The House of Mirth

by

Edith Wharton

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The House of Mirth: Book 1: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning, Judy Trenor scolds Lily for letting herself be seen coming back from her walk with Selden. This caused Bertha Dorset to become extremely jealous and to tell Percy Gryce that Lily is not the prude, conservative woman he believes her to be. She invoked rumors about Lily’s borrowing money from a man as proof, which caused a fearful Gryce to leave Bellomont as soon as he could. Frustrated by the fact that Bertha distorted the truth about an episode when Lily did in fact borrow money from a family member but soon repaid it, Lily nevertheless accepts Mrs. Trenor’s fair scolding, since Lily knows that she has lost an important opportunity to get married to Percy Gryce, and that she will once again have to worry about money.
Bertha Dorset’s behavior is highly hypocritical, since she pretends to defend morality (in this case, the idea that for a woman to borrow money from a man—in addition, without repaying it—is immoral) whereas her entire behavior stems from jealousy, itself based on an adulterous affair she had with Selden (which can be seen as immoral behavior). Bertha thus proves willing to wreak vengeance on Lily without directly expecting to derive any benefits from her actions. This thus proves that Bertha is even more dangerous than the other self-interested members of society, since she is willing to inflict harm for vengeance’s sake alone.
Themes
Morality vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Gender, Class, and Freedom Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
At lunch that day, Bertha Dorset takes pleasure in making reference to Gryce’s departure, while Lily feels pained to think about how much money she has lost by letting Gryce leave. Mrs. Trenor then asks Lily if she can go pick up her husband, Gus Trenor, because she does not want Carry Fisher to do so, since she is afraid that Mrs. Fisher would ask Gus for more money. This causes Lily to reflect on the different standards expected of married and unmarried women. Whereas it is relatively acceptable for Mrs. Fisher to borrow from Gus, Lily would never be able to do so without suffering serious social condemnation.
Bertha’s cruelty does not end with her success at making Gryce flee Bellomont, since she takes pleasure in making Lily feel bad about it. Lily realizes that, in high society, the concept of morality is highly relative, since it does not depend on the nature of a given action, but on its context—specifically, who is performing it. Lily’s understanding of the potential danger for her to borrow money from Gus serves as a dark omen of her later business agreement with him.
Themes
Morality vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Gender, Class, and Freedom Theme Icon
When Gus sees that Lily has come to pick him up, he feels relieved and the two of them laugh about the fact that Judy has forced Lily to come. Gus is glad to note that Lily seems interested in having a conversation with him, which is rarely the case with other women, and he gives her his opinion about certain members of society. For example, he predicts that Simon Rosedale, despite being despised by most members of society, will soon be so rich thanks to his gifts of financial speculation that there will be no choice but to integrate him into the upper-class circle.
Gus’s genuine gratitude about Lily’s interest in him highlights how little gratifying social contact he has in life, and foreshadows the intensity of his future sexual interest in Lily. Gus also proves socially perceptive in his analysis of Rosedale’s potential, which cynically—but realistically—assumes that the only prerequisite for entering high society is not moral value or social skill, but wealth itself.
Themes
Money and Happiness Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Intrigued by the mention of Wall Street, Lily resolves to manipulate Gus so that he might want to help her financially. Despite feeling repulsed by Gus’s appearance and behavior, she succeeds in making him feel pity for her current situation, in which she would be constrained to marry someone like Gryce (whom everyone knows is terribly boring) to have enough money to live.
Lily’s social shrewdness allow her to manipulate Gus into wanting to help her. This reveals the extent to which Lily is forced to ignore her intuitive feelings, such as her repulsion for Gus—which signals, on a physical and moral level, her anticipation of how vulgar and aggressive he can be—in order to solve her financial problems.
Themes
Money and Happiness Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
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Lily suggests that Gus and she extend their trip a little bit instead of heading straight to the Trenors’ house, so that they can talk some more. Moved by Lily’s plight and seeming desire to confide to him, Gus convinces her to let him invest her money on the stock market. As Lily accepts this offer, she feels relieved to think that she might no longer suffer from financial troubles. She is convinced that she can manipulate men such as Gus to give her what she wants, and she derives a sense of power from her social skills.
Ironically, what Lily perceives as a moment of success is in fact the foundation for her future downfall. She does not yet realize that Gus also expects to derive benefits from this situation, as he later demonstrates when he demands sexual favors from her. Despite their apparent geniality, both characters are following nothing but their self-interest, thus highlighting how artificial friendships are in this money-obsessed world.
Themes
Money and Happiness Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon