Chapter 20 Summary

After leaving Grace Stepney, Lily goes outside with no idea what to do next. She runs into Mrs. Fisher, who apologizes for failing to be nicer previously. Mrs. Fisher suggests an outing with her friends the Gormers, a wealthy couple who live in luxury but do not aspire to reach the pinnacle of high society. In the past, Lily never would have deigned to accept an invitation from such people. Now she sees that an opportunity on the fringes of society is better than no opportunity at all. She agrees to go.

The Gormers live much like the Dorsets or the Trenors, in a world of beauty and plenty. Their party is fun because nobody there cares very much about what others think of them. However, Lily is constantly conscious of minor deficiencies in taste and refinement. It bothers her that her current position is only second best.

Gerty Farish feels that Lily should accept her fate as an outcast and embrace a different kind of life, one with more morality and less materialism. Lily considers the advice only briefly. The party with the Gormers convinces her that she loves luxury too much to give it up. She begins working tirelessly to regain her former place in society. On Mrs. Fisher’s suggestion, Lily accepts an invitation to spend the summer with the Gormers in Alaska. She works for them as a sort of social secretary in exchange for her inclusion on the trip.

The Alaska trip goes well, and afterward Lily seeks Mrs. Fisher’s advice again. Mrs. Fisher suggests that she marry as soon as possible; Lily's options are Mr. Dorset, who is again on the brink of divorce, and Mr. Rosedale, who clearly likes Lily. Lily flatly refuses to consider marrying Dorset, but she is noncommittal on the subject of Rosedale.

Privately, Lily is no longer sure that Mr. Rosedale is interested in her. He is better accepted now than he was a year ago, mainly because he has made smart choices. This makes Lily like him more because she is naturally impressed by success. She knows that Mr. Rosedale’s money could solve her social problems easily. After all, she knows how to use money to gain respect and make people pay attention to her. However, she also knows that she no longer can offer a desirable social standing to Mr. Rosedale. There is little chance that he will marry her unless he falls in love.