The House of Mirth

by

Edith Wharton

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The House of Mirth: Book 2: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, Lily is surprised to find herself alone on the Sabrina. After learning that Bertha Dorset has not yet left her room and that George Dorset and Ned Silverton left the yacht separately, Lily admires the view, taking pleasure in the beauty of the landscape. She feels that this invitation to go on a Mediterranean trip was the perfect break from her troubles and has allowed her to relax, blurring such problems as Rosedale’s proposal and her debt to Gus Trenor.
Lily’s belief that going to Europe has allowed her to stay away from her problems is reminiscent of Selden’s similar belief, and just as fallible, since, on this very day—as her observations about Bertha, George, and Ned forebode—Lily is about to discover that staying at Monte Carlo could tarnish her reputation for good.
Themes
Money and Happiness Theme Icon
In a new social sphere, Lily has once again proven her superiority over others, as she has charmed everyone with her social skills. Lily has breakfast plans with the Duchess at eleven and, after failing to see Bertha Dorset, who claims to be tired, Lily leaves the ship. When she enters the Casino, she sees Mrs. Bry and, behind her, Carry Fisher, who tells Lily that Mrs. Bry is angry at Carry for failing to create a good relationship between Mrs. Bry and the Duchess. Carry also notes that Mrs. Bry feels that Lily has rebuked her, for example by not inviting her to dinner on the Sabrina.
Lily’s encounter with Carry Fisher serves as a reminder that people’s goal at Monte Carlo is not simply to relax and enjoy themselves, as Lily hopes to do, but to pursue their narrow interests—such as, in Mrs. Bry’s case, become part of the highest circles of the upper class. This causes people to become so self-obsessed that they take offense at even seemingly innocuous behavior, such as Lily’s failure to think about Mrs. Bry’s desires and invite her to dinner.
Themes
Gender, Class, and Freedom Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Lily says that she can try to use her influence to make the Duchess invite Mrs. Bry, but Carry then admits that she is worried about Lily herself, because a journalist (Mr. Dabham) is spreading rumors that Lily and George Dorset came back from Nice alone after midnight. Although Lily initially laughs this comment off, she notices Carry’s grave expression and explains that they did have to come back alone because Bertha never showed up to meet them at the station. Carry seems worried at this new piece of information and wonders if Lily will somehow be made to pay for Bertha’s absence.
Despite Lily’s knowledge of how high society works, she still believes that justice—namely, her innocent behavior toward George Dorset—is sufficient to protect her. On this occasion, though, Lily proves too trusting, since Carry’s worries will soon prove well founded. Unlike Lily, who seems to believe that her friendship with Bertha is back to normal, Carry seems to never forget how evil and treacherous Bertha can be.
Themes
Morality vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
After Lily uses her skills to encourage the Duchess to have dinner with Wellington and Louisa Bry, she runs into George Dorset, who makes her feel even more apprehensive than after her conversation with Carry. As Lily accompanies George on a walk, she notices that he is extremely nervous, and George then reveals that, last night, Bertha and Ned Silverton missed all the trains to Monte Carlo and had to drive back. On the Sabrina, George waited up for them and made a scene when they arrived. Although Lily tries to keep from grasping exactly what George is implying, she is nevertheless forced to sit by him as he breaks down and relates tales of personal misery.
Lily’s effort to ignore the reality of Bertha’s adulterous relationship with Ned Silverton can be seen as a self-defense mechanism, since Lily is so intimately involved with the Dorsets and would suffer from the eruption of a scandal. Her failure to think about her own reputation at this moment and try to protect herself reveals how little freedom she has in this situation, since she will be forced to adapt to whatever decisions that George and Bertha take.
Themes
Morality vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
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After George’s long outpour of emotions, Lily asks him what he is going to do, and he explains that he is going to find a hotel and speak with his lawyers. When George remembers that Selden is a lawyer, he decides to talk to him. Despite initially discouraging George from getting Selden involved, Lily changes her mind and simply concludes that they will wait for George for dinner. Then, she reflects on the situation, feeling sorry for Ned Silverton, who is genuinely in love with Bertha, who only cares about herself.
Lily’s assertion that they will wait for George for dinner stresses her hope that, as long as George and Bertha follow social conventions (such as going to dinner as they always do), everything will be fine. Her compassion for Ned reveals her capacity to think of people beyond herself, and her understanding that innocent people such as Ned can be crushed by the artificial, self-interested nature of relationships in high society.
Themes
Morality vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
As Lily returns to the Sabrina, she expects to find Bertha overwhelmed with emotion, but is shocked to see that the woman is in full control of herself. Lily is surprised to see that, as Bertha converses with Lord Hubert and the Duchess, she makes casual reference to George and does not seem to consider that anything is amiss.
Bertha’s behavior shows the first signs of dissimulation and potential treachery. Lily’s surprise only highlights how little she expects Bertha to turn on her, as she has in the past and will do again this time. For all of Lily’s social shrewdness, she still expects a minimal degree of emotional honesty from people.
Themes
Morality vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
When the guests leave, Lily tries to have an intimate conversation with Bertha, but Bertha begins by saying that she and Ned waited for Lily and George at the station all night. When Lily replies that George told her Ned and Bertha had arrived at the station after the last train, Bertha argues that George does not remember the events clearly, since he had a terrible nervous attack this morning.
Bertha’s strategy is to turn her guilt into victimhood, arguing that it is Lily’s fault if Bertha was forced to come back alone with Ned—even though, of course, Bertha contrived to spend time alone with him. Bertha’s mention of George’s nervous attack is meant to invalidate all he has told Lily. In this way, Bertha’s version matters more than the truth.
Themes
Morality vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Unable to understand what is happening, Lily feels lost and, as Bertha continues to attack her for not waiting for them at the train station, Lily can only reply in a genuinely confused tone. As the conversation comes to a close, Lily remembers Bertha’s past treacherous behavior and feels, with profound dread, that the woman is planning something evil. Finally, overwhelmed by Bertha’s falseness, she goes to her cabin, without finding the words to counter Bertha’s unfounded accusations.
The fact that Lily is taken aback by Bertha’s deceitfulness reveals that Lily would never behave in this way herself, since she believes in basic moral principles of honesty and respect. Unlike in her confrontation with Gus Trenor, this time Lily does not even understand what is at stake, and therefore does not yet perceive what danger she is facing—and how she might best defend herself.
Themes
Morality vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon