The House of Mirth Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The House of Mirth: Book Two – Chapter 7,8,9,10

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Summary – Chapters Seven and Eight

Lily continues to think of the necessity of marrying Rosedale in Chapter Seven, but cannot go beyond the day ‘of plighting’. After dinner at Carry’s, Carry tells her about how Bertha has been ‘insinuating horrors’ to Mattie Gormer and thinks Bertha is still afraid of her. The only way out of this is for Lily to marry. The next day Lily walks with Rosedale and considers how as his wife she would at least ‘present an invulnerable front to her enemy’.


She tells him she is ready to marry him whenever he wishes. He reddens then laughs and says she has made him feel that his suit was so hopeless that he had no intention of renewing it. Although her blood tingles with this rebuff, she answers with dignity and says she has nobody to blame but herself. She walks away and he makes her stop and says he is more in love with her than he was last year but has to face the fact that the situation has changed. He says if he marries her now he will have wasted everything he has worked for in his entry into society.


She welcomes the honesty of his ‘avowed expediency’ and says she understands she is not of use to him. He asks to put a ‘plain case’ before her and enquires why she has not got even with that woman and used those letters that she bought. She is speechless, but he tells her she needs to have Bertha support her and he would marry her tomorrow if she could regain her friendship. To induce this, he says she only has to let Bertha know about the ‘latent menace’ in the packet of letters. She draws away from him and says he is mistaken in his facts and in what he infers from them. He is at first puzzled and then angry and supposes this is because the letters are from ‘him’.


In Chapter Eight, fall turns to winter and Lily knows the Gormers will detach from her when they become more established in town. She begins to feel more isolated, but persists in trying to be accepted and Gerty is able to see that Lily has ‘pledged to the ruinous policy of “keeping up”’.  When Lily visits her, she passes Jane Silverton on the stairs and Gerty tells her that she and her sister want to know how they might make a living as Ned’s gambling debts have swallowed everything up.


As Lily and Gerty talk, Lily reveals that she is not sleeping well and is sick to death of society life, but the thought of giving it up nearly kills her. She also says she is afraid of poverty and sees herself reduced to the fate of the ‘Silverton woman’. She adds that there are thousands and thousands of women like this and not one has less of an idea of how to earn a dollar than she.


Gerty is worried about her and takes solace in seeking counsel from Selden two weeks later. She is now able to talk freely with him about her and he has been oblivious of any change anyway. She asks him to reach out a hand to Lily and show her ‘the other side’. Lily has taken a position as a private secretary (with the help of Carry) and has still not been to see Gerty to tell her about it.  Gerty does not like to push her and so asks Selden to visit her instead.


He goes to her hotel and is told Lily has moved out. He is uneasy about this and this turns to apprehension as he waits to be given her new address. This turns to disgust when he is given the slip of paper which tells him where she can be contacted. It says ‘Care of Norma Hatch, Emporium Hotel’ and he tears the paper in two and walks towards his home


Analysis – Chapters Seven and Eight

Expediency reaches a head when Lily finally agrees to marry Rosedale. However, despite his professed love for her he refuses because of his fear of losing his fought for place in society. It is also of interest that she declines to do as he suggests and blackmail Bertha and this signals once more that Lily is cornered by her morality and the immorality of others. By refusing to play the same spiteful games as Bertha, Lily is refused membership to this elite club as Rosedale requires her to gain control over Bertha before he will marry her.


Summary – Chapters Nine and Ten

When Lily wakes up on her first morning at the Emporium Hotel, her first sensation is one of ‘purely physical satisfaction’. It does not take Lily long to realize that her employer, Mrs Hatch (who has just had her latest divorce) is the most ‘substantial figure’ in this new world she is inhabiting.


Lily is surprised that her old world converges on this one as she encounters Ned Silverton and wealthy Bertie Van Osburgh. She thinks this setting is where young men come when released from their official routine. There are flashes of amusement for her, but these are just brief reactions ‘from the long disgust of her days’. She finds it difficult to find a point of contact between Mrs Hatch’s ideals and her own and this is also hampered by her growing recognition of the ambiguity of her situation. She is uncomfortable that Ned Silverton and Mr Stancy are trying to cultivate Bertie Van Osburgh’s growing taste for Mrs Hatch and it is while she is having these doubts that she receives a surprise visit from Selden.


His stillness stops her turmoil, but on impulse she cannot help being resistant to him. The situation between them could have been cleared up with a sudden explosion of feeling, but their training and habit of mind was against this happening. He says she should let him take her away from this place, to Gerty’s, and she reacts with injured pride and self-defence. She says she has no reason to be ashamed of Mrs Hatch and at least she has helped her earn a living when her friends were resigned to seeing her starve. He says this is nonsense and that she can stay with Gerty until she has her independence. He is startled, though, when she tells him she owes every last penny of her legacy and more too. He then hesitates, but says she could still share with Gerty.


What she sees as his ‘sober impartiality’ and the thought that he has been sent by Gerty, lead her to think she ‘would rather persist in darkness than owe her enlightenment to Selden’.


Chapter Ten begins with a forewoman telling Lily off because of her crooked sewing. She is now working in a millinery establishment and parted from Mrs Hatch a few weeks after Selden’s visit; she would have left sooner if she had not been so resistant to his advice. The end came when Mr Stancy implied that she was involved in a transaction and that if she saw it through she would not be sorry. She went to Gerty and she revived Lily’s hopes with the idea of trimming hats: ‘Once again, Lily had withdrawn from an ambiguous situation in time to save her self-respect, but too late for public vindication.’ Bertie Van Osburgh had been rescued from marrying Mrs Hatch at the 11th hour – some said by Trenor and Rosedale – but ‘the risk he had run would always be ascribed to Miss Bart’s connivance’.


Carry and Gerty helped her find employment in Madame Regina’s work room; she could have worked in the show room as a displayer of hats but refused. After two months, she still in ‘drudgery’ and is not trusted to shape and trim them. When she leaves at the end of the day, she keeps a distance from the others because now that she is on a level with the working classes ‘the point of view was less interesting’. She is living in a boarding house and at least has the solitude she requires at first.


She begins to dread going home after a while and especially dreads passing the chemist’s. She goes in and passes over her prescription, which is a copy of one belonging to Mrs Hatch. The chemist passes it over and tells her not to increase the dose as ‘a drop or two more, and off you go’. She leaves dizzy with relief and is thrilled at the promise of a night’s sleep. Inadvertently, she stumbles against Rosedale and she wonders why he seems so far off. He asks her what is the matter and wonders if she is well. He takes her for a cup of tea when she tells him she is tired and asks him to stay for a moment.


She tells him she has joined the working classes and he is genuinely surprised and says she can borrow on her legacy whenever she wishes. She explains how Trenor led her to believe that he used her money to trade, but has since discovered it was his own and now wants to pay him back. She wants someone to know the truth and hopes the information will reach Judy.


Rosedale walks her home and when he asks if he may come to visit her some day, she says she shall be very glad. The readers are told that these are the first sincere words she has spoken to him.


She is isolated now and thinks of Selden in the day and dreams of him at night. This is one of the reasons why she has been using Mrs Hatch’s prescription as this gives her ‘dreamless annihilation’.


Because she knows of her inadequacies at work, she is increasingly tempted to use the legacy to go into business and pay Trenor back gradually, but this is only a superficial consideration. She wonders if Rosedale would still want to marry her on the terms he stated before and more and more ‘the pursuing Furies seem to take the shape of Bertha Dorset’. Her only hope of renewal lies at her bedside and she dare not conjecture about how long this hope will last.


Analysis – Chapters Nine and Ten

As Lily’s situation becomes more restricted in terms of opportunities and friendships, she turns to using Mrs Hatch’s prescription (of chloral) to help her sleep. This also has the effect of annihilating her dreams and, therefore, stops her dreaming of Selden.


Her rapid descent into the ‘working classes’ is seen as one of the consequences of what happens when the ornamental woman falls out of favor with her set. It highlights how she has no skills or resources other than her beauty and fragile social status and is not at all equipped to live an independent life.




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