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Free Study Guide The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

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It is now winter and Lily is getting fewer and fewer invitations to attend the events of the new social season. Mattie Gormer has invited her a few times to social functions, but is clearly under Bertha Dorset’s influence and will at any time sacrifice her friendship with Lily Bart to attain Bertha Dorset’s favor. Lily has often thought of Rosedale’s proposal since she rejected it out of hand. She doesn’t yet perceive that in entertaining the thought, in letting him spell it out to her, she has learned to live with ideas that before would have been impossible to live with.

Lily goes to see Gerty Farish one afternoon. She has avoided seeing Gerty because seeing Gerty’s living situation brings home her own poor state of finance. Gerty has realized finally that Lily will not be rehabilitated through her suffering. She will only strive harder to get inside the social round that Gerty finds so destructive. When she comes up the stairs of Gerty’s apartment, she passes Miss Jane Silverton, Ned Silverton’s sister, who had just been visiting Gerty asking her to set her and her sister up with some kind of employment to pay off Ned’s debts and send him away. He has quarreled with Bertha Dorset and is now on the outs with that social circle. He has been gambling and has spend a great deal of money. Lily is impatient to be talking about the Silverton women. She is very nervous and almost turns over Gerty’s tea tray. She tells Gerty that she just wasn’t meant to be good. She cannot sleep at night and feels extremely low in the afternoons. Gerty looks at her and becomes alarmed at how sick Lily looks. Lily becomes upset over this reference to her looks and rushes to the mirror to examine her face. Gerty assures her she is still beautiful, but Lily is not satisfied. She tells Gerty that she has been trying like Ned Silverton to keep up appearances on the fringes of the rich society. It costs a great deal of money to do so. She has had to take up bridge playing again. She adds that Carry Fisher is working on finding her a position as a social secretary so she can earn some money.

As she leaves Gerty’s apartment, Lily thinks of how little she has just told Gerty of her financial problems. She is almost completely without money now. She has no way of making money. Her social skills are not useful for that sort of money making. Carry Fisher has promised to help her, but has thus far had little success. When she arrives at her hotel, she gets a note that Mrs. Fisher has found something for her.

Back at Gerty Farish’s apartment, Gerty is worrying over Lily. She thinks the only way to solve Lily’s problems is to get her away from her old associations. She has Lawrence Selden over. They have returned to their cousinly talks since his return from Europe. He has never suspected that she felt anything else for him and she is surprised that she is now able easily to talk to him of Lily Bart. She asks him to go and see Lily, that Lily is in grave trouble and needs his help. She hasn’t heard from Lily for a few weeks, since Lily’s last visit, and has felt that her own help is not at all wanted by Lily. He is somewhat skeptical, but agrees to go. When he leaves her apartment, he realizes he feels the urgent need to see Lily, so he goes directly to her hotel. Once there, he finds that she has moved. He feels worried, but as soon as he hears that her forwarding address is the rooms of Mrs. Norma Hatch at the Emporium Hotel, he turns and walks back toward his own home.


Chapter 8 gives the reader a vision of the economic and moral consequences of Lily’s act of taking the high ground with Simon Rosedale. Seen in Gerty Farish’s apartment, Lily is emaciated from lack of sleep and is looking older and more stressed than she ever has. The object of Gerty’s anxious care, Lily looks even more pitiful. Yet it seems that Wharton can’t leave Lily in the position of the damsel in distress, ready for the knight to come along and save her, for very long. Just as Gerty has arranged to get Selden to go see Lily and see what he can do to help her, the reader learns that Lily has taken another step in the downward curve of social acquaintances. Lawrence Selden’s disgusted response at the name of Mrs. Norma Hatch indicates that she is a person so far outside the realm of respectable society that association with her places one beyond the help of respectable people.

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