Chapter 23 Summary
In the next few weeks, Mrs. Gormer’s friendship with Mrs. Dorset grows, while her friendship with Lily withers away. This leaves Lily with nowhere to go. As her situation worsens, she struggles to stand by her decision regarding Mr. Rosedale’s blackmail plan. If she changes her mind and does what he wants, then she will command a fortune so large it will be easy to beat Mrs. Dorset at her own game, but Lily cannot stomach the immorality of such a course. She is a bit bewildered when she realizes that her decision to make the moral choice has left her in such dire circumstances: "What she expected, and really felt herself entitled to, was a situation in which the noblest attitude should also be the easiest."
On her next visit to Gerty Farish, Lily complains that she is now desperately low on money. She spends so much time worrying that she finds it impossible to sleep at night. For the first time, Lily is entertaining the idea of working for a living. She comes up with a plan to get herself hired as “a kind of social secretary” for some rich woman who is willing to pay a friend to write letters and make up lists of party guests.
After this visit, Gerty worries a great deal. When she next sees Selden, she confesses to him that Lily may need help. By now, Selden has lost faith in his own ability to help Lily. In the past, he had no way to help her except to love her, and that did not work out. Now he has tried so hard to stop loving her that he feels it would risk his happiness to see her again. Gerty urges him to visit Lily, if only to listen to her problems. When Selden hears the way Gerty talks about him, he suddenly gets a glimpse of the truth: Gerty loves him, and she is willing to put her love aside for her friend’s benefit. Inspired by this show of selflessness, he promises to do as she asks.
Immediately after this conversation, Selden sets out to find Lily. At her hotel, he learns that she has checked out. When he asks for a forwarding address, he receives a slip of paper which says Lily has gone to work for a wealthy divorcée with a terrible reputation, Mrs. Norma Hatch. Disgusted, Selden tears up the paper and stalks away.