The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth Book 2: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Lily leaves Mrs. Peniston’s (now Grace’s) house, she feels that she is leaving her old life behind. However, as she is walking in the street, a cab pulls up to her and Carry Fisher appears, apologizing profusely to Lily for having treated her so badly when she saw her at the restaurant. Without preamble, she offers to take Lily to Sam and Mattie Gormer’s party, adding that, while the Gormers do not know Lily personally, they are only interested in having fun and in inviting people they might feel comfortable with. Without leaving Lily time to reflect, Mrs. Fisher orders her to enter the hansom, and the two of them depart together.
Carry Fisher’s warm attitude toward Lily is surprising, and shows that not all members of high society are equally corrupt and pliable. Carry’s readiness to accept that she behaved wrongly reveals her honesty and her willingness to address problems directly—an unusual characteristic in a society determined by artifice and social conventions. Carry thus reveals her loyalty toward Lily as well as her desire to help her, which she does immediately, without behaving as though any hierarchy of power existed between them.
Themes
Morality vs. Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
At Sam and Mattie Gormer’s party, Lily realizes that this social sphere is an imitation of her own, though with less competition and more friendliness. When everyone receives Lily amicably, she feels frustrated not to be considered superior to them, although she knows that this is the effect of her troubles with George and Bertha Dorset. At the Gormers’, what is asked of her is simply to add to the collective merriment. Although Lily knows that she is now spending time with people she would have scorned in the past, she cannot help but enjoy the sense of material comfort that society brings.
Lily’s reaction to inclusion and kindness is not gratitude, but frustration. Paradoxically, it appears that what she seeks in social interactions is not only enjoyment and belonging, but a feeling of power over others—which she has, in the past, been able to achieve through her beauty, grace, and social prominence. This aspect of Lily’s personality keeps her from choosing companions for their moral or intellectual value alone, since she is equally—if not more—interested in social competition.
Themes
Money and Happiness Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
On Monday, as Carry drives Lily back to New York, she tells Lily to accompany Sam and Mattie Gormer on their trip to Alaska next month, since Carry will be busy with Wellington Bry and Louisa Bry. When Lily notes that Carry is simply trying to keep her out of sight of her former friends, Carry says that it is only a matter of time before Lily’s friends start missing her.
Carry’s behavior, which indicates true friendship, contrasts sharply with the blatant absence of Lily’s other so-called friends that the idea that these people might miss her seems disingenuous, aimed more at reassuring Lily than at predicting reality.
Themes
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
Lily goes to Alaska with Sam and Mattie Gormer, which succeeds in removing her from public scrutiny and criticism. However, Gerty Farish disapproves of the trip, feeling that Lily is giving up on the possibility to escape such a trivial social life, where she lives with people she would despise if they did not provide her with material benefits. Even Lily begins to realize that spending time with the Gormers and their friends, who appreciate Lily’s presence greatly, is not sufficient to make her feel satisfied. However, this only strengthens her resolve to reintegrate into her former society.
Gerty and Lily’s vision of society differ starkly. While Gerty believes that Lily’s focus on materialism and superficial socializing is harmful to her well-being, and that she should abandon such activities, Lily only wants to engage with them on a higher level, by returning to the excitement of her formal world. It is only later, once Lily loses all hope of ever reintegrating high society, that she will finally realize that Gerty’s point of view is the correct one.
Themes
Money and Happiness Theme Icon
Love and Friendship Theme Icon
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Conscious of Lily’s dilemma, Carry Fisher suggests that Lily marry either George Dorset, who is having problems with Bertha again and would probably only leave his wife for Lily, or Simon Rosedale, who still demonstrates his affection toward Lily when he spends time with Sam and Mattie Gormer. Despite Lily’s rejection of these ideas, she keeps on thinking about them, because she no longer feels such a strong revulsion toward Rosedale, who has in the meantime succeeded at making his way up the social ladder. She wonders if he might be willing to marry her for love only, since she no longer has the social credit she used to.
The fact that Lily’s only hope to reenter high society is to marry reflects how little freedom she has in her social world to live a truly independent life. It emphasizes how difficult to understand Lily’s desire to reintegrate such an immoral, hypocritical world is, especially after having personally suffered because of many of these individuals. Lily’s hope that Rosedale might marry for love reveals a naïve trust in the possibility for love to trump other considerations, such as social standing.
Themes
Money and Happiness Theme Icon
Gender, Class, and Freedom Theme Icon