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

Summary

Lily arrives in Selden's apartment and apologizes for the circumstances of their last meeting. Regardless, there is a distance between the two of them, a distance that Lily realizes is permanent. She admits her cowardice in turning down his offers of marriage, a cowardice borne out of her fear of living a less affluent life. She confesses to having made a mistake, a mistake she feels has caused Selden to judge her negatively ever since.

Lily asks Selden to remember her, and he responds by offering to help her. She asks Selden to remain her friend, and secretly deposits Bertha's letters into the open flames of Selden's fireplace. She says goodbye to Selden with an air of finality.

Analysis

Once again, Wharton points out that the differences between Lily and Selden could be laid to rest by an "immediate outrush of feeling." In this instance, however, Selden maintains his reserve and the moment passes despite Lily's admissions that she has taken great comfort in Selden's previous admissions of love for her. Rather than looking at her lovingly, however, Selden observes her with a look of "gentle understanding." While he no longer loves Lily, he still cares deeply for her welfare and well being. Lily, on the other hand, realizes that she once loved Selden but forfeited his love for superficial, monetary reasons.

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