The House of Mirth By Edith Wharton Summary and Analysis Book 2: Chapter II

Summary

The following morning, Lily awakens aboard the Dorsets' yacht, the Sabrina. She requests a meeting with Bertha but is rebuffed. Instead, Lily leaves the yacht to attend a breakfast with the Duchess of Beltshire.

On her way to breakfast, Lily encounters Carry, who offers Lily the chance to replace her as the Brys' social consort. She advises Lily to accept the position because she believes Lily is on the verge of social scandal. Carry reveals that the society writer Dabham has told everyone that he witnessed Lily returning alone with Dorset the previous evening after midnight. Lily protests that she and Dorset had waited for Bertha and Silverton at the train station, but the second couple never arrived.

Lily then encounters Dorset, who tells Lily that Silverton and Bertha did not return to the Sabrina until after seven in the morning. He relates Bertha's excuse, which includes a preposterous scenario of a carriage drawn by one lame horse. Suspecting his wife has been unfaithful, Dorset takes Lily's advice to seek Selden's legal counsel.

Lily speaks with Bertha, who tells a slightly different version of the story she had previously related to Dorset. When Lily notes the discrepancy, Bertha blames the inconsistency on her husband's "attack" of nerves. The two women engage in an argument during which it becomes apparent that Bertha is accusing Lily of seducing Dorset in order to mask her own infidelity.

Analysis

This chapter serves as a transitional section of the novel by showing the pettiness of society people in dealing with individuals of whom they are jealous. Bertha is prepared to destroy Lily's reputation because of perceived slights from Lily; in addition, Bertha attempts to cast aspersions on Lily in order to cover up her own infidelity.

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