Essential Passages by Character: Lily Bart
Essential Passage 1: Book I (Chapter 3)
She was beginning to have fits of angry rebellion against fate, when she longed to drop out of the race and make an independent life for herself. But what manner of life would it be? She had barely enough money to pay her dress-makers’ bills and her gambling debts; and none of the desultory interests which she dignified with the name of tastes was pronounced enough to enable her to live contentedly in obscurity. Ah, no—she was too intelligent not to be honest with herself. She knew that she hated dinginess as much as her mother had hated it, and to her last breath she meant to fight against it, dragging herself up again and again above its flood till she gained the bright pinnacles of success which presented such a slippery surface to her clutch.
At twenty-nine years of age, Lily Bart was unmarried and living with a widowed aunt since the death of her parents. For a lady in New York society at the turn of the century, this was paramount to failure in life. However, it is not that Lily has not tried. At this point, she is busy going from friend to friend, staying at their homes, enjoying their hospitality and social life in hopes of landing an acceptable husband (acceptable meaning rich and of high social standing). Her independent ways in the past has not yielded her as “marketable material,” yet she continues to make the effort. She is staying with her friends, the Trenors, and has set her eyes on Percy Gryce, an immensely wealthy yet shy man. She has little respect for him and even less in common with the bookish and socially awkward gentleman, yet he has shown an interest in her and thus has become a target for Lily’s matrimonial intentions. However, she sees the futility of this life. It is not what she wants. She would prefer to live independently of anyone’s expectations. Yet to do so would mean that she must give up her position in society, acquire a way to make a living, and living simply. This is something she absolutely cannot do.
Essential Passage 2: Book I (Chapter 6)
“I don’t know,” she said, “why you are always accusing me of premeditation.”
“I thought you confessed to it: you told me the other day that you had to follow a certain line—and if one does a thing at all, it is a merit to do it...
(The entire section is 1970 words.)
Essential Passages by Theme: Betrayal
Essential Passage 1: Book I (Chapter 9)
…Lily knew that there is nothing society resents so much as having given its protection to those who have not known how to profit by it: it is for having betrayed its connivance that the body social punishes the offender who is found out. And in this case there was no doubt of the issue. The code of Lily’s world decreed that a woman’s husband should be the only judge of her conduct; she was technically above suspicion while she had the shelter of his approval, or even of his indifference. But with a man of George Dorset’s temper there could be no thought of condonation—the possessor of his wife’s letters could overthrow with a touch the whole structure of her existence. And into what hands Bertha Dorset’s secret had been delivered! For a moment the irony of the coincidence tinged Lily’s disgust with a confused sense of triumph. But the disgust prevailed—all her instinctive resistances, or taste, of training, of blind inherited scruples, rose against the other feeling. Her strongest sense was one of personal contamination.
Lily receives an unexpected visitor—a cleaning woman from the Benedick, the hotel in which resides Laurence Selden. Having visited Selden alone in his apartment, she was an object of note by the woman, Mrs. Harrat, since it is of questionable behavior for a single lady to visit a man unsupervised or unchaperoned. In this visit, Mrs. Harrat brings Lily a package of letters that she offers to sell to her. Lily, confused of how these letters could be of interest to her, is told that they are letters of a suggestive nature from Bertha Dorset to Laurence Selden. Not sure of why she does so, Lily buys the letters. She realizes that these letters would be a powerful weapon against Bertha, should she choose to betray her. Yet she also realizes that by betraying Bertha she would also be betraying Selden. The choice is weighed in the balance, and she chooses to keep the letters unused. Struggling with the sense of power such a tool gives her, Lily is also overwhelmed by the disgust of the thought of what the letters portend.
Essential Passage 2: Book II (Chapter 3)
…Miss Bart had lingered for a last word with Lord Hubert, and Stepney, on whom Mr. Bry was pressing a final, and still more expensive, cigar, called out:...
(The entire section is 2095 words.)