Free Study Guide The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton|
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THE HOUSE OF MIRTH: FREE BOOKNOTES /ANALYSIS
In chapter three, Lily is going upstairs after having played bridge until very late. She has lost a good deal of money. She looks down at the party and sees Bertha Dorset is pulling Percy Gryce off to the side. She is only slightly worried about Mrs. Dorsetís powers to ruin her chances with him. In her room, she thinks of how boring Percy Gryce is, but thinks that the alternative to marrying him is living as her friend Gerty Farish lives, in a tight, close apartment. She thinks she cannot stand to live without luxury. She realizes that lately her hostesses are making her pay her way at their parties by doing secretarial work, entertaining boring husbands, and playing bridge. She sits down to do her finances and realizes she only has twenty dollars left. When she undresses for bed, she sees in the mirror that she has acquired some lines on her face. She thinks of her mother and father. Her mother was a determined socialite, overspending every thing her father made or didnít make. Her father was a driven businessman who finally went broke and died. Her motherís idea of life was that if one didnít have the nicest things, that one was living like a pig. Lily got the idea from her that being poor was a matter of choice and poor taste. When Lilyís mother died also, Lilyís relatives had gathered and Mrs. Peniston, an aunt, had agreed to try Lily for a year. She had liked Lily a great deal, but did not give her a regular income, only occasional lavish gifts.
In chapter four Lily must help Mrs. Trenor with secretarial work. She tells Mrs. Trenor she is confident that she has won Percy Gryce. Mrs. Trenor wants to call Lawrence Selden to come and distract Mrs. Dorset, but Lily insists that it isnít necessary. Out in the garden later that morning, Lily is feeling sure of her success in winning Percy Gryce when Lawrence Selden arrives. In chapter five Lily wakes up with the intention of going to church. It is another step in her strategy to win Percy Gryce. She knows he is conservative and has pleased him by acting as if she is too. Mr. Gryce waits for a long time for Lily, but she never shows up and the bus leaves without her. The night before Lily had sat at the dinner table and noticed how much more intelligent Selden is than the rest of the men. He seems to be someone who is able to live on the border between the inner circle of New Yorkís old families and another life. At present, life on the outside seems attractive to Lily. She had pulled herself back from such thoughts though when she realizes that if she doesnít marry Percy Gryce, she might have to marry someone like Simon Rosedale. Nevertheless, on Sunday morning she cannot bring herself to put on the gray dress and go down to church with Mr. Gryce. Instead she puts on a gay dress and goes downstairs looking for Lawrence Selden. She finds him in the library with Mrs. Dorset and then leaves them to take a walk toward the church, intending to meet with the church party and tell Percy Gryce that she missed the bus by accident. Instead, Lawrence Selden catches up with her and they take a walk together.
In chapter six, Lily and Lawrence Selden enjoy a perfect afternoon together. Lily has sent Percy Gryce off with the rest of the guests on a motoring outing, saying she is feeling poorly. She and Selden discuss his idea of the "republic of the spirit," the idea that there is a group of people linked to each other in their desire for freedom from social constraint and conventionality. Lily feels badly about her choice of searching after luxury in the midst of this kind of talk. She asks him why he makes her feel badly about her choice when he has nothing to give her in return. He agrees that he has nothing to give her. She cries. They half-joke about getting married. Lily says she cannot live without luxury. She suddenly realizes she has stayed too long and will be found out in the lie. Her haste in leaving annoys Selden who calls her attention to the fact that he can be as friendly as he wants with her since she will never take him up on anything.
In chapter seven, Lily is scolded by Mrs. Trenor about ruining her chances with Percy Gryce just at the moment when she had him. Mrs. Dorset, angry that Lily went off with Lawrence Selden, told Percy Gryce all kinds of gossip about Lily and made him so nervous that he left the house on the first train. Judy Trenor sends Lily to go to the train station to pick up her husband, Gus Trenor. When Lily picks him up, he complains about how hard he has to work to pay for the expense of living as they do. When he mentions a stock tip, Lily asks him to give her a tip. He agrees to do so. In chapter eight, Lily receives her first thousand dollar check from Gus Trenor. Lily attends the wedding of her cousin Jack Stepney and one of the Van Osburgh daughters, a very wealthy family. At the wedding she hears that Percy Gryce is engaged to marry Evie Van Osburgh. Also at the wedding, she runs into Gus Trenor who has become very pushy in wanting to see her alone. He gives her a four thousand dollar check and asks her to be sociable to Simon Rosedale. Just as she is speaking to Lawrence Selden, Simon Rosedale comes up. After reaching the brink of snubbing him, she takes his arm and walks across the room with him so he can be seen with someone of her social stature. She hates the fact that Lawrence Selden has witnessed this scene.
In chapter nine, Lily is at home at Mrs. Penistonís at a time of year when
she is usually on social rounds. She receives a visit from a Mrs. Haffen,
a char woman who worked at the apartment house where Lawrence Selden lives.
Mrs. Haffen wants to sell Lily some love letters she found in Lawrence
Seldenís trash. They are from Bertha Dorset. Lily buys them with the plan
to destroy them and save Lawrence Selden from scandal. When Mrs. Peniston
reminds Lily of her failure with Percy Gryce, Lily decides to keep the
letters. In chapter ten, Lily has been avoiding visiting the Trenorsí
country house so as to avoid Gus Trenor. She becomes interested in Gerty
Farishís charity work with young working women who have become destitute.
Lily gives a good deal of money and enjoys the esteem these gifts win
her among the women. She goes to an opera and sits in Simon Rosedaleís
box. There she meets Gus Trenor and George Dorset. She is invited to spend
time with the Dorsets and accepts the invitation readily.
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