The House of Mirth | Study Guide

Edith Wharton

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The House of Mirth | Book 1, Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

Judy Trenor is appalled that Lily Bart has not snared Percy Gryce—all of her friends stayed away from him and gave her the chance to snap him up. But instead she "took a day off," and lost him. Bertha Dorset seems to have told Percy Gryce something about Lily's gambling debt that has frightened him off. Judy Trenor is sorry for Lily, but Lily knows that Judy does not realize the depth of Lily's poverty. Lily castigates herself for letting Percy Gryce, dull as he is, slip by. "What wind of folly had driven her out again on those dark seas?" she asks herself. She offers to help Judy Trenor with her mail, castigating herself as her friend castigates her.

Fewer people are at lunch, and Bertha Dorset is not tactful about the fact that Percy Gryce has gone. She makes a point of highlighting all the socially deviant behaviors of which Gryce disapproves, also those in which either Carry Fisher or Lily Bart engage (i.e., gambling, smoking, and divorce). Judy Trenor asks Lily to go pick up her husband, Gus, from the train station; she wants Lily to help her keep Gus from Carry Fisher, who has been getting money from him by "amusing" him. At the train station Lily, who finds Gus Trenor repulsive, tells him about her loss of Percy Gryce and her need of money; Gus Trenor says he can make money for her if she lets him invest it. She knows nothing about the stock market, and less about Gus Trenor's terms, but lets him do it, and feels relief.

Analysis

Miss Van Osburgh says that someone who married Percy Gryce would be "comfortable," and Lily Bart cannot smile at this because she sees, again, that what to Miss Van Osburgh, who has wealthy parents, would be "comfortable" would bring Lily out of an economic anxiety that none of her friends has ever experienced. None of her friends realize "the full magnitude of her folly" at not going to church with Percy Gryce and securing a proposal of marriage. Yet they are all willing to chastise her for wasting an opportunity that, at 29, she cannot afford to waste.

As she goes to pick up Gus Trenor from the train station, Lily thinks about the unfairness of the society in which she lives: How is it fair that Carry Fisher can make a living "unrebuked" by borrowing from her men friends, while their wives tolerate it? She, Lily, cannot borrow serious money because she is unmarried—a married woman is looked down on, privately, for borrowing money, but not banished from society. Her reflection could be interpreted in two ways: it could demonstrate her naïveté about sexual relations or it could be a sign of a more radical rebellion rising up in her.

At the train station Lily picks up Judy's husband, Gus Trenor, who complains about his work and his wife; Lily listens tolerantly. She finds him repulsive, puffing on his cigar, with his deep crimson face. Trenor complains about his wife's rudeness to Simon Rosedale, who has been giving Trenor useful tips and who is going to be very rich one day, continuing the novel's theme of money versus morality, a theme that Lily's reflections make her complicit in even as her behaviors exonerate her.

Lily suggests they go for a drive, saying she is a little "out of spirits," and Trenor responds, "Why on earth should you ever be out of spirits? ... Did Judy rook you out of everything at bridge last night?" Lily tells Trenor she has only a little money and needs to learn how to get more. In this society, which elevates the frivolous, there is no language for Lily's serious financial problems. But Trenor is attracted to Lily and tells her he can make money for her if she lets him invest it. Lily knows nothing about the stock market, but lets him do it, and feels relief. She thinks Gus Trenor is coarse and dull, a "mere supernumerary in the costly show for which his money paid," and she thinks it will be easy to hold him by his vanity. Her first thought is confirmed by everything society has taught her about men; the second demonstrates her ignorance of the difference between a married man and an unmarried one.

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