The House of Mirth | Study Guide

Edith Wharton

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The House of Mirth | Book 2, Chapter 5 | Summary



Lily Bart feels she is leaving her old life. Carry Fisher is kind to her and offers to take her to the Sam Gormers' for the night. They are a step down from the people Lily has been associating with; again they are the nouveau riche. Carry is helping them assimilate into society. Lily goes.

The Gormers are the kind of people Lily has always avoided. But these people are friendly and do not mention the scandals associated with her name. Lily tries not to appear stuck up. Carry encourages her to go to Alaska with the Gormers while Carry goes with the Brys because there's more profit for Carry there. Gerty Farish does not approve of Lily's going to Alaska with the Gormers, feeling that Lily is cheapening herself. But Lily does go. When she returns, Carry Fisher says she must marry either George Dorset, who is in love with her, or Simon Rosedale. To Carry, Lily dismisses the idea of marrying Rosedale, but by herself she begins to consider it.


Lily Bart is circulating in a lower level of society now, a "flamboyant copy of her own world," a kind of "society play," where everything is pitched at a higher key. These Gormers and those who surround them have begun a "continuous performance of their own, a kind of social Coney Island." Lily thinks they are just like the other world she used to roam in; only the people have changed. It is a world within a world.

Lily now has a different audience for her performances. In this case, as in serving tea to Percy Gryce on the train and going on the Mediterranean tour with the Dorsets, her performances are partially connected with a wish for profit. There may be "opportunities" to provide for her in the present and in the future. Still her impulse often seems to be—as with her rejection of Percy Gryce—to reject this kind of performance and the logic of the market. For example, she often performs for Selden, from whom there will be no "profit": no wealthy marriage.

Lily's state has noticeably declined while Rosedale's has risen. She realizes the nature of the change when she contemplates marrying him. Lily suspects she would no longer be useful to Rosedale, but thinks he loves her and so might still want to marry her. Perhaps this is naïveté on Lily's part.

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