* Site-Outage Notice: Our engineering elves will be tweaking the Shmoop site from Monday, December 22 10:00 PM PST to Tuesday, December 23 5:00 AM PST. The site will be unavailable during this time.
Dismiss
© 2014 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth

by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth Book 1, Chapter 9 Summary

  • Lily is now back living with her aunt, Mrs. Peniston, who is redecorating with zeal.
  • When Lily returns from the wedding, she passes a charwoman cleaning the stairs who doesn't move to let her by.
  • Lily firmly asks the woman to move, and realizes that it is the same charwoman from the Benedick, who gave her such a sullen look when she was leaving Selden's place (way back in Chapter One, remember?).
  • Mrs. Peniston considers the upcoming fall season. She would rather her other companion, Grace Stepney, help out with re-decorating, although generally she finds Lily to be a more interesting person.
  • Cut to Lily, who, alone, hears the doorbell ring and is told that a "Mrs. Haffen" is waiting, whoever that is.
  • Lily agrees to see her, and it turns out to be the same charwoman we've now met twice. She has something to show Lily, a package wrapped in dirty newspapers.
  • This can't be good.
  • It turns out to be a packet of letters. Mrs. Haffen starts talking about her own financial problems. And we all smell blackmail…
  • The package turns out to be a collection of letters which Selden threw out, but failed to burn. He only ripped them up into big pieces, which the charwoman put back together.
  • Lily feels physically ill from being a part of this "vileness." But she does happen to recognize the handwriting in the letters: Mrs. Dorset's. She also realizes that these letters from Mrs. Dorset to Selden are actually quite recent.
  • Lily suddenly concludes that she has major, major power over Mrs. Dorset (who, as we know, burned Lily bad back there with the whole Percy thing).
  • But, the fact is, she's just too disgusted by the dinginess of the situation to want to take part in it. She tries to turn the charwoman away.
  • But Mrs. Haffen presses her. She needs money for them; otherwise, Lily's reputation will be ruined.
  • Now Lily understands: this charwoman thinks the letters came from her (Lily).
  • Lily considers the fact that Selden, too – not just Mrs. Dorset – is on the line here.
  • So she negotiates the price and purchases the letters. Mrs. Haffen leaves.
  • (Note: it's important to realize that Lily doesn't have any machinations in mind here. She's not planning on screwing over Mrs. Dorset, or using the letters to curry favor with the woman – she simply wants the matter put to rest. She's also a bit disgusted that she had to be involved in the sordid affair at all.)
  • Just about then, Mrs. Peniston shows up, wanting to hear all the juicy details about the wedding: who was wearing what, who gave what as gifts, what were the decorations like, etc.
  • Lily doesn't feel like playing this game, considering everything that's just gone down.
  • Mrs. Peniston, who apparently doesn't know about Lily's past with Gryce, talks excitedly of his engagement to Evie. She says that Mrs. Dorset played Cupid in the matchmaking…
  • Lily excuses herself and heads up to bed.
  • Now, she had planned on burning the letters – until Mrs. Peniston reminded her of Mrs. Dorset's vindictiveness. Lily tucks the letters away in her closet….
  • She also realizes ("with a flash of irony") that she is indebted to Gus Trenor for the money she used to buy them.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...

Advertisement
Noodle's College Search
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement