Free Study Guide The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton|
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THE HOUSE OF MIRTH: FREE LITERATURE SUMMARY / NOTES
In chapter fifteen, Lily returns home and asks Mrs. Peniston for money to repay her debts. Mrs. Pensiton refuses. Lily is shocked. She feels it is imperative to repay her debt to Gus Trenor, who has led her to believe that he was investing her money, while in fact, he was just giving her money in hopes of sexual favors. Lily waits in the parlor for Lawrence Selden but he never comes. Instead, Simon Rosedale comes. He proposes marriage to her. She carefully puts him off without insulting him. She continues to wait for Mr. Selden and finally gets the evening newspaper which announces that he has sailed for Europe that morning. Back in her room, she sees in the mirror that she is looking old. She is feeling hopeless when she gets a note from Bertha Dorset saying they are sailing for a cruise on the Mediterranean and would like her company.
In Book II, chapter one, Lawrence Selden is in Monte Carlo and it has been three months since he left New York after seeing Lily Bart coming out of Mr. Trenors’ townhouse. He runs into Mrs. Fisher and a group of other New Yorkers. They tell him that the Dorsets’ yacht is landing in Monte Carlo. They tell him about Lily Bart’s success with the old rich European families. Carrie Fisher tells him about the first time Lily Bart came to Europe. She had been courted by an Italian prince and just before the papers were to be signed and she was to be married, his son came to visit and Lily flirted with him. The prince broke the engagement. Selden rushes to his room to pack and leave town before he sees her. At the station he runs into Lily Bart and the group she is with. Lord Hubert hints to him that Lily is in trouble and needs someone to get her away from these people.
Lily finds out in chapter two from Carrie Fisher that she should move away from the Dorsets and on to the Brys. Gossip has been spreading about her and Mr. Dorset. The previous night, Lily was seen with Mr. Dorset at midnight at the train station. Even though they were there to meet Mrs. Dorset who never showed up, Lily’s reputation is in danger. Lily goes onshore where she runs into Mr. Dorset. He tells her Mrs. Dorset came home at seven that morning and he wants a divorce. Lily sends him to talk to Lawrence Selden, whom she is sure will smooth things over. She returns to the yacht and finds out that Bertha Dorset plans to use the gossip about her and Mr. Dorset to save her own reputation. Chapter three describes the final ruin of Lily’s reputation--and in public. She goes to a dinner party with all the important people in Monte Carlo and when it is time to leave, Mrs. Dorset tells her she cannot come back to the yacht. Since it is very late, Lily has nowhere to go. Lawrence Selden helps her by getting her cousin Jack Stepney to take her in for the night, but Stepney does so only grudgingly.
In chapter four, Lily is back in New York. Mrs. Peniston has died and has disinherited Lily. She has left everything to Grace Stepney. Lily leaves the house and sets up in a hotel. She finds out from Gerty Farish that the gossip has been raging against her since the Dorsets returned from New York. She decides to find a way to get back into the good graces of her acquaintances in New York, so she makes a point to be seen in places where they often go. This costs money she doesn’t have. She runs into Mrs. Trenor and a group of friends one day. Mrs. Trenor gently snubs her, letting her know she is really on the outs with this society. She goes to Grace Stepney to ask for a loan and Grace turns her down smugly. In chapter five, it is some time later and Lily runs into Carrie Fisher, who apologizes for participating in Judy Trenor’s snub and who asks her to come spend a weekend with a new couple she is working with, the Gormers. They inhabit a circle beyond even the Brys in terms of their distance from the inner circle of old rich in New York and they have decided they don’t care to go through the trouble to adjust themselves so as to be accepted there. Once there, Carrie Fisher tells Lily she should take the Gormers to Alaska and continue to work with them. Lily is happy for the time spent in luxury, but she finds the Gormers’ manners too familiar and too vague. When she returns to New York, Carrie Fisher urges her to marry either Mr. Dorset after telling him what his wife has been doing, or Simon Rosedale, who has recently made it into the inner circle of old New York society.
In chapter six, Lily is visiting the construction site of the Gormer’s new country house. She takes a walk and runs into George Dorset who begs her to be kind to him and also to tell him what his wife has been doing so he can have some definite proof. She refuses to tell him anything. When she returns, she sees that Bertha Dorset has been visiting Mrs. Gormer. Since Bertha Dorset never associates with the new people or pays neighborly visits, Lily knows she is scheming to get Lily ousted even from the Gormers’ patronage. Back in New York, Lily spends the weekend with Carrie Fisher. At her house, she sees Simon Rosedale. She thinks more kindly of him, but is still repulsed by him. Carrie tells her she must marry soon. In chapter seven, Lily tells Simon Rosedale she is ready to marry him, but he is no longer interested in marrying her since her reputation has been so tarnished. He tells her he will marry her if she uses the letters she bought from the charwoman to coerce Mrs. Dorset into taking her back into society. She considers the plan only for a moment and then refuses it.
In chapter eight, Lily has begun to sink under the weight of poverty and ostracism. Gerty Farish is greatly worried about her and asks Lawrence Selden to go and see her. He is reluctant, but agrees. When he gets to her hotel, he finds that she has moved. When he finds out that the forwarding address is to Mrs. Norma Hatch’s rooms at the Emporium Hotel, he turns on his heel and returns to his own home. In chapter nine, Lily is at the Emporium Hotel acting as adviser to Mrs. Hatch. Mrs. Hatch is even further from the inner circle of New York society. She has no sense of constraint, discipline, distinction, or even schedule. Lily is having trouble remaining with her when she finds that Ned Silverton and another man are scheming to get the young Freddy Van Osburgh to marry Mrs. Hatch. This scheme is so horrifying to Lily that she decides to leave Mrs. Hatch’s employ to distance herself from it. Before she does so, Lawrence Selden calls on her. He is so abrupt in insisting that she leave Mrs. Hatch’s employ, that Lily acts proudly and tells him she is doing fine.
Chapter ten finds Lily working in a millinery shop trying to learn how to sew and decorate hats for society women. She is confused and cannot concentrate. Carrie Fisher and Gerty Farish had gotten her the position, but she feels as if it won’t last. She hasn’t told them that she plans to give all the money she will get from Mrs. Peniston’s estate--ten thousand dollars--to Gus Trenor to repay her debt to him. When she gets off work, she goes to a chemist and gets a prescription filled for sleeping medicine. The chemist warns her not to take any more than the prescribed amount since the drug is dangerous and can kill her with only a few more drops. As she leaves, she runs into Mr. Rosedale who is horrified at her tired appearance and her new residence. She is touched by his kindness, but still refuses to use Bertha Dorset’s letters to get back into society. When she returns home, she realizes how lonely she is. She has nightmares about Lawrence Selden coming to her in kindness and she worries that when she gets her legacy she will not be strong enough to pay it all to Mr. Trenor.
In chapters eleven and twelve Lily has been fired from the millinery shop and she is now on her last dollars. She returns to her rooms and finds Mr. Rosedale waiting for her. He is again horrified that she is having to work for a living and is living in such a poor place. He volunteers to let her borrow money, but she refuses. When she goes to her room that evening, she decides not to take sleeping drops. The next morning, she goes out for tea at a restaurant then comes back home and gets Bertha Dorset’s letters. On her way to see her, she goes past Lawrence Selden’s rooms. She decides to go up and see him. She tells him she is sorry for having been rude to him. She tells him she will no longer be the same person she once was and asks him to keep her old self in safekeeping. Then she changes her mind. She asks him to build up his fire and goes to it and acts as if she is warming her hands. She throws in the packet of letters. Then she kisses his forehead and leaves.
In chapter thirteen, Lily is on her way home. She is so exhausted that she sits on a park bench to rest. One of the women from Gerty Farish’s charitable society, Nettie Struthers, a woman whom Lily had helped send to a sanitarium with a large donation, recognizes her. Lily goes home with her for a cup of tea. She is warmed by Nettie’s kindness and she holds Nettie’s infant child. She goes home and finds a check for ten thousand dollars from Mrs. Peniston’s lawyer. She writes out all her bills, leaving only a few dollars left for herself. Then she cleans the room and puts all her things in order. Then she goes to bed and takes her sleeping drops. She hasn’t slept for two days and fears nightmares, so she takes extra drops. As she is falling asleep, she imagines that she is holding Nettie Struthers’ child in her arms. She thinks of starting over the next day as she goes to sleep.
In chapter fourteen, Lawrence Selden is hurrying to Lily Bart’s rooming
house to ask her to marry him. When he gets there he finds Gerty Farish
and realizes that Lily is dead. Upstairs in her room, he goes through
her papers to set things in order before the coroner gets there to make
sure there is nothing that would cause harm to her reputation. He finds
the bills paid and realizes what her connection to Gus Trenor had been
all along. He goes to her bedside and weeps for her, realizing as he does
that they would never have been able to be together.
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