The House of Mirth Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The House of Mirth: Book One – Chapter 6,7,8

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That afternoon Lily and Selden go for a walk as he suggested. She feels exhilarated and less imprisoned and wonders if it is love or a combination of happy thoughts and sensations. She remembers having been in love with fortunes or careers several times, but has only loved one man. This had been years ago and the man in question went on to marry the eldest (and wealthy) Miss Van Osburgh.


She shifts to thinking about Selden and how his ‘friendly aloofness’ interests her. She also admires his sense of superiority. He says how he has come to see her as she is such a ‘wonderful spectacle’ and notes the cleverness of her premeditations (with regard to Gryce). She smiles at this as she has not wanted to look too eager to Gryce and hopes this walk with Selden will give him a longer ‘taste of suspense’.


Selden adds that her genius lies in turning ‘impulses into intentions’, but she questions this and argues that she cannot be a genius as she has not succeeded. When questioned, she tells him her definition of success is to get as much out of life as she can; he says that his is personal freedom and a republic of the spirit. She wonders aloud that he must see her as ‘horribly sordid’ and says she has never had a choice – nobody told her about this republic. He says that one has to find it for oneself and one learns to read the signposts. She cries that she has known this and saw one of these at the dinner last night. Selden looks at her with a changed eye and becomes more interested at this hint of weakness in her (that is, she is not just driven by the aim of being married).


After talking about the problems of society, she questions the way he makes her see her choices as hateful without giving her an alternative and says he amuses himself with his experiment. She also calls him a coward, but he says the experiments are with himself. He does not know the effects they are going to have, and tells her ‘if marrying you is one of them, I will take the risk’. She responds that it would be a great risk and he says that she is the coward.


They stand and look at each other and he repeats this. She draws back with a smile and says ‘I shall look hideous in dowdy clothes; but I can trim my own hats’. They stand in silence and smile at each other like adventurous children who have climbed a forbidden height. They then hear a noise and she says she had no idea it was so late. Selden says it was the motor of one of their party and she answers that she knows (and reddens). She explains that she told them she was not well and did not want to go out today. Selden lights a cigarette and gives one to her. She asks if he was serious and he says ‘why not?’ and ‘you see I took no risks in being so’.


Chapter Seven begins the next morning with Judy telling Lily that she does not understand her. She adds that everybody wanted to help her get closer to Gryce and even Bertha kept her hands off him until Lily dragged Selden away from her. It appears that Bertha has now frightened Gryce off (from Lily) and has told him about gambling debts and how she has borrowed money to repay money she owes. Both he and Selden have now left the party.


At lunch, Bertha enquires maliciously about Gryce and how she thought he was staying for a week. She also wonders aloud about what may have driven him away. As they leave the table, Judy asks Lily if she will meet Gus from the station as Carry has offered but she does not want her to bleed him for any more money.


Lily agrees and on the way to the station thinks of how unfair it is that she has been judged for borrowing money (once) to pay off a debt, but Carry Fisher is not rebuked for making a living from the good nature of her male friends. She sees that this is tied to the distinction between what a married woman and a girl might do. The result of these meditations lead her to decide to return to her aunt’s the next day as she cannot afford to stay and incur any more expenses.


At the station, Trenor is relieved and surprised to see her. His wife and her friends seldom listen to him, but he is able to talk with Lily. He tells her how hard he works and how he has just completed some business with Rosedale. He asks Lily to persuade his wife to be more civil to Rosedale as he will be rich enough to buy them all one day.


Lily then sets to thinking about Trenor’s references to tips and deals in the mysterious Wall Street world. She has heard of women making money this way, but cannot imagine ‘stooping’ to extract a tip from Rosedale. However, the man at her side is in possession of that ‘precious commodity’ and is the husband of her dearest friend. She appeals to his sympathy and refers to her finances and worries and by the end of the drive he tells her he is able to make a handsome sum for her.


Analysis – Chapters Six and Seven

Selden and Lily achieve a sense of closeness on their walk as he manages to see beneath her machinations. For once, she allows her guard to drop and he realizes she has a weakness in that she is also able to see the vacuity of the society she craves to belong to fully. This moment is short-lived, however, because when she hears Gryce return she switches back to her usual way of thinking. It is as though she is so intent on ensnaring a wealthy husband, with whom she will not have to trim her own hats, that she is blind to the possibilities of love.


Summary – Chapter Eight

The first $1,000 check from Trenor strengthens Lily’s ‘self-confidence in the exact degree to which it effaced her debts’. When she pays her bills with it, she also places more orders and finds it reassuringly easy to keep Trenor in good humor. His wife Judy is pleased she has become such a good friend to him as she will not have to ask Carry Fisher to keep him happy. She calls her a ‘perfect vulture’ as she is always asking him to speculate for her and thinks she does not pay him when she loses. Trenor has assured Lily she will not lose, so thinks her own situation is different. Her ignorance about what he does also leads her to not question him.


The narrative then shifts to Jack Stepney’s marriage to the wealthy Miss Van Osburgh. Lily sees Gryce there and thinks he does not appear so ‘ridiculous looking’ in this setting. She notices Selden, but does not wish to see him as his presence has the effect of ‘cheapening her aspirations’. He is also a ‘living reminder of the worst mistake of her career’. She is still able to imagine ‘an ideal state of existence’, but in the world as it is ‘such a privilege was likely to cost more than it was worth’.


Gerty Farish spots Lily and compliments her; Lily’s view of her wavers between pity and impatience with her limitations. As they look at the wedding gifts together, and Gerty is admiring without being envious, Gerty tells her that Gryce is ‘perfectly devoted’ to Evie Van Osburgh now. Lily thinks of how lucky the Van Osburghs are to grow up in the shelter of a mother’s love that has placed them in ‘enviable niches of existence’.


She is roused from thinking about this when Trenor touches her arm. He tells her he has a check for her and she is startled as his voice is louder than usual. He says he sold out on ‘the rise’ and pulled off $4,000 for her. Her spirits rise and she begins to think Gryce is not irretrievably lost. Trenor says he does not want her thanks but wants her to come back to Bellomont that evening as he thought she was going to spend the fall with them. She pretends to be sorry that she cannot do this as her aunt is back in town and says he may come to see her there and they can talk about investing her fortune. He says he does not know about promising her a fresh tip every day, but would like her to be civil to Rosedale; she agrees reluctantly to do so.


She goes out on the terrace and expects Trenor to bring Rosedale out to her and come face to face with Selden. Once more, she feels that her ambitions appear low in his company and then Trenor and Rosedale come over.


As Rosedale stands before her, it is the moment to be tactful. However, with Selden’s presence her usual politeness is checked as she does not want to show her need to ‘propitiate such a man as Rosedale’. Rosedale reddens slowly and with a sidelong glance at Selden he asks if her dress is a creation of her dressmaker at The Benedick. She responds politely and asks him to carry her off to a quiet corner and get her a drink. As she walks with him, she looks around to see if Gryce is with Evie, but neither are present now. The chapter ends with Mrs Van Osburgh telling Lily that Evie’s engagement to Gryce will be announced next week.


Analysis – Chapter Eight

In this chapter, Trenor’s payments to Lily are beginning to increase and he is attempting to insinuate an influence over her. This is apparent when he asks her to be civil to Rosedale at the wedding and she does as he asks. Despite Lily’s ignorance over how Trenor accrues the money he gives her, she does realize an indebtedness of sorts.


The presence of Selden at the wedding is once more discomfiting to Lily as he continues to affect the way she sees the world she has chosen to live in. Because of his proximity, she has difficulty being as polite to Rosedale as is required because she knows that Selden will recognize that she is doing this for reasons other than kindness.



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