Chapter 29 Summary

The next morning, Selden awakes feeling that his love for Lily has been renewed. He wants to see her right away, presumably to propose marriage. It is early—far too early to visit—but he cannot make himself wait until a more respectable time. Bounding up the steps to the boarding house, he is surprised to find Gerty Farish already there. His bright mood wavers when she asks him how he found out so soon. Gerty leads him upstairs and shows him Lily’s cramped room—with Lily’s dead body still in the bed.

Selden stares, unable to believe that Lily is gone. Gerty shows him the bottle of chloral and says that Lily must have taken an overdose by accident. She assures him that the doctor will agree, implying the doctor will refrain from publicly raising the question that Lily may have committed suicide. Gerty leaves Selden to go through Lily’s things before anyone else returns to the room. Her intentions are not directly stated, but Gerty implies that Selden should remove any evidence of suicide if he finds it.

Alone, Selden puts his cheek against Lily’s and thinks about what he has lost. He gets up and looks through the room, grieving as he sees Lily’s pretty pins and decorations. When he opens her desk, he is appalled to find a letter addressed to Mr. Trenor. Selden finds it difficult to believe that she wrote to Trenor immediately after declaring her love the previous evening. Fighting off jealousy, he puts the letter aside and goes through the rest of her possessions.

When Selden glances inside Lily’s checkbook, he sees to his surprise that it is balanced. Looking more closely, he notices the enormous sum of the check made out to Mr. Trenor. This discovery at first sends Selden into new waves of jealousy; he remembers rumors about Lily's borrowing money from Trenor. Thinking it over, Selden guesses that the rumors were true but that she could not live with the debt. He wishes he knew more about the matter, but Lily is no longer able to explain.

In his final moments alone in Lily’s room, Selden's despair is assuaged as he thinks of his and Lily's relationship. They never married, but they did love each other, and their love made them both better people. As The House of Mirth ends, Selden kneels by Lily’s body and declares his love to her a final time.