The House of Mirth Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The House of Mirth: Book Two – Chapter 5,6

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As Mrs Peniston’s door closes on her in Chapter Five, Lily thinks she is taking ‘a final leave of her old life’ but Carry spots her and springs from a cab. She apologizes for being horrid when she was with the Trenors the other day and asks Lily where she is staying. She tells her she is at a loose end and is spending time with Gerty and Carry invites her to stay with her at the Sam Gormers’.


When Lily arrives, she understands that this set is ‘only a flamboyant copy of her own world’ but is accepted without question despite the gossip about her. Almost at once, she feels ‘the insidious charm’ of a life where there is no material difficulty. Carry comes to the ‘rescue’ again when they return and suggests she takes her place with Mattie Gormer when her party goes to Alaska and she will go back to the Brys. Gerty does not want her to do this as she thinks she will never escape this kind of life, but Lily goes anyway.


On her return, Carry advises Lily to marry as soon as she can and suggests Dorset as he has confided in her that the end of their marriage would come soon. This will come about for sure, she hints, if he had proof of Bertha’s indiscretions.


Her second suggestion for a husband is Rosedale. Lily knows he is still bent on reaching the ‘inner Paradise’ from which she is excluded, but has come to see her (when nothing better was happening). She knows he still likes her and more than ever she dare not quarrel with him. As much as she dislikes him, though, she no longer despises him. He has been rising on the social ladder and a wife ‘would shorten the last tedious steps of his ascent’. She wonders what would happen ‘if she made him marry her for love’ now that he has no other reason to do so.


In Chapter Six, we are told that part of Lily’s duty in her involvement with the Gormers is to accompany Mattie Gormer on one of her frequent visits to inspect the building of their country house on Long Island. She comes to enjoy the solitude of the walks she takes there as Mattie sorts out any construction problems. Lily is weary of being swept ‘passively’ along in pleasure and business in which she has no share; she feels like ‘an expensive toy in the hands of a spoiled child’. In this frame of mind, she comes across Dorset. He is alone and eagerly pleased to see her. He says he was deceived and asks her to not turn from him as he needs a friend now. She explains that this is impossible after (as he says) she was sacrificed by Bertha.


He perseveres and says only she can free him from his prison and she sees that ‘revenge and rehabilitation might be hers at a stroke’, but she is possessed by fear of herself and temptation. She says goodbye and tells him there is nothing she can do.

When Lily returns, Mattie tells her with embarrassment that Mrs George Dorset has just made a neighborly call and Lily feels a sense of foreboding. She knows that Bertha usually ignores ‘the world of outer aspirants’ unless prompted by ‘self-interest’.


Back in town, Lily stays at a small private hotel that she cannot afford and knows she will have to marry Rosedale. She is strengthened in this when she receives an unexpected visit from Dorset. He shows a little sympathy for her situation, but is more caught up in her own worries and she understands that he perceives that her misfortunes may serve him. He asks to see her again when he leaves, but she says no decisively and repeats that she knows nothing (about Bertha) when he hints that this would put him out of his misery.


Analysis – Chapters Five and Six

Bertha’s influence on Lily’s continues when she pays a visit on Mattie Gormer. Lily feels a sense of foreboding as Bertha would not normally be interested in those lower on the social ladder. Dorset may also be seen to try to use Lily as a pawn in his relationship with Bertha because he suggests that he would be free (of her) if Lily would tell him about her infidelities. Once more, Lily’s lack of power is being abused and she makes the unspoken decision to keep her integrity rather than gain revenge or a greater economic advantage.


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