The House of Mirth

by

Edith Wharton

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The House of Mirth: Book 1: Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
During the autumn, Lily receives various letters from Judy Trenor inviting her to Bellomont, but Lily refuses to go. At the same time, she begins to despair of her loneliness and only finds enjoyment in spending money. She is used to considering money an unstable possession, bound to come and go according to unpredictable patterns, and does not know how to save money to protect herself against economic troubles.
Lily’s refusal to go to Bellomont serves as an indication of her growing distancing from Judy, which will later prove irreversible. Lily’s pleasure at spending money justifies to her the important role that money plays in her life, but also highlights that Lily’s attitude toward money is capable of leading to bankruptcy.
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After running into Gerty Farish at a shop, Lily decides to give the young woman money to support a charity at which she works, which helps working-class women live a dignified life. Although Lily is not used to feeling compassion, she feels sympathy for these girls, whom she identifies with for a moment. At the same time, this act of generosity makes her feel more self-confident and also justifies, in her mind, her previous, expensive purchases.
Lily’s use of a charitable occasion to revel in her own feelings of power reveals how unused she is to thinking empathetically about other people’s lives, and how little she reflects on issues of social justice, despite her previous mention to Selden that power and money can be used to do good.
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Lily is then invited to spend Thanksgiving at a party financed by Wellington Bry and organized by Carry Fisher. Although the Wellington Brys are not part of Lily’s usual upper-class circle, she decides to go anyway and, when she is treated with high esteem, she feels a sense of power and importance over the less well-connected Wellington Brys.
Lily’s goal in life is not only to become rich, but to reach a situation of power in which she might be admired and revered. Her complacency, however, underlines her naïve belief that she deserves to be treated in this way, as well as her ignorance of how fragile her current position is.
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A few days after this party, Lily receives a visit at her aunt’s house from Mr. Rosedale. Although she tries to make him feel welcome, she feels revulsion for him and cannot make herself comfortable in his company. Launching an uncomfortable conversation, Rosedale asks Lily if she will accompany him to the opera and then proceeds to make veiled comments about Gus Trenor’s interest in Lily, even asking Lily about her investments in the stock market.
Rosedale’s mention of Lily’s business relation with Gus is potentially dangerous for Lily, because it means that rumors of her intimacy with Gus might negatively affect her reputation. Rosedale’s lack of discretion in this regard can be seen as a display of the power he holds over her, in the same way that his snide comments about Selden at the beginning of the novel aimed to make Lily feel uncomfortable.
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After upsetting Lily with these unsubtle comments, Rosedale finally leaves, glad to have made Lily nervous, because he believes that increases his potential power over her. Lily, however, feels disgusted and afraid at the idea that Gus might have told Rosedale about their business agreement. Reflecting on the issue, Lily wishes she understood the nature of their financial transaction better, and could understand the nature of Gus’s financial power over her. After a few days, though, these worries subside on their own.
Lily begins to realize that, even though she believed that she could keep Gus Trenor under control, Gus does not necessarily have her best interests in mind and might put her reputation in danger, either intentionally or by inadvertently telling people about their business agreement. This foreshadows what Lily will later discover: that Gus, too, is trying to use their relationship to his own advantage, in order to pursue his own self-interest.
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On the day Lily accompanies Mr. Rosedale to the opera, she feels elegant and beautiful, and does not feel threatened at all by Gus Trenor’s presence. However, during a moment in which the two of them are left alone, Gus talks to her in an extremely familiar and resentful way, complaining about the fact that he never sees her. Lily attempts to use her conversational skills to pacify Gus, but he becomes increasingly agitated, and Lily suggests that they meet at the park together the next day.
Although Lily’s general optimism made her forget her fears about Gus, she is once again confronted to Gus’s aggressiveness—which might be interpreted as mere social incompetence or, as will later become clearer, a definite intention of tricking and manipulating Lily. Gus’s attitude reveals that Lily’s usual social strategies are useless against an unrefined man like him.
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George Dorset then walks in, interrupting Lily and Gus’s conversation. George, who felt that Lily had been particularly kind to him at Bellomont, tells her that Bertha is inviting her for dinner on Sunday, which makes Lily wonder if Bertha and she are now on good terms. Since being in possession of Bertha’s letters has made her feel more powerful over Bertha, Lily now feels no animosity toward her and accepts the Dorsets’ offer.
In light of Gus’s attitude, George’s appreciation of Lily can also be viewed with suspicion, since it remains ambiguous what George expects from his relationship with Lily. Bertha’s offer for friendship is equally unreliable, given her past, treacherous behavior. Lily’s willingness to accept her offer, though, reflects Lily’s (mistaken) belief that she can defend herself in any social situation.
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