The House Of Mirth Essay, Research Paper
Book I, Chapter 6
Lily and Selden are on a walk together, Lily having broken her second planned meeting with Percy Gryce in order to see Selden. The excuse she gave Gryce was that she had a headache that first prevented her from going to church and second from going on a walk with him. She instead convinces him to join the other guests and go to the Van Osburgh home in Peekskill.
Selden tells Lily that he views everything she does as having been premeditated. She disagrees, saying she is impulsive, but Selden argues that her genius is being able to convert impulse into intentions. They discuss the freedom that Selden enjoys, and he admits that he is able to be “amphibious” and live in both the wealthy elite society as well as the working society in New York where he is a lawyer.
Selden and Lily continue conversing, discussing her ambitions in the society while Selden chooses to belittle them. She finally asks him if he would marry her, and he responds that maybe he would if she wanted to marry him. They both get caught up in the moment, but it is destroyed by the sound of a motorcar that reminds Lily that she is pretending to be sick back at the house. Selden and Lily share a cigarette at the end, but Selden is no longer as friendly to her, telling her that he took no risks in offering to marry her if she wanted him.
Lily establishes a pattern of not being able to commit herself, a pattern that starts here. Instead of going on a walk with Mr. Gryce, she takes the afternoon walk with Selden. This is a huge risk since Bertha Dorset considers it a direct attack on her. Lily is thus again risking her future by associating with Selden.
It was earlier alluded to that Selden essentially belongs to a clerical order as such. This is established in his comments about “the republic of the spirit” (73). Lily immediately knows what he is alluding to and asks him why she cannot join: “Why not? Is it a celibate order?” (74).
Selden’s “republic of the spirit” serves as his protective and exclusive society. It allows him to find fault with everyone in order to exclude them, and is one of the reasons he will not marry. Lily tells him, “It is a close corporation, and you create arbitrary objections in order to keep people out” (75). In this sense Selden is the ideal man to be the observer in the novel since his perceptions will not be corrupted by Lily’s influence.
Another feature that Selden brings into the novel is that of being amphibious, that is, being able to live with the elite and also with the working classes. “I have tried to remain amphibious.” Selden is in fact the only man who works in the novel, and his ability to live in both worlds is symbolic of the role of the bachelor in the society. As Lily pointed out earlier, she would never be allowed the pleasure of living alone and still maintaining her societal position.
Once again the intimacy of the cigarette is shared with Selden, but now the cigarette is used to show casual friendship rather than sexual desire or marriage intrigue. This cigarette puts the final rejection on Mr. Gryce, for not only is Lily avoiding a walk with him, but she is also committing what he considers to be a vice.
Book I, Chapter 7
Mrs. Trenor admonishes Lily for spending time with Selden. It turns out that Mrs. Dorset, upset that Lily was stealing Selden away from her, retaliated by telling Percy Gryce several awful things about Lily and thereby caused him to run away from her. Mrs. Trenor continues with her reproach until Lily realizes that she is now fully back in her position of being a debtor, a position she had hoped Gryce would rescue her from. Mrs. Dorset enters the room and proceeds to mention the speed with which Gryce left Bellomont, striking out directly at Lily.
After the conversation ends, Mrs. Trenor has Lily pick up her husband. She goes to the station and rides back with him. In a moment of impulse, Lily makes him realize what an awful financial mess she is in and solicits his sympathy. He agrees to help her out, and put his hand over hers as if to claim her before they get arrive home.
The cruelty of the society, and the way things return to haunt each of the characters, is exemplified in the following line: “they hold their tongues for years, and you think you’re safe, but when the opportunity comes they remember everything” (81). This is especially true in Lily’s case, where she is not destroyed from anything major, but rather from the many minor things that she does. The first of these is explained by Mrs. Dorset, who informs Lily that Mr. Gryce rejected her because of gambling. “Do you know, Lily, he told me he had never seen a girl play cards for money till he saw you doing it the other night?” The irony of the situation is that had she not played cards, she would have been excluded from the social set in a different way.
Money and claims are intimately tied together at this point. There is a dichotomy between Wall Street and the social life that we see, “This vast, mysterious Wall Street world of ‘tips’ and ‘deals’” (87). Lily asks Trenor to invest her money for her, forgetting that money gives the lender the right to expect something in return. This has been shown already with Jack Stepney trying to introduce Rosedale, and even hinted at by Mr. Trenor when he mentions Rosedale’s “advice” to him. It is a game that Lily does not know how to play, and one that will lead to her ultimate failure.