The House of Mirth By Edith Wharton Summary and Analysis Book 2: Chapter IV

Summary

Lily leaves France and, under the auspices of the Duchess, goes to London. While she is in London, the Dorsets, Brys, and Stepneys return to New York with their own versions of Lily's exploits in Europe. Upon her return from London, Lily is told that her aunt and benefactor, Mrs. Peniston, has died. At the reading of the will, she is surprised to learn that Grace has been the left the majority of Mrs. Peniston's estate, and that Lily will receive only $10,000.

Lily is determined to use her inheritance to settle her debt with Trenor. She discusses the Dorsets' shunning her and her meek inheritance with Gerty. Rather than relate the actual details of the incident to Gerty, Lily tells her that an accusation is as good as the truth in society. The two go to lunch and are joined by Carry, who is glad to see Lily.

While dining with Gerty, Lily encounters Judy. She notices that Judy is cordial, but she also conspicuously refrains from asking Lily about her future and further neglects to express a desire to see her again.

Desperate for money, Lily goes to Grace to borrow money against her inheritance. Grace tells Lily that the estate will not be settled for some time. She refuses the request to borrow money against the inheritance on the grounds that Mrs. Peniston did not condone borrowing. Grace also tells Lily that Mrs. Peniston's meager allotment to Lily was intended as an admonishment for Lily's behavior.

Analysis

Wharton displays the shallowness of New York society by depicting the reading of the will as an episode of respect shown toward Lily — for as long as the attendees at the reading believe that Lily will be the sole benefactor. When she receives only $10,000, Lily notices an immediate change in their behavior toward her.

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