Summary and Analysis
Book 2: Chapter III
Selden receives Lily's telegram requesting his intercession on behalf of the Dorsets. Selden meets with Dorset and fears the worst for Lily's reputation. Lily remains aboard the Sabrina despite the tension between the Dorsets and Bertha's harsh treatment of Lily.
Lily goes to town and encounters Selden, who relates his concern for Lily's reputation. He worries that Lily is unable to defend herself socially from Bertha's wrath, and advises Lily to leave the Dorsets' yacht during a dinner hosted by the Brys. Lily asserts that she is in no danger, but Selden's fears are later realized when Bertha announces to the group that Lily will not return with them to the Sabrina.
Selden accompanies Lily from the dinner party, vowing to help her find a place to stay. He receives Stepney's permission to let Lily spend the night at their hotel provided that she not disturb Stepney's sleeping wife, Gwen, and that she leave by train the following morning.
Selden's attitude toward Lily has transformed from smitten suitor to protector. He realizes that Lily's behavior has been reckless, but he also acknowledges that she is incapable of defending herself from the implications of being exiled by Bertha. Selden's later behavior is hinted at when Wharton reveals that he has developed a "sense of privilege" through his association with the Brys and Stepneys.
Perhaps nowhere else in the novel is Wharton as disparaging toward the wealthy social class as when she presents Selden's observations of the contrasts between Lily and the other dinner guests. She depicts the gossip columnist Dabham as a social parasite. She has Selden observe the "ideals of a world where conspicuousness passed for distinction, and the society column had become the roll of fame." Such is the society that will cast off one of its own regardless of the merits of the charges against her.