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.
Book I, Chapter 8
Lily soon receives her first check from Gus Trenor for one thousand dollars and is elated to pay off her creditors. She assumes that there is no question of every having losses and having to pay for them. She next attends her cousin Jack Stepney's wedding where he marries Gwen Van Osburgh in an extravagantly done wedding. She spots Percy Gryce and plans to charm herself back into his good graces but then sees Selden and becomes flustered with the remembrance of their previous encounter.
She is interrupted by Gerty Farish who induces her to look at the bride's presents. They stop in front of the jewelry display and look at who gave what. Rosedale has succeeded in giving a huge diamond pendant while Percy Gryce gave a white sapphire. Gerty informs Lily that Percy is completely in love with Evie Van Osburgh, a woman whom Lily considers the dumbest of the Van Osburgh daughters.
Gus Trenor comes over and tells her that he has a fat check for four thousand dollars for her in his pocket. She thanks him, but realizes that he still expects her to do more for him. Trenor then asks her to spend some time with Rosedale, who has arrived but is being ignored by the other women present. Selden arrives and strikes up conversation with her, but is forced to withdraw when Trenor brings Rosedale over to greet her. She stares in silence until he mentions that her dressmaker had done a fine job, at which point she cleverly makes a joke and starts talking to him, wondering if Selden understood the allusion. At the end of her walk with Rosedale she encounters Mrs. Van Osburgh who secretly tells her that Evie and Gryce are already engaged.
Epigrams are again made use of, this time with a harsh analysis of others, "it is almost as stupid to let your clothes betray that you know you are ugly as to have them proclaim that you think you are beautiful. Of course, being poor and dingy, it was wise of Gerty to have taken up philanthropy and symphony concerts" (94). This description is almost a betrayal of trust between the people, people who are supposed to be friends. It involves an 'or', and the statement itself makes no choice, but rather lays out the various possibilities.
Trenor, having loaned Lily money, already has started to assert his claim over her. He first touches her and now calls her Lily, using her first name. He indicates that the first debt she must pay by taking the time to speak to Rosedale. We become conscious at this point that Rosedale is not the malicious man he was to introduced to us as. Rather, he is the perfect capitalist trying to break into societies inner circle.
Book I, Chapter 9
Lily returns home to her aunt's house during the annual cleaning period. She encounters the same woman cleaning the stairs that she had first met at the Benedick and sharply orders the woman to make room for her to get by. Later the woman, a Mrs. Haffen, returns to the house with some letters written by Mrs. Dorset to Selden, letters that implicate her in an affair with him. Lily immediately realizes the value of the letters and eventually buys them after some haggling.
Mrs. Peniston returns from having had a discussion with her cousin concerning the Van Osburgh wedding. She mentions that Mrs. Dorset is the reason that Evie Van Osburgh and Percy Gryce met each other. She continues by adding that there had been a rumor that Lily was engaged to Gryce before Evie won him for herself. Back in her own room, Lily resolves to use the letters she has just purchased as a means of getting back at Mrs. Dorset for ruining her chances with Gryce.
One of the remarkable ironies of the The House of Mirth is that the only person who resorts to illegal means, blackmail, is a poor woman. The corruption of the top people in society is confined to moral infractions, not legal ones. This is partially what puts Lily into such a bad position later in the novel, when she must decide whether to use the letters. For her to break the moral code that she has upheld means sinking to Bertha Dorset's level, a fact that Lily is not willing to accept.
Lily is also quite good at seeing the irony in her position. "It struck her with a flash of irony that she was indebted to Gus Trenor for the means of buying them [the letters]." That she is able to purchase her means of defeating Bertha Dorset with money gotten rather immorally is something that Lily recognizes as distasteful, and hence, ironic.
Book I, Chapter 10
Lily spends most of the autumn with her aunt, Mrs. Peniston, but soon starts to become bored. She enjoys taking her time to slowly spend the money that Gus Trenor has earned for her. On one occasion she runs into Gerty Farish and philanthropically hands out a large sum of money as a donation to Gerty's charity. She later accepts an invitation to one of Carrie Fisher's parties because she becomes the center of attention since she is the "highest" name on the list who attends, socially at least.
After Lily has returned to her aunt, Rosedale stops by one evening and pressures her into going to the opera with him. He reminds her that he knows everything about Mr. Trenor's investing on her behalf and tells her that she can share his opera box along with Carrie Fisher and Mr. Trenor. At the opera, she soon discovers that Gus Trenor expects her to spend time with him in return for the monetary favors he has bestowed on her. Their conversation is luckily interrupted by the arrival of George Dorset. He invites Lily to his house on behalf of his wife Bertha, an invitation she is happy to accept.
Gerty Farish, so quickly rejected in the beginning, plays a large part in foreshadowing Lily's future. When Lily gives her money to Gerty Farish, it goes to a charity for poor woman with no work and no home. Lily pities them, not realizing she will someday be in their position.
There is now continued pressure from Trenor and also Rosedale concerning money. Lily is aware that Rosedale would consider her a wonderful prize if she agreed to marry him. Trenor, on the other hand, is merely interested in her sexually, and wants to spend time with her to make up for the money he has lent.