The House of Mirth

by

Edith Wharton

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The House of Mirth: Book 1: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Weeks later, after Gus’s promise to invest Lily’s money on the stock market, Lily receives a thousand dollars from him, and she is glad to know that her investment is bearing its fruits. She recalls the end of her stay at Bellomont, when Judy expressed her gratitude for Lily and Gus’s friendship, since Gus’s stories are so tedious. Judy then contrasts Lily’s attitude with Carry Fisher’s, which she considers immoral because Carry asks Gus to speculate for her without compensating him for any losses. This causes Lily to feel a sense of fear, but she tries to reassure herself by noting that she is different from Carry since she would repay Gus in case of loss—a possibility that, in addition, seems unlikely, since Gus is relying on a reliable “tip” that Simon Rosedale gave him.
Lily’s relief at the abatement of her financial troubles does not blind her to the potential danger of her situation. As is characteristic of her personality, she is not afraid to confront her actions and evaluate them morally. Although she knows that she is firmly committed to the principle of repaying her debts, she also knows that what Judy perceives as Lily’s friendship with Gus is nothing but hypocrisy, since Lily feels no actual interest or affection for Mr. Trenor. Lily’s naïve belief in the stability of the financial system also reveals her ignorance of the practical workings of the world.
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A few weeks later, at Jack Stepney and Miss Van Osburgh’s wedding, Lily feels jealous, arguing that she should be the one getting married. She knows that her financial troubles are probably only temporarily resolved, since new problems can always emerge. When she sees Percy Gryce, she resolves to find a way to talk to him and try to seduce him again. She also notices Selden and feels a sudden emotion of mixed attraction and fear. She decides that she would prefer not to see Selden anymore, because talking with him only makes her feel despondent about the life she has chosen for herself.
Lily’s optimism plays an important role in her life, since it allows her to believe in what often prove to be impossible scenarios (such as still being capable of marrying Gryce), but also enhances the tragic gap between her expectations and reality, and the seeming endlessness of her financial troubles. Her knowledge that Selden would influence her views about life suggests that Lily knows that she should choose another life for herself, but is incapable of making that decision.
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Gerty Farish then approaches Lily and compliments her on her appearance. Lily privately looks down on Gerty for accepting a life of modest means without seeking to advance herself, an attitude that Lily finds demeaning. Unaware of Lily’s thoughts, Gerty takes her to look at all the wedding presents and is impressed by all of them, naively believing that the cost of people’s gifts is a direct reflection of their kindness and generosity. Gerty mentions that Selden insisted on taking her to the wedding, and that she is extremely glad to be here.
Lily’s association of social and financial advancement with moral value reveals that, however much she might criticize high society, she deeply identifies with its codes and values. Gerty, by contrast, does not realize how constraining social life can be, with its rules about civility and its demonstrations of power, for example through the gifts to the newly married couple. It is precisely Gerty’s simplicity, though, that makes her such a loyal and honest friend. 
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Gerty then mentions that Percy Gryce and Evie Van Osburgh, a quiet girl with a similar attitude toward life as Gryce, are going to get married. Lily feels angry and disappointed by this news, since she has lost her opportunity to marry, and Evie is a dull, uninteresting girl who does not even need money, since she already has so much of her own.
Lily’s feeling of injustice at learning about Gryce’s marriage reflects her fear about her own financial future, more than sincere regret about not marrying Gryce specifically.
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Gerty Farish then trails off, looking at the presents, and Gus Trenor greets Lily in a loud, familiar tone, which worries and annoys her. Gus hands her a check for four thousand dollars, and Lily, who does not understand much about the financial process, believes that it is still the result of her initial investment. She suddenly feels exuberant, forgetting her frustration at Gryce’s marriage and feeling that the world is not as unfair as she thought it to be. However, Gus then complains inelegantly about not having seen Lily in a long time, and his words remind Lily that she has indeed avoided going to Bellomont in the past months.
Lily’s worry about Gus’s familiar tone indicates that he is stretching the limits of their relationship, which should remain within the ordinary conventions of formality. Lily’s decision not to go to Bellomont indicates her fear about Gus’s lack of subtlety and the consequent possibility for Judy to discover their business agreement. Lily’s sudden forgetting of the injustice she previously felt only confirms that what she truly wants is money alone—not marriage to a man like Gryce.
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Related Quotes
Grumpy about Lily’s absence, Gus asks her to be nice to Mr. Rosedale as compensation, since most women present have been avoiding him. Lily then prepares herself to talk to Rosedale, but Selden approaches her in the meantime. She feels grateful for the sense of comfort she always feels with Selden, but also feels hurt to note that Selden has adopted a light tone, and that neither of them is mentioning their experience at Bellomont. Lily then tries to make reference to it, playfully and ironically attacking him for making her materialistic goals seem so trivial, but Selden replies that, through him, she has in fact proven that they are the most important thing in her life, which makes Lily feel helpless and fragile.
The expectation that women should talk to Rosedale underlines how much of Lily’s social codes are ruled by women more than men, even though, paradoxically, men are often the ones providing women with money. Lily’s decision to mention Bellomont to Selden without being ready to commit to him as a partner is paradoxical. She seems unable to give up on her special relationship with Selden but, at the same time—as Selden points out—equally unable to embrace it and forget about her social ambitions.
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Gus Trenor, now accompanied by Simon Rosedale, reappears, treating Lily in a familiar way that makes her feel disgusted. Despite her promise to talk to Rosedale, Lily finds herself unable to do so with Selden so near, so she walks away with Rosedale, making an effort to feign comfort and intimacy. As she walks with Rosedale around the rooms, suddenly resolved to find out if Gryce is truly getting married, Mrs. Van Osburgh, who has been looking for Lily, hurries up toward her and tells her that Percy Gryce and Miss Van Osburgh both want to tell her that they are getting married.
Because of Selden’s presence, Lily feels unable to adopt her usual social behavior, which is affected and calculative, since she is so genuine and vulnerable with Selden. Her effort here only highlights how artificial relationships are in this social world. Mrs. Van Osburgh’s rush to tell Lily about Gryce’s marriage serves as a kind of warning, establishing that Lily should forget about marrying Gryce and not approach him with romantic intentions.
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