The House of Mirth | Study Guide

Edith Wharton

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The House of Mirth | Book 2, Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

Lily Bart realizes there is less intimacy than before between herself and the Gormers and thinks this is "simply the power of money": Bertha Dorset is very rich, and is undermining Lily. Lily had never really believed she would be outside of society; she still has a sense of humor and irony, but now she does not know what to do.

Gerty Farish is keeping watch over her. One day Lily visits Gerty, who tells her Ned Silverton has also been snubbed by the Dorsets, and his sister is trying to find a way to support herself; Ned has left them in debt. Ned is not seeing Bertha anymore and is gambling again. At tea Lily tells Gerty the kinds of things women such as she and Jane Silverton know how to do—painting and reading out loud—are not ways a person can earn a living. She tells Gerty she has not been sleeping, she is so worried about money. Gerty goes to Selden and asks him to help Lily, and he says he will. He visits Lily's hotel and learns, with some disgust, she is working for and living with a Mrs. Norma Hatch.

Analysis

This chapter shows how Lily Bart is changing and yet trying to keep her ideals. She felt herself entitled to "a situation in which the noblest attitude should also be the easiest." But she does not fully realize each time she slips and recovers her footing, she comes back at a slightly lower level. She feels more and more alone.

Gerty Farish decides to take care of Lily, to help her in any way she can. Once Lily was one who deigned to help others whom she barely noticed; now she needs help. She says, "Oh Gerty, I wasn't meant to be good!" which makes readers wonder how much of Lily's downfall is fated, and how much is based on her inability to accept the values of the society she belongs to.

Through the example of Jane Silverton, readers also see how the changing society is affecting other women of Lily's class. Like Lily, Jane has not been brought up to work. She had expected that marrying would bring her wealth, not that she would need to help support her brother. Empowered by her wealth, Bertha Dorset does away with lovers as if they were toys. And again the reader sees Lawrence Selden enjoying his role in rushing to rescue Lily.

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