Study Guide

The House of Mirth Book 1, Chapter 5

By Edith Wharton

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Book 1, Chapter 5

  • It's Sunday at Bellomont. As per routine, a little omnibus comes around and picks up the church-goers to bring them down the road for the service a mile away.
  • Lily decides this is the morning to officially seal the deal with Gryce. She's been playing the part of the wholesome little angel, and she figures that when Percy sees her head bent reverently towards her prayer book he'll just be overcome with the desire to propose. After church, they'll take a walk together around the estate, and he'll pop the question.
  • But, when the omnibus comes around, Percy waits anxiously for Miss Bart to join them; she never shows. He departs without her.
  • So…what happened? As it turns out, Lily meant to go to church. And it's likely that all would have gone as planned if Selden had not so inconveniently shown up.
  • Mrs. Trenor assured Lily that she didn't call Selden; he came on his own. She wonders if his thing with Bertha Dorset is still going on, and he actually came to see her.
  • This angers Lily. Even if Selden did come to see Bertha, Lily will make sure she can steal the show.
  • At dinner the Saturday night before, Lily was given the opportunity to directly compare Selden and Gryce.
  • Bad idea. Lily starts wondering why she is suddenly so interested in Selden when she's known him for eight years and has never wanted him before.
  • She decides that what she likes his detachment; Selden is removed from the gilded cage of society, which reminds her that there's a world outside it. She starts viewing her own little world through his eyes. Suddenly, all these rich people look trivial and boring.
  • Mr. Dorset is sitting next to Lily, and down the other end of the table Mrs. Dorset is by Selden. Mr. Dorset is jealous of his wife making a spectacle of herself by being all over Selden, so he makes a joke about it to Lily to cover his insecurities. Then, he chews her ear off all night.
  • Meanwhile, Jack is discussing his upcoming engagement to Gwen Van Osburgh. He jokes about having Simon Rosedale as the best man.
  • Lily freaks out a bit when she hears Rosedale's name. She realizes if, for some reason, she doesn't marry Percy, she may some day have to marry a man like Rosedale.
  • OK, so that was Saturday night. Now, we return to Sunday, the morning Lily was supposed to go to church but didn't. Lily gets up early and was just about ready to go until she realizes that, if she marries Percy, she's going to have to go to church with him every Sunday.
  • So she passes on church. But she does spy out the window and notices that Percy looks very, very disappointed at her absence, so she figures maybe it was a tactical ploy anyway. After all, she's still planning to walk with him later, and maybe he will have missed her so much at church that he'll be even more inspired pop the question.
  • She runs through all the guests at Bellomont and decides that everyone is away and occupied, except Mrs. Dorset, which means she can do whatever she wants for the next few hours.
  • Lily heads for the library. There she finds… Selden and Mrs. Dorset. Of course.
  • Bertha is furious that Lily interrupted their tête-à-tête. Lily first gets Mrs. Dorset to offer to leave Lily alone with Selden, then refuses the offer on the grounds that she's going to walk to church.
  • Which, she does, alone. All the way there, she fumes over what seems to be the inevitable conclusion: Selden came to Bellomont to see Mrs. Dorset, not to see Lily.
  • On the way to church, Lily stops at a scenic little bend in the path, mostly because it's a beautiful location and she feels beautiful, and she figures that if she sits around looking picturesque for half an hour or so, someone will pass by and be struck by the loveliness of it all.
  • But no one comes by, and the opportunity to witness such beauty is lost to the world.
  • Lily continues to church. Shortly after, Selden catches up with her, having walked from Bellomont himself.
  • And we make with the banter. Flirt, flirt; wink, wink; loaded triple entendres – you get the picture.
  • The crowd that actually did go to church now approaches, walking back towards Bellomont now that the service is over. Selden spots Percy and realizes that he is Lily's target. "Now I see why you were getting up your Americana!" he remarks.
  • Just as the church crowd approaches, Selden asks Lily to accompany him on a long afternoon walk.

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