Study Guide

The House of Mirth Book 2, Chapter 5

By Edith Wharton

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Book 2, Chapter 5

  • As Lily leaves Grace's, she feels completely hopeless. It's a ripe opportunity for Mrs. Fisher to pull up in a carriage and tell Lily that she should come away with her to dinner at the Gormers'.
  • Remember that Mrs. Fisher became their social coordinator after she left the Brys in Monte Carlo. The Gormers are sort of second tier socialites, as opposed to the most elite group with whom Mrs. Fisher and Lily associated with in Monte Carlo. (Mrs. Fisher calls the Gormers "a social Coney Island.") The wife, Mattie Gormer, has big aspirations to join the social elite.
  • Lily agrees and joins them all for dinner, and is pleased to see that none of them take issue with the rumors of her recent past.
  • At first, it hurts Lily's pride to be a part of the lower social tier. Then, again, she enjoys schmoozing around in luxury once again.
  • Afterwards, she is faced with the question of where to spend her summer. (Most of the rich people Lily spends time with migrate from New York in the summer to avoid the heat.)
  • Mrs. Fisher comes to the rescue again. The Gormers want Carry to go with them to Alaska, but the Brys also want her back to spend the summer in Newport with them. She decides she'll go with the Brys – who are higher on the social ladder – so she gives Mattie Gormer and the Alaska trip to Lily.
  • Lily realizes that Mrs. Fisher's strategy is to keep her away from the elite crowd who want to see her ruined right now, but Mrs. Fisher kindly responds that the idea is for them to all realize how much they miss Lily when she's not there.
  • So, Lily goes to Alaska with the Gormers. Gerty disapproves, because she thinks Lily is "cheapening" herself by hanging out with people she otherwise wouldn't have.
  • Gerty is committed to continue helping Lily, and has been ever since that night when she gave up her own hopes for Lawrence Selden in order to rescue Lily from despair.
  • Meanwhile, Lily starts to appreciate all the differences between the second tier and the top tier of the social ladder, and she longs for the old crowd. Still, she doesn't have another option at the moment, so she stays with the Gormers after they come back from Alaska.
  • Among the set is Paul Morpeth who, as an artist, especially appreciates Lily's beauty. There are also those – like Kate Corby and Mrs. Fisher – who spend in time both in the world of the Dorsets and Trenors, and also in the world of the Gormers.
  • One day, Mrs. Fisher takes Lily aside and tells her that she (Lily) has to marry as soon as possible. Mrs. Fisher has two candidates in mind. The first is George Dorset. Mrs. Fisher says all Lily has to do is firmly state that Bertha indeed had an affair with Ned – to give weight to Dorset's suspicions – and then he'll divorce his wife and marry Lily.
  • Lily vetoes this.
  • The second option she has in mind is Simon Rosedale. Lily certainly doesn't object to this as much as she used to, but she thinks that Simon is probably no longer interested in her, since her fall from grace.
  • Later, Lily re-considers. She knows Rosedale is very much attracted to her and has been for a long time. But she also knows he wants a wife who will keep him in the good graces of people like Bertha and Judy. She decides that, since she can't make him marry her for the social benefits, she'll try and make him marry her for love.

The House of Mirth Book 2, Chapter 5 Study Group

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