The House of Mirth | Study Guide

Edith Wharton

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The House of Mirth | Book 1, Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

Lily Bart receives a thousand-dollar check from Trenor, pays off debts, and orders new things at the same time. Judy Trenor seems pleased by Lily's friendship with her husband, Gus Trenor; she would rather have Lily occupying her husband than Carry Fisher, who also gets Gus to "speculate" for her.

Lily attends the wedding of Jack Stepney and Gwen Van Osburgh, but she asks not to be a bridesmaid as she has done so too often and is starting to feel too old for the part. At the wedding she speaks with Gerty Farish, Selden's cousin, who is dressed in a shabby, "dingy" way, and who lives in her own apartment. Gerty is delighted to be at the wedding and appreciates everything around her; she tells Lily her cousin Lawrence Seldon has brought her, and that they are to dine together later. Gerty also tells her that Percy Gryce is planning to marry Evie Van Osburgh. Gus Trenor appears and tells Lily she looks great. He then rather too loudly asks her what jewels she wants and announces that he has another check for her in his pocket. She tries to get away from Trenor, but he complains that he has not seen her for a while and asks her to be civil to Simon Rosedale.

Out on the balcony Lily runs into Lawrence Selden. But before they can really talk, Trenor comes after her with Simon Rosedale. Lily is embarrassed that Selden should see that Rosedale knows her so she does not speak to Rosedale, who is also embarrassed, but compliments Lily on her dress, glancing at Selden, and asking if the dressmaker works at the Benedick, where he had seen her leaving Selden's apartment. Lily is irritated at hearing her feeble lie to Rosedale repeated and wants to find out whether Percy Gryce has proposed marriage to someone else, so she goes back inside.

Analysis

Looking at the presents to the wedding couple, Gerty Farish tells Lily Bart that Percy Gryce is "perfectly devoted" to Evie Van Osburgh, who has "plenty" of money of her own. The point is driven home by Gryce's wedding gift, a large white sapphire on a velvet bed. Lily is annoyed that young, dumpy Evie Van Osburgh is to marry Gryce. It is left to the reader to determine whether Lily's lack of a mother, her lack of a dowry, Bertha Dorset's rumors, or Lily's own behavior contributed most to Gryce's change of mind.

Gerty Farish is, along with Carry Fisher, the only woman in Lily's world who works and lives on her own. In this era women who worked were considered socially inferior to women who did not work because they did not have husbands who would support them. Lily consistently describes them as being less beautiful, although she recognizes they possess a certain freedom that she lacks.

Lily's interactions with the male characters in this chapter are even less successful than those with the female characters. She resents Trenor's touch, angered that anyone would think he had the right to touch her, and is especially repulsed by him. She fails to offer him the most basic return for his services—kindness—particularly kindness in public before his friends even as she rather too joyfully welcomes Selden to the party. She blushes under Rosedale's gaze, mindful that he last saw her exiting Selden's apartment unchaperoned. That she manages all this even as she reflects on her failure with Gryce suggests that she will not enjoy much success with the wealthier sex.

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