The House of Mirth By Edith Wharton Summary and Analysis Book 1: Chapters VIII-IX

Summary

Lily receives the first dividend — one thousand dollars — from the investment made on her behalf by Trenor. Trenor tells Lily that she has already earned five thousand dollars from a tip he received from Rosedale. Lily continues to humor Trenor, which she believes is enough to repay him for his efforts. Her new friendship of convenience with Trenor is encouraged by his wife, Judy, who believes Lily keeps Trenor in high spirits. Judy places Lily in a favorable light in comparison to Carry, whom she characterizes as a "vulture."

Lily is willfully ignorant of the risks of the stock market. She also is ignorant of the derivation of the initial investment that Trenor has made for her when she assumes he has borrowed from her securities. She considers the money she earns through Trenor to be hers alone.

Lily's cousin, Stepney, and Gwen marry in an elaborate ceremony. At the wedding, she sees both Gryce and Selden. She still perceives Gryce as a potential suitor. She also meets with Selden's cousin, Gerty, a young woman of simple means and undistinguished appearance. The two women admire the jewels that are gifts to the newlyweds, including a large diamond pendant, which is Rosedale's gift.

Gerty tells Lily that she has heard Gryce will soon announce his engagement to Evie Van Osburgh, whom Lily considers to be the least attractive and interesting of the four Van Osburgh sisters.

A mildly intoxicated Trenor approaches Lily with the news that he has sold her stock as it was rising, and has a check for four thousand dollars for her. Lily pays little attention to Trenor, and is scheming to steal Gryce away from Evie. Trenor complains that Lily has been avoiding his household since he has begun investing money for her. Lily regards spending time with Trenor a reckoning for his helping her, and agrees to attend to Rosedale as a partial return of Trenor's favor.

Lily leaves Trenor and is confronted by Selden. She remarks that she envies Gerty's ability to romanticize what Selden must perceive as the garish and ostentatious wedding gifts. She continues: "I have never recovered my self-respect since you showed me how poor and unimportant my ambitions were." He responds that his purpose was to prove that "they were more important to you than anything else."

The exchange is interrupted by Trenor and Rosedale. When she appears ready to snub him, Rosedale reminds her of the lie she told him in Chapter I by commenting on her dress and asking if she had it made at the fictional dressmaker shop in the Benedick. She allows Rosedale to accompany her for a lemonade, and the man struts like a peacock in the presence of the beautiful Lily. She employs Rosedale as an escort into the conservatory, where she intends to discover the truth about the engagement of Gryce and Evie. She encounters Evie's mother, Mrs. Van Osburgh, who confides that the couple is engaged.

At the beginning of Chapter IX, Lily's aunt, Mrs. Peniston, returns home, and Lily weighs the advantages of staying with either her or the Trenors for the fall. She opts to stay with Mrs. Peniston to avoid the indebtedness to Trenor.

Upon the opening of Mrs. Peniston's house, Lily once again encounters the cleaning woman she saw at the Benedick. This time, Lily is rude to the woman. The cleaning woman, Mrs. Haffen, later tells Lily that she and her husband have been dismissed from the Benedick, and that she has letters addressed to Selden that she is willing to sell to Lily. Lily realizes that Mrs. Haffen believes that the letters were written by Lily when, in fact, they were written by Bertha. Lily purchases the letters, intending to destroy them.

Mrs. Peniston presses Lily for details of the Stepney–Van Osburgh wedding, telling Lily that she has heard that Bertha is taking credit for the match between Gryce and Evie. Lily retires to her room, where she places the letters from Bertha to Selden in a box for future use.

Analysis

Lily's shallowness and acceptance of upper class rules is given ample consideration in Chapter VIII. Lily despises Gerty's acceptance of her lack of wealth, and disparagingly notes to herself that Gerty's brightly colored dress is offensive because "it is almost as stupid to let your clothes betray that you know you are ugly as to have them proclaim that you think you are beautiful." Lily believes that Gerty makes up for her lot as a simple woman of simple means by engaging in symphony concerts and philanthropy. Of course, Gerty is presented as a foil for Lily, who cannot perceive the beauty of a human being who appreciates culture, helps others, and accepts her economic situation without complaint.

Wharton further portrays Lily as shallow when she resolves to break up the engagement of Gryce and Evie. Lily is more interested in marrying the boring Gryce in order to be wealthy than in allowing him to marry Evie, a marriage that would be a good match for the pair.

Lily's use of Trenor and Rosedale continues to display her mercenary attitude toward men. Trenor is a means by which she secretly acquires money, and she views Rosedale as a potential supplier of future stock tips. In the meantime, however, she employs Rosedale as an escort into the conservatory, where she discovers the truth about Gryce and Evie's engagement.

Lily's feud with Bertha has resulted in Bertha's taking credit for making the match between Gryce and Evie. Originally resolved to destroy Bertha's letters to Selden in order to avoid a scandal, Lily instead decides to preserve the letters and possibly blackmail Bertha.

The return of the cleaning woman is perhaps the novel's weakest reliance upon coincidence. Regardless, Lily recognizes Mrs. Haffen from the Benedick in a scene that parallels their initial meeting The fact that Mrs. Haffen has letters that might benefit Lily requires a stretch of the reader's imagination.

Glossary

Paquin a turn-of-the-twentieth-century female French designer.

ormolu an imitation gold made of an alloy of copper and tin.

point de Milan fine Italian lace.

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