away for a couple of months and does not want her to stay at this boarding house any longer. He is no longer glib and offers to loan her the money to pay off her debt to Trenor and says it will be a business arrangement. She is gentle in her reply, but says she cannot pay him back and this is what Trenor had also called it.


She sees that he is now attracted by her scruples and this is unique in his social experience. Her dislike for him is diminishing and thinks he would marry her with the sole condition that she reconciles with Bertha. He reads his dismissal in her eyes, but says if she would let him he would set her up over all of them.


The narrative shifts to how she has been out of work for a week and the next day she experiences a profound loneliness in a restaurant full of women and girls. She comes to a final decision and this gives her a reason to hurry home. At 5 pm she unlocks her trunk and takes out a sealed packet. She puts this in the bosom of her dress and walks to Bertha’s home. On the way, she remembers walking with Selden two years ago in September and suddenly wants to see him. Her blood is chilled at the thought of profiting on a secret from his past.


In Selden’s rooms in Chapter Twelve, she tells him she is sorry for the way they parted. She begins to cry and he coaxes her to sit and have a drink. She senses that he is embarrassed and feels shut out forever from his ‘inmost self’. She tells him she has always remembered and has tried hard; she breaks off suddenly to cry and her hand touches the packet.


She tells him she is ‘a very useless person’ and he asks if she is going to tell him she is about to marry. She has a look of wonder and in light of his question she pauses to ask herself if her decision had really been taken when she entered the room. She does not answer him directly, but says she is going to leave the Lily Bart he knew here. He asks if he can help her and tells her not to speak in this way. She then asks for them to always be friends and will always feel safe whatever happens. He wants to know what she means by this (what is going to happen) and she replies ‘nothing at present’ and then asks him to make up the fire for her before she goes. He does so and notices how much thinner she is. He remembers ‘long afterward’ how the flame intensifies the shadows under her eyes. He hardly notices at the time, but fancies that as she gets up she takes something from her dress and drops it in the fire. She turns to him and places her hands on his shoulders. She says goodbye and kisses his forehead as he bends over her.


Analysis – Chapters Eleven and Twelve

When Lily places the packet of letters in her dress and heads towards Bertha’s home, it is strongly implied that she is about to take her revenge and her place back in society. It is when her thoughts turn to Selden that her blood chills at the idea of profiting from something that involves him.


Although largely unspoken, Lily’s decision to burn the letters rather than use them to gain leverage over Bertha demonstrates a love for Selden. It also affirms the point that she has left the Lily Bart that he knew behind in his room. By destroying the evidence, she has refused to play the games of power abuse and exploitation.


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