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The House of Mirth Study Guide-Online Summary Free BookNotes-Edith Wharton
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES

CHAPTER 4

Summary

Lily wakes to a note from her hostess, Mrs. Trenor asking her to come to her room to help her with her social correspondence since her secretary is absent. Lily resents the tone of the summons. It feels like she is in service to her hostess.. When she gets to Mrs. Trenorís room, she finds Mrs. Trenor at her desk with a pile of correspondence and a head full of worries about her place at the top of the heap of brilliant hostesses. She s upset that she has invited Lady Cressida Raith for the party. She had thought Lady Raith would be interesting, but she turned out to be a ministerís wife who often tries to convert people. Her other worry is that she made the mistake of inviting Carry Fisher, a twice-divorced woman, and Mrs. Wetherall, who keeps snubbing Carry Fisher for her supposed immorality. She is also worried that Bertha Dorset keeps pulling Percy Gryce away from Lily, who she knows is trying to work him into a marriage proposal. She says Bertha came because she thought Lawrence Selden would be there. Apparently, they had had some sort of an affair recently. Since Lawrence would not come, Bertha has taken up Percy Gryce. Lily insists that Mrs. Trenor not call Selden, saying she feels confident that she has already won Mr. Gryce.

In the next three days, Lily manages to become socially intimate with Percy Gryce. On this day, she is standing outside alone while the others are chatting. She is feeling quite secure in her conquest of Mr. Gryce and is thinking of her future as his wife. She will replace his Americana as his one possession on which he likes to spend money. She will be able to repay all her social obligations and she has even stopped worrying about her debts. As she looks at everyone, she thinks of how much more she likes them than she did a few days ago when she felt so much an outsider. She turns, thinking Percy has come to join her, and is surprised into a blush when it is instead Lawrence Selden.


Notes

Here we see Lily going from the position of outsider resentful the privileges of the inside to insider ready to accept all that she had previously thought was petty and mean. She does so when she moves from the tacit servant of her host, who calls on her to act as secretary in her own secretaryís absence, to soon-to-be betrothed of the very wealthy Percy Gryce. The two day period of time between the first of the chapter and the last of it give the background for this contrast. The reader has witnessed the extent of her tenuous financial and social existence, so when Lily feels so self-assured at the end of the chapter, planning already for how she will manipulate her husband into spending a great deal of money on her, the reader might feel a bit skeptical. When Lawrence Selden joins her instead of Percy, the reader might sense a foreshadowing. With Selden, Lily has been herself. When he joins her, he literally steps between her and Percy. Perhaps he will also do so figuratively.

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Free Study Guide for The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton-Online Plot Synopsis
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