The House of Mirth | Study Guide

Edith Wharton

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Course Hero. "The House of Mirth Study Guide." October 27, 2016. Accessed November 12, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-House-of-Mirth/.

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The House of Mirth | Book 1, Chapter 13 | Summary

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Summary

Lily Bart wakes up to find two notes at her bedtable, one from Judy Trenor, who asks her to dine with her, and one from Lawrence Selden, who has been called to Albany, and asks what hour the following day Lily can see him. She wonders if Selden plans to ask her to marry him and thinks again that she cannot do it. Still she thinks of how much fun it would be to "read in his eyes that no philosophy was proof against her power." She sends him a note saying she would meet him "tomorrow at four," thinking that she can put him off in person.

She takes a carriage to Carry Fisher's for dinner but leaves early to go to the Trenors' to see Judy. There she finds herself alone with Gus Trenor. Trenor says Lily has been ignoring him, and that Judy is not there. Lily says she must leave—it was improper for a young woman to be alone with a man, especially at night—but Trenor, "with a promptness that did not escape her, had moved between herself and the door." He tells her she has played with his feelings. She begins to understand that he did not invest her money, but gave her his own. He starts to make a sexual move on her—the situation is close to rape. She says she will pay back the money. He tells her to leave.

Outside she stumbles through the street. She does not want to be alone, and she feels that everything has changed. She is lonely and horrified. There is no one to help her. She realizes she is passing Gerty Farish's house. She rings her bell.

Analysis

Lily Bart wakes up feeling peaceful and successful, but that feeling does not last long. This is partly because she is still divided, contemplating both marriage and refusal with Lawrence Selden, and enjoying the idea of refuting a philosophy that obviously makes him very happy. As later events will show, it is also because her society is conspired against her.

When she goes to meet Judy at the Trenors', she is ambushed by Gus, who has tricked her into being in the house with him alone. He is a man who believes his only asset is his money, and, again, in this commodified world, he expects attention in return for providing money to Lily. He assaults her and says, "Gad, you go to men's houses fast enough in broad daylight—strikes me you're not always so deuced careful of appearances." Lily realizes she has acquired a bad reputation. What she also realizes, far too late, is a small part of her naïveté, both financial and sexual, which in this world are inextricably linked. The tiny pittance she gave Trenor could never have been invested to the return he gave her, a fact that she missed entirely. Essentially he has paid her a large sum of money from his own pocket, and he expects a return on his investment.

She has also missed numerous hints from Trenor and others about the type of return he expects. She is accustomed to flirtations with unmarried men, such as Gryce or Shelden. Even Rosedale, as distasteful as she finds him, is well within her purview. She can flirt with them, and she may even risk being alone with them, because she is confident of her power. A married man is uncharted territory.

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