The House of Mirth Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The House of Mirth: Book One – Chapter two

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In the cab in Chapter Two, Lily leans back with a sigh and wonders why a girl must pay ‘so dearly for her least escape from routine?’ She is vexed that after years of vigilance she has made two mistakes within five minutes: when she lied about her dressmaker and then snubbed Rosedale. If she had let him drive her to the station, she might have been able to buy his silence with this ‘concession’. She thinks of ‘his race’s accuracy in the appraisal of values’ and being seen with her would have been like money in his pocket at this stage in his social ascent.


The worst of it (for her) is that up to now she has been undisturbed by scruples when she has previously snubbed Rosedale as ‘in her little set’ Rosedale had been pronounced ‘impossible’. Judy Trenor sees him as ‘the same little Jew who had been served up and rejected at the social board a dozen times within her memory’. Lily now thinks, though, that she has put herself in his power with her ‘clumsy fib’.


On the train she looks around to make conversation with someone and is ‘rewarded’ with the discovery of Percy Gryce at the other end of the carriage. She studies him through her downcast lashes while she organises ‘a method of attack’. It amuses her that somebody as rich as he is should be so shy, but also thinks his timidity serves her purpose. She walks down the carriage and the train lurches when she is close to him. She feigns surprise at seeing him and informs him she was looking for a porter to fetch some tea. She then invites him to sit with her.


She remembers her cousin, Jack Stepney, defining Gryce as the sort of man who had promised his mother ‘never to go out in the rain without his overshoes’ and she tries to impart a ‘gently domestic air’ to make him feel comfortable with her. Despite her efforts the conversation flags and we are told that he has no imagination. There is only the topic of Americana that she knows will interest him and she questions him intelligently on the subject. She uses the points learned from Selden to her advantage. She also guesses correctly that his egoism is ‘a thirsty soil’ and requires ‘constant nurture from without’.


While talking, she thinks of his background and it is evident that she knows everything about him and his family. He is as suspicious and prudent as his mother (who visits her aunt), but Lily feels in command until she notices a look of distress in his eye. Bertha Dorset has just got on the train and she insists on sitting with them. She asks Lily if she has a cigarette and Lily exclaims that this is an absurd question, as she sees Gryce looks startled. Bertha leans back and smiles, and say ‘how stupid of me – I understand’.



Analysis – Chapter Two

 Lily commandeers Gryce here and it becomes clear why she was asking Selden about Americana in the previous chapter. It also becomes apparent that Selden’s  understanding of her as always having an intention behind her actions is correct as she uses this information to make Gryce feel more at ease. She is characterized as planning her ‘attack’ and uses her ploys to be seen as more attractive to him and this includes assuming an air of domesticity to make him feel unthreatened. His wealth is the only explanation for this apparent attraction on her part towards him and she demonstrates how keenly she wants to share in it. 


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