Study Guide

The House of Mirth Book 1, Chapter 14

By Edith Wharton

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Book 1, Chapter 14

  • Now, we go back in time to the morning of this same tumultuous day – the morning after the living portrait party at the Brys' place. This time we focus on Gerty Farish, who wakes up in a fantastic mood.
  • Said mood stems largely from the fact that she has a huge crush on Selden. He's been spending a lot of time with her lately, and now it seems that they have a shared affection for Lily Bart. Gerty doesn't at all suspect that Selden has feelings for her friend Lily.
  • When she receives a telegram from Selden asking her to have dinner with him that night, she's happier than ever.
  • Now we cut to Selden, who spends the whole day thinking about Lily. We get a bit of his personal history, too. He had a charming mother and a father who was completely taken in by said charm. They didn't particularly care for money, but also didn't respect it and lived beyond their means. It was from his mother that he inherited his distinct personality traits: "the Stoic's carelessness of material things, combined with the Epicurean's pleasure in them."
  • Anyway, at this point, he's sure that Lily will agree to meet him and then agree to marry him when he proposes.
  • Selden is certain that Lily will fulfill what he wants in a woman: a justification of "his point of view" of life. In the midst of fantasizing about a marriage to Lily, he hastily scrawls the note to Gerty Farish (which we already know she dotes over).
  • Later, he is disappointed to see that Gerty has responded to his note, but Lily hasn't yet.
  • At his men's club, Selden bumps into Gus Trenor, who asks him to have dinner with him. Selden refuses on account of his prior engagement, and takes a moment to feel disgusted at Gus's overweight, ruddy figure and the rumors that associate his name with Lily's.
  • Now, we cut to Selden at dinner with Gerty. He notices that she's not that bad-looking. He compliments her dinner and tells her that she ought to marry soon (which we know Gerty is going to interpret as flirtation on his part).
  • After dinner, it becomes clear to us (and to Gerty) why Selden came to dinner with her: in order to talk about Lily.
  • Gerty, who started the day thinking Lily was her best friend, now wants to murder the woman for stealing her man.
  • Selden leaves for the night in pursuit of his crush
  • Selden arrives at Mrs. Fisher's dinner, but Lily has just left (to go visit Mrs. Trenor who turns out to be Mr. Trenor. But you knew that).
  • In front of Selden, some of the other dinner guests discuss the ugly rumors flying around town regarding Lily. They also talk about Rosedale wanting to marry her and, of course, how amazing she looked in her living portrait.
  • Selden leaves, angry at this gossip but wishing more than ever to sweep Lily off her feet and rescue her from these awful people.
  • Outside, Ned Van Alstyne joins Selden on his evening walk. Ned discusses the newly built Wellington Bry house as they make their way toward the Trenors'.
  • They realize that Mrs. Stepney was right in saying that Mrs. Trenor isn't in town, as the house is dark. Selden then assumes that Lily can't be there (because, with Judy gone, it would be a scandal).
  • Then, both men see the door open and Lily rush out and get in a cab.
  • Ned Van Alstyne, who is Lily's father's cousin, tells Selden that they had better keep this business to themselves. The men part ways for the night.
  • Cut to Gerty once again. She's alone and still fuming mad at Lily Bart. She's especially angry because she can't imagine that Lily would ever marry Selden, because of the money issue. She goes to bed, raging inwardly.
  • Later that night, the doorbell rings, waking Gerty. She is of course surprised to find that it is Lily Bart, and a rather distraught Lily at that.
  • OK, "distraught" is an understatement. Lily looks so miserable and crazed that Gerty immediately forgets all about hating her and takes her in.
  • She helps Lily warm herself up by the fire and listens. Lily rants about how she hates herself and can't bear to see her own reflection in the mirror. She's a bad person and people will always say bad things about her.
  • Gerty comforts her and even lets her know that Selden was looking for her earlier that night. Lily admits that he tried to warn her long ago of the dangers of society.
  • Gerty realizes that Lily didn't have to try to seduce Selden – he just fell in love with her of his own accord. This dissolves any lingering resentment she may have felt against her friend.
  • Lily asks if Gerty thinks Selden would help her if she told him the truth – or would he condemn her like all these other men?
  • Gerty is definitely tempted to turn Lily away from Selden, but she tells her that, yes, Selden will help her – he's not like other men.
  • The women get ready for bed. Lily doesn't want to be alone (she's still a little hysterical), so she makes Gerty lie next to her and hold her while she goes to sleep.

The House of Mirth Book 1, Chapter 14 Study Group

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