Study Guide

The House of Mirth Book 2, Chapter 9

By Edith Wharton

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Book 2, Chapter 9

  • At taking a job as secretary to Mrs. Norma Hatch, Lily at first feels relief. She gets to stay in a fancy hotel once again and be waited on by servants.
  • Mrs. Hatch came from the West, brought a lot of money with her, and is trying to break into the New York social scene. She's been divorced more than once, and Mrs. Fisher knows her through a mutual acquaintance, a lawyer named Melville Stancy. Mrs. Hatch and her friends are lower down the social ladder than the Gormers.
  • Lily is awed by this very different world of New York society. She regards the people in it as mere shades or shadows and soon discovers that her boss, Mrs. Hatch, is a central figure among them, as is young Bertie Van Osburgh, who is in a romance of sorts with Norma.
  • Lily is well-suited to the job of managing Mrs. Hatch's social life, but it's hard to find common ground between what Mrs. Hatch wants – to be "lovely" and "nice" – and Lily's own ideals.
  • Lily is amused by Bertie's romance with Norma, and she has the feeling that he wants to work together with Lily to make her suitable for society. Still, Lily finds the thought of introducing Norma to the world at a Van Osburgh party to be laughable.
  • Finally, Selden comes to Norma's hotel to talk to Lily. He says that he came because he thought he could be of use to her – he knows that that's the only way she'd want to see him, anyway.
  • Then, he clarifies: he wants to be someone that she can talk things over with.
  • Lily evades his point, claiming that there's nothing to talk about and that her life is just fine and dandy.
  • Selden isn't fooled. He knows Lily is stooping by associating with these people, and he asks her to let him take her away from here, back to Gerty, who can help her. He tells her that she could live a very reasonable life off of the ten thousand dollars her aunt left her.
  • Lily then informs Selden that she owes her entire legacy already.
  • He's shocked to hear this, but still insists that Gerty could help Lily get on her feet.
  • She again refuses. Then she references their conversation at Bellomont: didn't Selden tell her that the "sole object" of her upbringing was to get what she wanted?
  • Selden responds that he never thought of Lily as a successful example of such an upbringing.
  • Lily says to give her time, that she "may still do credit to [her] training."

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