Lily returns to New York only to find that her aunt Peniston has died. During the reading of the will, Lily is expected to inherit her aunt’s fortune but Mrs. Peniston has been displeased with Lily’s European travels and perhaps with her behaviour as a whole and has left the bulk of her money to Grace Stepney, giving Lily only ten thousand dollars. The shock is again born with a resignation by Lily.
We learn that from Monte Carlo, Lily had gone to London under the Duchess’ protection, but finally realizing that the Duchess was not the most respectable companion and that her loyalty might turn at any moment, she had returned home, as Selden had urged her before she left the Riviera. However, the people who had played parts in the drama, the Dorsets, Stepneys and Brys had returned ahead of her and had distributed their version of the story. Lily did not even try to defend herself, feeling her responsibility in the consequences as she had originally known she was to distract Dorset from his wife’s indiscretions and now felt it was time to pay for her mistake. For the first time, she finds herself all alone, except for Gertie Ferish and there is only one thing to do; regain her position in society little by little. However, upon meeting Mrs. Trenor with Carrie Fisher and Rosedale, Lily is snubbed in the most polite way and she reads that Judy Trenor is more irritated by the money that has been given to Lily from her husband; therefore she decides to pay him back, which would leave her only a mere $1,000 to live on.
Lily expects her legacy to be paid out immediately but when she learns from the lawyers that it may take a full year, she is shocked and applies to Grace Stepney for a loan. Grace bemoans that she, too, is in the same position. When Lily implies that Grace would be able to borrow again her upcoming fortune, Grace sternly refuses, saying it’s Lily’s debts and rumours of affairs that helped Mrs. Peniston to her grave.
As Lily leaves Grace Stepney, she feels that the door to her old life has been shut and she is facing a bleak existence. As she stands on Fifth Avenue alone, a hansom pulls up bearing Mrs. Fisher who apologizes for snubbing Lily at the restaurant and extends an invitation to join her and the Gormer’s for the weekend. It will be a step down from the society Lily was used to but she realizes that it’s necessary to endure it. She accepts the invitation, much to the dismay of Gertie, who offers to stay in town with her, but Lily believes it may work towards mending fences with her set. When she returns to the city, she maintains her intimacy with the Gormer’s set. Carrie Fisher urges her to marry and the first of her candidates is George Dorset, whose marriage to Bertha is failing fast. Yet when Fisher offers Simon Rosedale as a possible husband, Lily seriously considers the suggestion. Although he moves mainly in high society, he obviously still admires Lily and she speculates: can she get him to fall in love with her?
Visiting the Gormer mansion on Long Island during its construction, on a walk Lily meets George Dorset, whose abode is not far from the Gomer’s. Clearly distraught, he pleads with Lily to take pity on him and insinuates that she can alleviate his pain. Yet although he apologizes for his part in her demise, Lily claims she cannot help him and in fact, they should not be seen together. At his further pleading, she sees the chance to put her worries to rest and have retaliation at the same time.
“She stood silent, gazing away from him down the autumnal stretch of the deserted lane. And suddenly fear possessed her — fear of herself, and of the terrible force of the temptation. All her past weaknesses were like too many eager accomplices drawing her toward the path their feet had already smoothed …”
Yet though pondering the possibilities, Lily does not take the opportunity and escapes his presence.
Returning to the Gormer’s, she discovers that Bertha Dorset has been to visit in her absence and Lily experiences an uncomfortable forboding. She sees Dorset again upon her return to the city and has an opportunity to end her plight again but she refuses his barely veiled offer of what appear to be marriage when he can extricate himself from his present one.
Lily sets herself up at a private hotel, still living beyond her means with the hope of reintegrating into upper-level society. Meeting Rosedale at a function, she sees him playing with a child and not knowing if the softer side of him attracts or repels her, she seriously considers marrying him, while knowing their meeting has been orchestrated by Carrie Fisher, who urges her to marry for her own protection.
Lily’s meeting with Carrie Fisher has made her painfully aware of her circumstances which were fresh in her mind when she went for a walk with Rosedale the next afternoon. With a resolution of redeeming herself, she confesses to Rosedale that she is prepared to marry him, but Rosedale expresses surprise, as he no longer wishes to marry her, he only wants favours without committment. The dignity of her response makes his admiration grow and he confesses love for her, but a marriage to her would now damage his prospects. To Lily’s astonishment, he urges her to use the letters that she purchased against Bertha. In a long monologue, he makes his case, offering to back her in order for her to rise again, but to Rosedale’s shock, she refuses. Angrily, he implies that her refusal stems from the fact the letters implicate Selden as well as Bertha: “Well, I’ll be damned if I see what thanks you’ve got from him.”
Winter arrives, and Lily’s habits are much different than they were before, more evidence of her fall from grace. “Lily, for all her dissatisfied dreaming, had never really conceived the possibility of revolving about a different centre: it was easy enough to despise the world, but decidedly difficult to find any other habitable region.” She thinks of even the most tiresome tasks in her former life with a fondness now that they have deserted her. While society doesn’t shun her, it simply ignores her and goes about its business, allowing her to feel her full disgrace.
Lily visits Gertie, whom she hasn’t seen in awhile since her manner of condolence is rather irritating. While visiting, she breaks down, confessing the dire circumstances she’s facing, and that poverty will soon be knocking at her door.
Gertie applies to Selden to assist Lily, or at least speak with her, as his silence might be adding to her unhappiness. He expresses willingness to help but questions if Lily will accept it from him, in a way that, I think, shows his own injured feelings with respect to her. He had found himself somewhat piqued at her attaching herself to the Gormer’s and reverted to a conventional attitude of her but Gertie’s words brought to light the times they had communed and the depth he had found in Lily. He searches for her at her hotel, only to find she has moved in with the lady with whom she has recently taken the position of private secretary. When he is handed a slip of paper at the hotel, giving Lily’s present address of “Care of Mrs. Norma Hatch, Emporium Hotel,” Selden expresses anger by ripping the paper in two.
Have you noticed a change in Lily? She distances herself from Dorset and although she is tempted into marriage with him to fix her troubles. She accepts the Gormers, even though she feels they’re beneath her, and integrates herself into their society. And it appears that she doesn’t want to use the letters against Bertha? It is really because they implicate Selden or is it because of a moral resistance? Hmmm ….
I found myself wanting Lily to accept George Dorset’s offer. He’s rather weak and self-centred, however he enjoys her company and would be kind to her. Yet Lily refuses him and I believe THIS TIME it is from the strength of her convictions. She still feels loyalty to them as a couple and to become the wife of her “friend’s” ex-husband would sully her further despite the money that would probably buy their way back into society, if necessary Perhaps she also realizes that Bertha would be like a plague and she’d never get a moment’s peace from her.
I don’t understand what Lily means when she says, “She had rejected Rosedale’s offer (of using the letters) without conscious effort; her whole being had risen against it, and she did not yet perceive that, by the mere act of listening to him, she had learned to live with ideas which would not have been intolerable to her.“ Does that mean she would never have thought of using the letters but because she listened to him that the idea is now inside her, working on her?
Selden is irritating me. He shows very little understanding for Lily and condemns her quickly, just like everyone else. I feel that his feelings were injured by her lack of response to him and he is still reacting because of it. Gertie has the insight and patience to realize that Lily, slowly and carefully, needs to be drawn out of her past life and into a new one, but Selden has little of that insight and none of the patience. I’ve lost patience with him.
“From the beginning? … Dear Gerty, how little imagination you good people have! Why, the beginning was in my cradle, I suppose — in the way I was brought up, and the things i was taught to care for. Or no — I won’t blame anybody for my faults: I’ll say it was in my blood, that I got it from some wicked pleasure-loving ancestress, who reacted against the homely virtues of New Amsterdam, and wanted to be back at the court of the Charleses! ….. You asked me just now for the truth — well, the truth about any girl is that once she’s talked about she’s done for; and the more she explains her case the worse it looks —“ (Lily)
” …. half the trouble in life is caused by pretending there isn’t any.” (Carrie Fisher)
“If one were not a part of the season’s fixed routine, one swung unsphered in a void of social non-existence.”