Study Guide

Mrs. Carry Fisher in The House of Mirth

By Edith Wharton

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Mrs. Carry Fisher

"Small, fiery, and dramatic," this "striking divorcee" is one of the most interesting characters in House of Mirth. She combines Selden's killer perspective with Lily's love of the high life. She knows how silly and ridiculous the social elite are, but she loves hanging out with them anyway.

Mrs. Fisher gets some of the most wicked and clever lines in the novel. Of Mrs. Bry she says, "There's Louisa, and I must be off – oh, we're on the best of terms externally; we're lunching together; but at heart it's ME she's lunching on" (2.2.29). Of Mrs. Dorset latching onto Mattie Gormer, she says, "No doubt the rabbit always thinks it is fascinating the anaconda" (2.7.15). And she seems to have the greatest understanding of our protagonist, too. Of Lily's many lost marriage opportunities, she concludes, "That's Lily all over, you know: she works like a slave preparing the ground and sowing her seed; but the day she ought to be reaping the harvest she over-sleeps herself or goes off on a picnic. […] Sometimes I think it's because, at heart, she despises the things she's trying for. And it's the difficulty of deciding that makes her such an interesting study."

The fact is, Carry Fisher gets it. She's inside the gilded cage, but has the point-of-view of someone outside looking in. She has no illusions. She gets how things work, how the social game is played, how favors are traded, how enemies are made, and how friends are earned. And she works the system. Mrs. Fisher is one of those women who doesn't officially have a job, but who is clearly employed by the social machine. As Mrs. Trenor says, she's "made a specialty of devoting herself to dull people – the field is such a large one, and she has it practically to herself" (1.4.10).

Mrs. Fisher plays an interesting role in Book II when she takes Lily under her wing, almost as a protégée. She sets her up in roles and "jobs" similar to her own: pulling the socially less-fortunate up society's ladder in exchange for living off their wealth. As you'll read about in "Character Roles," Carry Fisher is Lily's financial and social guide, while Gerty Farish is Lily's moral guru. These women – and the advice they give their pupil – are necessarily in conflict, given what we know about money and morality in House of Mirth (see Lily's "Character Analysis").

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