The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth Book 1: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the hansom, Lily reflects that, as a woman, she is being unfairly condemned for every act of spontaneous behavior, such as going to see Selden in his apartment. She realizes that lying to Rosedale was a terrible mistake, since it only emphasized the riskiness of what she did, whereas admitting that she had visited Selden would have proven her innocence. In addition, allowing Rosedale to take her to the station might have encouraged him to remain quiet about what he saw, since Lily belongs to the upper-class society he so desperately wants to join. He might even think that Lily would invite him to the party at Bellomont, which would help him in his social climbing.
Although running into Rosedale might seem relatively innocuous, this episode has greater repercussions that come to light later in the novel, when Gus Trenor makes aggressive, derogatory comments about Lily’s relationships with men, thus implicitly revealing that Rosedale has spread defamatory rumors about the young woman’s sexual life. Lily’s evaluation of what the best course of action would have been involves social transactions: making Rosedale feel flattered and grateful in exchange for his silence.
Themes
Gender, Class, and Freedom Theme Icon
Lily remembers the first time she met Mr. Rosedale, whom she immediately felt repulsed by. She recalls deliberately ignoring him in public, and wonders if the man’s recollection of the shame he felt might be sufficient to make him want to take revenge on her. Lily scolds herself for such a rash action, since she knows one should always please new members of society, as one never knows how far they will go.
Lily’s thoughts about Rosedale reveal that social connections in Lily’s world are only defined by people’s interests, wealth, and power. Lily concludes that she should have ignored her own feelings about Rosedale and acted hypocritically toward him, feigning friendliness only because he could potentially become rich and powerful.
Themes
Money and Happiness Theme Icon
Morality vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
At the train station, Lily boards the train and, eager to take her mind off these unpleasant thoughts, contrives to make a man she recognizes, Percy Gryce, sit beside her. Mr. Gryce, who is very shy, has probably seen her but not dared to say hello. However, Lily succeeds in making him sit next to her and orders tea for the two of them, impressing Mr. Gryce with the grace with which she handles the tea in the middle of an unstable, moving train. Although Lily does not enjoy the thought of drinking this bad tea after having had Selden’s refined tea, Mr. Gryce, overwhelmed by the young woman’s beauty, finds the tea wonderful.
Lily’s strategy to ignore unpleasant or solitary thoughts is often to seek company at all costs, even if the company itself bores her. Her comparison of the tea in the train and at Selden’s serves as a symbol of the stark differences between Gryce and Selden themselves. It is not only the flavor and quality of the tea that she finds different, but the very nature of the two men—Selden, who is intellectually curious and perceptive, and Gryce, whom Lily can easily manipulate.
Themes
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Lily congratulates herself on setting the right tone for her conversation with Mr. Gryce, and keeping from making it seem too adventurous, which might frighten him. However, when the conversation subsides, Lily inquires about Mr. Gryce’s Americana, which leads him to describe his various purchases with great detail. Despite feeling terribly bored, Lily looks at him with interest, which encourages him to keep on talking. She feels glad to have questioned Selden about Americana in preparation for this moment, and congratulates herself on taking advantage of unexpected opportunities. Mr. Gryce, in turn, feels happy to engage in a conversation about something he is passionate about. The inheritor of the famous Jefferson Gryce collection of Americana, Mr. Gryce has made it his duty to expand his father’s collection and takes pride from this activity.
Lily’s social skills come to light in this episode, in which she knows exactly how to behave to put her acquaintance at ease. Her calculative nature also becomes apparent, as it appears that her previous questions to Selden about Americana were not an indication of Lily’s sincere interest in this topic but, rather, her anticipation that she would need to converse with Gryce over the course of the weekend. Lily’s constant use of such calculation makes her actual feelings difficult to decipher. It also highlights the artificiality of such conversations, as politeness and civility keep people from expressing their true feelings about certain topics.
Themes
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
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Mr. Gryce then suddenly looks distraught when a common acquaintance enters the carriage. Bertha Dorset then walks in, interrupting the conversation and imposing herself on Lily and Mr. Gryce by making a fuss to sit beside them. After sitting down, Mrs. Dorset asks Lily if she has a cigarette but Lily, who knows that Mr. Gryce disapproves of smoking, calls Mrs. Dorset’s question absurd, although Mrs. Dorset notes that she is surprised to learn that Lily has quit smoking. Noticing Mrs. Dorset’s sly smile, Lily regrets the fact that Mrs. Dorset was able to find a seat beside them.
Gryce finds Bertha’s entrance in the carriage distressing not only because it interrupts his pleasant conversation with Lily, but because it shows him in presence of an unmarried woman, which is potentially scandalous. Bertha’s seemingly innocent—yet insistent—comments about Lily’s smoking reveal that Bertha knows (as her smile suggests) that Lily is trying to impress Gryce, but that she takes pleasure in potentially hindering Lily’s efforts.
Themes
Morality vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Gender, Class, and Freedom Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon