The House of Mirth

by

Edith Wharton

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Lawrence Selden Character Analysis

A young man who comes from an impoverished yet respectable family, Lawrence Selden impresses Lily Bart with his capacity to take part in some aspects of high society while keeping from becoming a prisoner to its rules and norms. Despite criticizing Lily for her interest in materialistic things, Lawrence is in love with her, admires her intelligence and social shrewdness, and believes that there is a deeper part of her personality that does not come across in social settings. This attitude reveals his aversion to cynicism and his willingness to believe in elevated, spiritual ideals. He also proves reliable in trying to help Lily and protecting her from her harmful environment as best he can.

Lawrence Selden Quotes in The House of Mirth

The The House of Mirth quotes below are all either spoken by Lawrence Selden or refer to Lawrence Selden. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Money and Happiness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover edition of The House of Mirth published in 2002.
Book 1: Chapter 1 Quotes

He was aware that the qualities distinguishing her from the herd of her sex were chiefly external: as though a fine glaze of beauty and fastidiousness had been applied to vulgar clay. Yet the analogy left him unsatisfied, for a coarse texture will not take a high finish; and was it not possible that the material was fine, but that circumstance had fashioned it into a futile shape?

Related Characters: Lily Bart, Lawrence Selden
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

“Ah, there’s the difference—a girl must, a man may if he chooses. […] Your coat’s a little shabby—but who cares? It doesn’t keep people from asking you to dine. If I were shabby no one would have me: a woman is asked out as much for her clothes as for herself. The clothes are the background, the frame, if you like: they don’t make success, but they are a part of it. Who wants a dingy woman? We are expected to be pretty and well-dressed till we drop—and if we can’t keep it up alone, we have to go into partnership.”

Related Characters: Lily Bart (speaker), Lawrence Selden
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 1: Chapter 6 Quotes

There were in her at the moment two beings, one drawing deep breaths of freedom and exhilaration, the other gasping for air in a little black prison-house of fears. But gradually the captive’s gasps grew fainter, or the other paid less heed to them: the horizon expanded, the air grew stronger, and the free spirit quivered for flight. She could not herself have explained the sense of buoyancy which seemed to lift and swing her above the sun-suffused world at her feet. Was it love, she wondered, or a mere fortuitous combination of happy thoughts and sensations?

Related Characters: Lily Bart, Lawrence Selden
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

“[…] your taking a walk with me is only another way of making use of your material. You are an artist, and I happen to be the bit of color you are using today. It’s a part of your cleverness to be able to produce premeditated effects extemporaneously.”

Related Characters: Lawrence Selden (speaker), Lily Bart, Percy Gryce
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

“My idea of success,” he said, “is personal freedom.”

“Freedom? Freedom from worries?”

“From everything—from money, from poverty, from ease and anxiety, from all the material accidents. To keep a kind of republic of the spirit—that’s what I call success.”

Related Characters: Lily Bart (speaker), Lawrence Selden (speaker)
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

“[…] the queer thing about society is that the people who regard it as an end are those who are in it, and not the critics on the fence. It’s just the other way with most shows—the audience may be under the illusion, but the actors know that real life is on the other side of the footlights. The people who take society as an escape from work are putting it to its proper use; but when it becomes the thing worked for it distorts all the relations of life.”

Related Characters: Lawrence Selden (speaker), Lily Bart
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

“What a miserable future you foresee for me!”

“Well—have you never foreseen it for yourself?”

The slow color rose to her cheek, not a blush of excitement but drawn from the deep wells of feeling; it was as if the effort of her spirit had produced it.

“Often and often,” she said. “But it looks so much darker when you show it to me!”

Related Characters: Lily Bart (speaker), Lawrence Selden (speaker)
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 1: Chapter 14 Quotes

When had Lily ever really felt, or pitied, or understood? All she wanted was the taste of new experiences: she seemed like some cruel creature experimenting in a laboratory.

Related Characters: Lily Bart, Lawrence Selden, Gerty Farish
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 2: Chapter 1 Quotes

“Sometimes […] I think it’s just flightiness—and sometimes I think it’s because, at heart, she despises the things she’s trying for. And it’s the difficulty of deciding that makes her such an interesting study.”

Related Characters: Carry Fisher (speaker), Lily Bart, Lawrence Selden
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 2: Chapter 3 Quotes

It was before him again in its completeness—the choice in which she was content to rest: in the stupid costliness of the food and the showy dullness of the talk, in the freedom of speech which never arrived at wit and the freedom of act which never made for romance.

Related Characters: Lily Bart, Lawrence Selden
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 2: Chapter 12 Quotes

“There is someone I must say goodbye to. Oh, not you—we are sure to see each other again—but the Lily Bart you knew. I have kept her with me all this time, but now we are going to part, and I have brought her back to you—I am going to leave her here. When I go out presently she will not go with me. I shall like to think that she has stayed with you—and she’ll be no trouble, she’ll take up no room.”

Related Characters: Lily Bart (speaker), Lawrence Selden, Bertha Dorset
Related Symbols: Bertha’s Letters
Page Number: 251
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 2: Chapter 13 Quotes

As she lay there she said to herself that there was something she must tell Selden, some word she had found that should make life clear between them. She tried to repeat the word, which lingered vague and luminous on the far edge of thought—she was afraid of not remembering it when she woke; and if she could only remember it and say it to him, she felt that everything would be well.

Related Characters: Lily Bart, Lawrence Selden
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:
Book 2: Chapter 14 Quotes

It was this moment of love, this fleeting victory over themselves, which had kept them from atrophy and extinction; which, in her, had reached out to him in every struggle against the influence of her surroundings, and in him, had kept alive the faith that now drew him penitent and reconciled to her side.

He knelt by the bed and bent over her, draining their last moment to its lees; and in the silence there passed between them the word which made all clear.

Related Characters: Lily Bart, Lawrence Selden
Page Number: 268
Explanation and Analysis:
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Lawrence Selden Character Timeline in The House of Mirth

The timeline below shows where the character Lawrence Selden appears in The House of Mirth. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 1: Chapter 1
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One busy Monday afternoon in intense September heat, Lawrence Selden sees his acquaintance Lily Bart in the middle of the crowd in New York’s Grand... (full context)
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Curious to figure out why Lily seems to be waiting in the train station, Selden greets her. Smiling beautifully, Lily thanks him for saving her, to which he replies that... (full context)
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Feeling honored by such a proposal, since Selden is not used to spending time alone with Lily, he suggests going to a tea-house,... (full context)
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...again but feels grateful for the trees planted on the street where they are walking. Selden then reveals that this is the street where he lives, and when Lily asks him... (full context)
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Once in the apartment, Lily finds it wonderful that Selden has the entire space for himself, and she criticizes the fact that women are not... (full context)
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When Lily and Selden discuss the topic of personal apartments, Lily seizes this opportunity to ask him why he... (full context)
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...not actually care about her. When Lily complains that people are saying she should marry, Selden bluntly asks her why she doesn’t, invoking the fact that women like Lily are brought... (full context)
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When Selden hands Lily a cigarette box, Lily grabs a cigarette. She lights her cigarette to his... (full context)
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Despite the pleasure that Selden draws from being in Lily’s company, he cannot help but wonder what her hidden motives... (full context)
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Amused by Lily’s arguments, Selden does not take her very seriously, and notes that she might find a husband at... (full context)
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Lily then notices it is getting late and leaves to catch her train. She makes Selden say goodbye to her at the door instead of taking her back to the station,... (full context)
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...pleasure in Lily’s embarrassment and, when he implies that Lily has just been up to Selden’s apartment, Lily invents an excuse about having been to her dress-maker’s. However, when Mr. Rosedale... (full context)
Book 1: Chapter 2
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...is being unfairly condemned for every act of spontaneous behavior, such as going to see Selden in his apartment. She realizes that lying to Rosedale was a terrible mistake, since it... (full context)
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...Although Lily does not enjoy the thought of drinking this bad tea after having had Selden’s refined tea, Mr. Gryce, overwhelmed by the young woman’s beauty, finds the tea wonderful. (full context)
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...with interest, which encourages him to keep on talking. She feels glad to have questioned Selden about Americana in preparation for this moment, and congratulates herself on taking advantage of unexpected... (full context)
Book 1: Chapter 4
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...However, Mrs. Trenor remains gloomy, explaining that Bertha Dorset is angry at her because Lawrence Selden, with whom Bertha once had an affair, might be coming. Lily is surprised to learn... (full context)
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When Judy says she might call Lawrence Selden to make sure he comes, Lily blushes and says that, if Judy would be doing... (full context)
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...to join her but, upon turning around, discovers that it is in fact than Lawrence Selden. (full context)
Book 1: Chapter 5
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...in this social sphere. However, Lily, despite her best intentions, is too intrigued by Lawrence Selden’s presence at Bellomont to go to church. Looking out the window at the omnibus that... (full context)
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Lily reflects on Lawrence Selden’s character and resolves to figure out if he has come to Bellomont for her or... (full context)
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...makes a mental list of who is present at Bellomont and realizes that, compared to Selden, they are all empty and uninteresting. She smiles at this thought, since her friends had... (full context)
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...to Lily, remarked to her that his wife, Bertha, who was seated next to Lawrence Selden, was ridiculing herself by trying so hard to seduce Selden. When Lily turned to look,... (full context)
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...Lily walks around in the large house, she reaches the library, where she sees Lawrence Selden and Bertha Dorset in intimate conversation. Pretending that she had not realized she was late... (full context)
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When Selden arrives, playfully asking her if she was waiting for him, Lily replies that she did... (full context)
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When Selden sees Percy Gryce among the attendants, he realizes that this must be the person Lily... (full context)
Book 1: Chapter 6
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That afternoon, Lily accepts Selden’s proposal and goes on a walk with him in the woods. She appreciates the peaceful... (full context)
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...not compare to this. This time, she feels unusually light and free, and she admires Selden’s various qualities, such as his cultivation and his sense of irony, which keeps him separate... (full context)
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When Lily begins saying that she has broken two engagements to spend time with him, Selden replies that he has broken none, since he came to Bellomont to see her, because... (full context)
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...feels happy about having some time to enjoy her thoughts freely for once. Replying to Selden’s previous comment, Lily complains about him always accusing her of premeditation, but Selden explains that... (full context)
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Lily and Selden argue about the possibility of reaching such a non-materialistic world. Lily notes that, despite Selden’s... (full context)
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Selden prophesies that Lily, too, will one day find that she is disappointed in her materialistic... (full context)
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Lily then directly asks Selden if he wants to marry her and Selden, laughing, says he doesn’t, but adds that... (full context)
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Lily and Selden smile at each other, lost in their daydream of getting married and living together. However,... (full context)
Book 1: Chapter 7
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...Judy Trenor scolds Lily for letting herself be seen coming back from her walk with Selden. This caused Bertha Dorset to become extremely jealous and to tell Percy Gryce that Lily... (full context)
Book 1: Chapter 8
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...a way to talk to him and try to seduce him again. She also notices Selden and feels a sudden emotion of mixed attraction and fear. She decides that she would... (full context)
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...of people’s gifts is a direct reflection of their kindness and generosity. Gerty mentions that Selden insisted on taking her to the wedding, and that she is extremely glad to be... (full context)
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...women present have been avoiding him. Lily then prepares herself to talk to Rosedale, but Selden approaches her in the meantime. She feels grateful for the sense of comfort she always... (full context)
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...Despite her promise to talk to Rosedale, Lily finds herself unable to do so with Selden so near, so she walks away with Rosedale, making an effort to feign comfort and... (full context)
Book 1: Chapter 9
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...works at the Benedick and had given her a provocative stare after Lily had left Selden’s apartment. (full context)
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...matters, Lily takes the woman to the drawing-room. There, Mrs. Haffen reveals that, upon cleaning Selden’s apartment, she found a series of love letters addressed to him that the young man... (full context)
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...of her adulterous behavior, Lily initially refuses to purchase them. However, she also realizes that Selden’s own reputation is at stake, and thus decides to purchase the letters so that she... (full context)
Book 1: Chapter 12
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...most of society attends the party. Interested in the artistic nature of the event, Lawrence Selden also decides to attend the party and sits next to Gerty Farish, who is delighted... (full context)
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The tableaux vivants then begin, showing various scenes and characters, which Selden particularly enjoys because he is capable of immersing himself entirely in the visual scenes depicted,... (full context)
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Selden feels that this tableau vivant shows him “the real Lily Bart,” without her social artifices.... (full context)
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After the performance, Selden looks for Lily, who is surrounded by a group of admirers and is reveling in... (full context)
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Lily and Selden sit down by a fountain, and Lily criticizes Selden for never speaking to her and... (full context)
Book 1: Chapter 13
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...a note from Judy Trenor asking to dine together, as well as a note from Selden asking if they could meet the next day. Lily wonders if Selden is going to... (full context)
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...aggression, Gus then implies that Lily must have already borrowed and “settled [her] scores” with Selden and Rosedale. This vicious outburst leaves both of them silent, frozen in place. Gus then... (full context)
Book 1: Chapter 14
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...Farish feels happy to have taken part in such elegant entertainment and to know that Selden and Lily appreciate each other. Gerty also admires Lily’s philanthropy, although she does not realize... (full context)
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In the meantime, Selden reflects on his own upbringing. Despite growing up in a lower-income environment, his mother made... (full context)
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On his way to dinner at Gerty’s, Selden runs into Gus Trenor, who tries to convince Selden to dine with him, complaining that... (full context)
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In Gerty’s sparse apartment, Selden compliments the young girl on her various qualities, which makes Gerty feel flushed. After dinner,... (full context)
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At Carry Fisher’s, Selden hears that Lily has already left, and he listens to people gossip about her. When... (full context)
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Van Alstyne accompanies Selden on a walk, and the two of them discuss Wellington and Louisa Bry’s efforts at... (full context)
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...Gerty feels mounting jealousy toward Lily, whom she feels must know about Gerty’s feelings for Selden but not care. She concludes that Lily is callous, but also reproaches herself for daring... (full context)
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...and Gerty tries to convince her to actually tell her what has happened, adding that Selden went to Carry Fisher’s to look for her—a comment that only makes Lily feel more... (full context)
Book 1: Chapter 15
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...However, after walking around angrily, she realizes that it is almost four—the time at which Selden is supposed to come. Feeling that his love is her only hope, and that he... (full context)
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Wondering if Selden might have mistaken their appointment for five o’clock, Lily is relieved to hear the bell... (full context)
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After Rosedale leaves, Lily is convinced that Selden will write to her to explain his absence, but she feels disappointed and scared when... (full context)
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Noticing the pen with which she was going to write to Selden, Lily begins to write a message to Rosedale but finds herself unable to form words.... (full context)
Book 2: Chapter 1
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Months later, in mid-April, as Selden exits the Casino in Monte Carlo, he feels renewed, detached from the problems he faced... (full context)
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...that Lily has had in the Mediterranean, in particular with the Duchess of Beltshire, and Selden remains quiet, as he had not expected to run into Lily on the Riviera. He... (full context)
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After lunch, Selden walks with Carry Fisher, who has been helping Wellington and Louisa Bry integrate into high... (full context)
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Selden then says he must leave, because he is staying in Nice instead of Monte Carlo.... (full context)
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Selden briefly observes Lily and notices that she is more impenetrable than before, which he sees... (full context)
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In Nice, Selden is confirmed in his observation that all of the people he is with are in... (full context)
Book 2: Chapter 2
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...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... (full context)
Book 2: Chapter 3
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After Selden receives a telegram from Lily about George Dorset, Selden decides that his most important task... (full context)
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...to ignore—but also that George is avoiding her. After leaving the yacht, she runs into Selden, who tells her that the affair seems settled, and that nothing will happen. Selden, though,... (full context)
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Selden then realizes that his greatest duty should be to protect Lily. In the evening, as... (full context)
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...then arrive at dinner together, which suggests that their problems have mysteriously vanished. Over dinner, Selden admires Lily’s perfection, feeling once again that she deserves to belong to a more elevated... (full context)
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...the next day. In an atmosphere of intense bewilderment and tension, she then casually reminds Selden that he promised to take her to her cab. (full context)
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Outside, Lily and Selden sit down and remain quiet for a while. While Selden is trying to understand what... (full context)
Book 2: Chapter 7
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Book 2: Chapter 8
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...her apartment, Gerty no longer harbors feelings of jealousy or resentment toward either Lily or Selden, and finds relief in confiding in her cousin. A few weeks after Lily’s visit, Selden... (full context)
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Despite Selden’s apparent coldness toward Lily’s life, Gerty entreats him to help Lily in whichever way he... (full context)
Book 2: Chapter 9
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When Selden comes to visit Lily one afternoon, he only increases Lily’s growing doubts about being involved... (full context)
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Selden and Lily engage in an awkward conversation, in which they remain uncomfortably distant and detached,... (full context)
Book 2: Chapter 10
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...Although Gerty remains her only loyal friend, Lily avoids her because she fears running into Selden, which she feels would only bring her pain. (full context)
Book 2: Chapter 11
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...her house. However, when she walks down a certain street, she recalls walking there with Selden two years ago, and she feels a sharp sense of shame and knowing that her... (full context)
Book 2: Chapter 12
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In Selden’s apartment, Lily is assailed by her memories, while Selden watches her with silent surprise. Lily... (full context)
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Worried about how tired Lily looks, Selden tries to insist that she have some tea, but Lily explains that she has to... (full context)
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...in mysterious terms, for trying to escape the low life she has been thrown into. Selden does not understand what she is trying to say and wonders if she has decided... (full context)
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Although Lily does feel that she has killed Selden’s love, she also knows that the love he has inspired in her lives on, and... (full context)
Book 2: Chapter 13
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After leaving Selden’s apartment, Lily begins to walk aimlessly, dreading having to return to her room for yet... (full context)
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...and Louisa Bry’s tableau vivant, she recalls rejecting the possibility of sharing a life with Selden, but also retains a sense of the pleasure and glamor of the party. (full context)
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...she must face. No longer feeling sad and lonely, she realizes that she must tell Selden a word, to clarify their entire relationship, although she fears she might not remember that... (full context)
Book 2: Chapter 14
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The next morning, on a sunny day, Selden walks toward Lily’s boarding-house, convinced that he must see her immediately and share with her... (full context)
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When Selden sees Lily lying on her bed, he feels that he is seeing “the real Lily,”... (full context)
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Alone in Lily’s room, Selden simply wants to fall on his knees by her side, but he knows that he... (full context)
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Looking through Lily’s bills, Selden is then surprised to see that all her expenses are paid for. When he realizes... (full context)
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Selden then reflects that their entire lives were meant to keep them apart, because of the... (full context)