The House of Mirth

by

Edith Wharton

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The House of Mirth: Book 2: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As winter approaches, Lily accompanies Mattie Gormer to the Horse Show but feels that Mattie is gradually erasing her from her life because of Bertha’s powerful influence. This only makes Lily more desperate to reintegrate into her formal circle, which she knows she cannot live without, but which keeps on functioning without her, without caring about her fate. Despite Lily’s reaction to Rosedale’s plan, which she had rejected without actually thinking about it, she soon finds herself unconsciously reconsidering it, unable to resist the attraction of total revenge and vindication.
The ease with which Bertha is able to influence other people to stay away from Lily highlights how immoral this social world it—a realization that only suggests that the best way to fight against it might be to use the very same strategies. Lily’s attraction to Rosedale’s plan thus does not aim to pretend that it is morally acceptable but, rather, to accept that potentially immoral acts are sometimes necessary to fight against cruelty. Lily thus strays away from moral principles into the terrain of social antagonism.
Themes
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Related Quotes
Although Lily has spent little time with Gerty, whose values are so at odds with her own, she visits her one day. Gerty has just received the visit of Jane Silverton, who is suffering from economic troubles because of her brother Ned’s growing debts, as he has begun gambling again now that he, too, has lost Bertha’s favor. During their conversation, Lily shows a strange form of excitement and despair that worries Gerty. Lily, who looks paled and exhausted, admits that she cannot sleep at night, which further worries her because she does not want to look ill or ugly. She also adds that she is plagued by horrible thoughts related to her current situation, but fails to detail them to her friend.
The fact that Lily and Ned Silverton have found themselves in similar situations because of Bertha Dorset only accentuates Lily’s desperation to return to her normal social circle, so that Lily—who cares so much about being recognized for her social superiority—will not fall to the same level as someone like Ned. At the same time, the moral dilemma related to Rosedale’s plan affects her deeply, showing that she is not ready to make the decision of sacrificing her moral principles for mere social advancement.
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Love and Friendship Theme Icon
After leaving Gerty to meet Carry Fisher, who has found Lily someone in need of a social secretary, Lily reflects on her troubles. She knows that she desperately needs money but, at the same time, is now forced to realize that she does not have many skills that matter on the job market. She hopes that Carry has truly found an opportunity that might help her.
Despite Lily’s natural sense of superiority, her honesty with herself allows her to become conscious of the deep gap between upper-class life and the rest of society, in terms of values, skills, and relationship to material goods. Her lack of skills thus paradoxically makes her valuable only in the milieu that currently rejects her.
Themes
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Left alone, Gerty reflects on Lily’s plight and feels that the only solution for Lily would be to abandon all her past social life. After the night Lily spent at her apartment, Gerty no longer harbors feelings of jealousy or resentment toward either Lily or Selden, and finds relief in confiding in her cousin. A few weeks after Lily’s visit, Selden visits Gerty and, after he admits he has not seen Lily since his return, she describes Lily’s current situation to him.
Despite Gerty’s belief that Lily would be happier without the negative influences of high society, Lily herself cannot come to terms with this idea, since her social life defines her very sense of identity. Gerty’s capacity to overcome her jealousy reveals how much more important compassion is in her life.
Themes
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Despite Selden’s apparent coldness toward Lily’s life, Gerty entreats him to help Lily in whichever way he can, emphasizing that Lily needs him more than ever. She adds that Lily cannot help but be dependent on material comfort, and that they should accept that Lily has felt abandoned by the one society she wants to belong to. Although Selden has tried to avoid Lily, whose lifestyle he feels so detached from, he agrees to help her, knowing that he cannot bear the thought of her unhappiness. When he goes to visit her, he learns that she is now with Norma Hatch at the Emporium Hotel—a piece of news that fills him with disgust.
Selden’s effort to distance himself from Lily can be seen as an effort to keep from being hurt by the fact that he does not belong in Lily’s world, as long as she decides to remain within high society. Gerty’s nonjudgmental acceptance of Lily’s personality shows that Gerty will remain loyal to Lily, regardless of the choices she might make. Selden’ disgust when he learns about Norma Hatch suggests that Mrs. Hatch probably has a bad reputation and is unworthy of Lily’s presence.
Themes
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