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The House of Mirth

Edith Wharton
Quotes Important Quotations Explained
Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 3

That was all he knew—all he could hope to unravel of the story. The mute lips on the pillow refused him more than this—unless indeed they had told him the rest in the kiss they had left upon his forehead. Yes, he could now read into that farewell all that his heart craved to find there; he could even draw from it courage not to accuse himself for having failed to reach the height of his opportunity.

The passage appears at the end of the novel, when Selden finds Lily’s cold body after she has killed herself by overdosing on sleeping medication. He has also found Lily’s check to Trenor and is unsure of what to make of it. In his grief, Selden reflects back to the last time he saw Lily, when she kissed him on the forehead and said goodbye, presumably for a short while, and finds in that moment that she had loved him too. He also finds the courage to not blame himself for being too late in discovering his own feelings for her. This bedside moment returns the reader’s focus to romantic love. It also somewhat redeems Lily’s character by both allowing for the possibility of her death being an accident and bringing her love for Selden up again at the very end of the novel. The reappearance of true love gives Lily’s tragic end a fated, pitiable spin, instead of a desperate, money-hungry tone. Also, it is appropriate that Selden, who opened the novel by observing Lily from across the train station, finish the novel observing her even more intimately, but with just as many questions in his mind.