In the meantime, Lily becomes convinced that she needs to find a way to marry Rosedale. When she goes to visit Carry Fisher at her house at Tuxedo in November, Mrs. Fisher happens to be out and Lily finds herself alone for a moment with Rosedale before a few other guests arrive. Lily remains convinced that this is one of Carry’s strategies to help her marry Rosedale.
Lily’s plan to marry Rosedale is so reminiscent of her earlier plans to marry other wealthy men, such as Percy Gryce, that this one too seems bound to fail, too. It remains ambiguous whether Lily is truly desperate enough now to sacrifice her happiness for a loveless marriage.
After dinner, Lily and Carry talk by the fireside. Carry shares her success at making Wellington and Louisa Bry more socially connected, but she also tells Lily that she has seen Mattie Gormer and Bertha Dorset together, and both Carry and Lily understand that Bertha’s objective is to exclude Lily from the Gormers’ circle by spreading bad rumors about her. Carry concludes that Bertha must still be scared of Lily and she enjoins Lily to marry as soon as she can.
Carry’s willingness to tell Lily the truth, even if it might be unpleasant, demonstrates the very qualities that Lily had hoped to find in a sincere friend. At the same time, Carry’s own position is ambiguous, since she does not hesitate to criticize high society while remaining an integral part of it. The fact that Carry has to protect her own reputation as well will later prove incompatible with true loyalty.
The next day, Lily takes a walk with Rosedale and thinks of the memorable walk she took with Selden in Bellomont last September. As they speak, Lily bluntly says that she would be ready to marry Rosedale. However, Rosedale immediately rejects her offer, although he remains fascinated by Lily’s dignified, calculated replies, which give her the effect of always seeming distant.
Lily’s involuntary comparison between Selden and Rosedale reveals hidden longing and regret, although Lily chooses to sacrifice these emotions for purely pragmatic purposes. Rosedale’s rejection, then, however harmful to Lily’s financial future it might, at least allows her to retain her emotional freedom.
Rosedale resolves to explain his perspective clearly. Although he insists he does not believe the stories about Lily, he says he cannot ignore them, and he knows that the only reason she has changed her mind is because of her social downfall. Finally, he admits that he is still madly in love with her but that associating himself with her would harm his social prospects. Lily is surprised and impressed by Rosedale’s candor, which is at odds with most of the interactions she has had in the past year.
Rosedale’s sincerity demonstrates his willingness to abide by norms and conventions necessary for social climbing, while at the same time rejecting them on a moral level—a position strikingly similar to Lily’s. It reveals, once again, that not all members of society personally agree with the rules they choose to abide by in public.
As Lily makes a move to leave, thanking him for his honesty, Rosedale reiterates forcefully that he does not believe in the rumors about her. He then startles Lily by asking directly why she does not take her revenge and use Bertha’s letters, which he knows she possesses. As Lily listens on, too astonished to answer, Rosedale does not dwell on how he knows about this, although he does mention that he is the owner of the Benedick. Instead, he describes Lily’s public situation in clear, straightforward terms, explaining that everyone is simply following Bertha out of interest, since she is so powerful, but that they also know that Lily could take her revenge anytime by marrying George Dorset.
Rosedale’s attitude is pragmatic and amoral. Knowing that their social world values power more than justice, Rosedale argues that any strategy Lily might use to regain power is valid, since, in high society, people are judged for their success and not for the moral validity of their actions. This cynical point of view is compelling: to be an integral part of high society, Rosedale argues, Lily must be ready to play by its rules—an course of action that, so far, Lily has refused to accept.
Since Lily seems unwilling to do this, Rosedale suggests that the best way for Lily to regain her power would be for Bertha to be on her side, which Lily could achieve by using Bertha’s letters against her. Using logical, business-like arguments, Rosedale tries to convince Lily that not only could she return to high society, but that she could also reach a permanent position in society by marrying Rosedale, since he would be willing to marry Lily if she succeeds in reintegrating into the upper class.
Rosedale’s arguments highlight the amoral nature of their social world, but also tries to persuade Lily by appealing to her primary weakness: her attraction to wealth and power. Rosedale is thus suggesting to Lily that she could finally achieve everything she has ever dreamed of, if only she accepted to consider blackmail a valid strategy, instead of questioning its ethical validity.
Marrying him, Rosedale argues, would be Lily’s only sustainable protection against Bertha, since, in light of the rumors that already existed about Lily before her separation from the Dorsets—rumors that Bertha could choose to bring up again—a powerful marriage would be Lily’s only way to keep Bertha frightened and convince Bertha that Lily is just as powerful as she is. However, despite the intense attraction of Rosedale’s proposal, Lily instinctively rejects this plan, finding this scheme particularly horrifying for the simple reason that it is risk-free. Therefore, she rejects all of Rosedale’s ideas and refuses to take part in his plan.
To Lily, the absence of risk in Rosedale’s well-presented plan equates to a similar kind of scheming as Bertha has demonstrated: a willingness to hide one’s own vulnerability by crushing and humiliating someone else. Lily’s attraction to risk also recalls the excitement she feels toward money. It is precisely this sense of adventure that she wants to regain by reintegrating high society, not the monotonous (yet wealthy) life that Rosedale is eager to offer her.
Irritated and surprised, Rosedale concludes that Lily’s attitude must be explained by an effort to protect Selden, to whom Bertha addressed her letters. However, Rosedale adds sarcastically that Selden seems to have done nothing to help her.
Rosedale’s mention of Selden is both vicious (since it recalls the rumors he shared with Gus Trenor about Lily’s sexual promiscuity) and persuasive, since Selden has in fact essentially disappeared from Lily’s life.