Chapter 16 Summary
Book Two of The House of Mirth begins three months later. Lawrence Selden is traveling alone in Monte Carlo (in Monaco) when he runs into the Brys, the Stepneys, and Mrs. Fisher. The group immediately sweeps Selden up in their superficial fun. Their conversation soon turns to Lily Bart and the Dorsets, who are just returning to Monte Carlo after a cruise to Sicily.
Mrs. Fisher comments that any girl with Lily’s grace and appearance should find it easy to attract a husband. She describes an episode from several years earlier, when Lily was on the point of marriage with an Italian prince and then threw away the opportunity at the last minute. According to Mrs. Fisher, the incident reflects Lily's character:
That’s Lily all over, you know: she works like a slave preparing the ground and sowing her seed; but the day she ought to be reaping the harvest she over-sleeps herself or goes off to a picnic . . . I think it’s because, at heart, she despises the things she’s trying for.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Fisher believes that Lily has been quite successful in the past few months. She has grown more beautiful than ever, and she also has befriended the Duchess of Beltshire, an important personage on the Riviera.
Listening to Mrs. Fisher makes Selden feel uneasy. He has spent months recovering from his love for Lily, and he was not expecting to plunge so suddenly back into her world and its values. In order to avoid meeting her, he decides to leave town and head to Nice to spend the rest of his vacation. Part of him feels cowardly for running away; he berates himself as he boards the train.
To Selden’s surprise, Lily herself soon appears on the train with the Dorsets and a small entourage. Selden watches admiringly as Lily charms Mr. Dorset and jokes with both Mrs. Dorset and a young poet, Ned Silverton. Lily seems to be trying especially hard to keep her three friends happy. Watching her, Selden guesses that strong tensions are afoot.
Upon arrival in Nice, Selden attempts to detach himself from Lily and her friends. During the evening, he catches a glimpse of Mrs. Dorset and Ned Silverton going off alone in the moonlight. Later he bumps into a friend of the Dorsets, Lord Hubert, who comments that he wishes Lily had not befriended the Duchess of Beltshire, whose behavior is not befitting of a proper young lady. Somewhat hopefully, Lord Hubert asks if Lily’s aunt is anywhere nearby to exert some control over her niece. Selden says that, unfortunately, Mrs. Peniston is still in New York.