Lily is rather bored at her aunt’s place but is resisting the invitations to Bellomont because of Gus Trenor’s over-familiarity with her. In a shop, she encounters Gertie Farish, and when Miss Farish tells of the needs of a charitable organization which she supports, in a outpouring of philanthropy, Lily contributes to her cause which gives her a new sensation:
“The satisfaction derived from this act was all that the most ardent moralist could have desired. Lily felt a new interest in herself as a person of charitable instincts; she had never before thought of doing good with the wealth she had so often dreamed of possessing, but now her horizon was enlarged by the vision of a prodigal philanthropy.”
She accepts an invitation to spend Thanksgiving at a camp in the Adirondacks, which she would never have normally accepted, and, upon her return, is visited by Simon Rosedale. Her distaste of him is barely disguised, but Rosedale remains amiable and invites her to opening night in his opera box, implying that Gus Trenor would be there also. He leaves Lily disconcerted in learning that Gus has blabbed about his investments in her name. The night at the opera, Trenor accosts her, insinuating that he wishes to spend time alone with her but she is unknowingly rescued by George Dorset, who extends an invitation from his wife. Lily is marginally surprised but her ire against Bertha has cooled with her possession of the love letters.
As Mrs. Peniston looks out of her upper window to determine the movement of the upper crust, we learn that it had been “a bad autumn on Wall Street” (hmmm … then where are Lily’s gains coming from?) however, Simon Rosedale, with the patience and perseverance of his race, had managed to double his fortune.
Grace Stepney’s dislike for Lily is founded in a perceived dislike from Lily herself based on a dinner party from which Grace was excluded, under Lily’s influence. Grace arrives at Mrs. Peniston’s to gossip about Lily, linking her with Gus Trenor and George Dorset. Mrs. Peniston dislikes both confrontation and scenes therefore does not speak with Lily but she is horrified and her resentment against her begins to grow.
Lily’s bad decisions are beginning to catch up with her, but with a sad lack of responsibility for her own actions, images her troubles began with the enmity of Bertha Dorset. However, with Bertha’s invitation, she mended fences and the visit to the Dorsets allowed an opportunity for their social sanction, as she was aware that people were beginning to talk.
Gus Trenor’s attentions are getting out of her control and upon meeting Judy Trenor and sensing a coolness In one whom she considered her best friend, she invites herself to Bellomont to attempt to smooth the waters. The party at Bellomont is made up of a boring, peevish group who send snide innuendoes towards Lily and being now more sensitive to criticism, Lily is unable to dispel their rancour. Lily returns to town feeling the whole visit a complete failure.
The Welly Brys have decided to advance into society with a rash quickness and with Mrs. Fisher at the helm, she persuades them to have a party with a “tableaux vivants”, a posing of guests based on famous works of art. The tactic seems to work and people flock to the Welly Brys, including Lawrence Selden. While he admires the “tableaux vivants”, Selden sees the one with Lily and longs to speak with her again. Lily had made herself scarce after her posing, but returns before supper to a praise which she laps up with uncharacteristic pride. By chance, Selden finds her alone and takes her away, both of them experiencing that unique communion that they had often feel in each other’s company. Selden confesses his love for her but Lily stays him with “Ah, love me, love me. But don’t tell me so.” and escapes his company. Selden decides to leave but encounters Van Alstyne and Gus Trenor leaving too as they criticize their hosts and Trenor, Lily as well.
In the morning Lily receives notes from both Judy Trenor and Selden both asking to see her. After having an internal talk with herself about how she cannot marry Selden and intending to put him off, she sends him a note agreeing to meet and thinking she can put him off later. She confirms with Judy that she’ll see her that evening, but when she arrives she is met by Gus Trenor who takes her into a room and, in an excited state, begins to complain about how little he is able to meet with her due to circumstances and Lily’s actions. He stops her from leaving and begins to insinuate that she owes him sexual favours, as he has used his own money to appear like she is making money on her investments, and he says she must have played other men the fool. He also implies he knows that she’s visited other men in daylight which indicates that Rosedale has revealed her visit to Selden’s apartment. Lily is truly horrified as she realizes what he is implying.
“She stood silent, frozen to her place. The words — the words were worse than the touch! Her heart was beating all over her body – in her throat, her limbs, her helpless useless hands. Her eyes travelled despairingly about the room — they lit on the bell, and she remembered that help was in call. Yes, but scandal with it — a hideous mustering of tongues. No, she must fight her way out alone. It was enough that the servants knew her to be in the house with Trenor — there must be nothing to excite conjecture in her way of leaving it.”
She speaks words that seem to jolt Trenor out of his madness and she gets him to call a hansom for her, completely shaken to her core. Upon leaving, she sees a man’s figure which is familiar to her but she is too distressed to think about it. She compares herself to Orestes dealing with the Furies in the Eumenides and feeling very alone, gives the driver the address of Gertie Farish’s apartment.
Gertie Farish is grateful for Selden’s unusual interest in her and for her blossoming friendship with Lily Bart. She thinks Lily’s interest in her Girl’s Club indicates a “change of heart” within Lily, a growing of her character and that only her and Selden know “the real Lily.”
We learn a little of Selden’s background, in that he had a wonderful mother who managed the house with little money in a way in which appeared that the family had it. Selden, upon maturing and finding many ways in which to live without money, found none so palatable as his mother’s way. While he inherited from his mother a scorn of material objects, his idea of love was that it should satisfy the depths of his nature until it became central to life. He muses on his note to Lily and in the throes of love, imagines her feelings match his. He meets Gus Trenor who wants him to dine with him, but when Selden refuses, Selden notices a beastliness about him and is pained when he remembers Trenor’s name has been coupled with Lily’s. When he finds Lily’s note, he is uplifted, wanting to take her “beyond the ugliness, the pettiness, the attrition and corrosion of the soul …”
At dinner at Gertie Farish’s, Selden speaks to her of Lily. At first, she is charmed and effusive about Lily’s character, but when she realizes that he is only interested in Lily, she feels diminished to nothing and eventually Selden leaves with plans to visit Miss Fisher’s house when he believes Lily is, however he learns she has gone to the Trenor. He leaves with Van Alstyne and they walk in the direction of the Trenors, only to see Lily in her flight from Gus Trenor leave the building. The sight leaves them with the wrong impression and Alstyne warns Selden to say nothing.
Gertie meanwhile is fantasizing about marrying Selden but is annoyed that Lily has appeared to get in the way of her dream. Immediately, Gertie’s view of Lily’s charm, kindness and disinterestedness turns 180 degrees and she sees her as unsympathetic and thoughtless.
Lily arrives at Gertie’s in a wild panic. The happenings of the night have made her see her actions clearly and she is in the throes or repentence.
“But I am bad — a bad girl — all my thoughts are bad — I have always had bad people about me. Is that any exuse? I thought I could manage my own life — I was proud — proud! but now I’m on their level —-“
In spite of her revulsion and hatred towards Lily, Gertie makes a show of giving her warm tea, a place to sleep and comfort. It is so disturbing that Lily does not realize that she’s in the house of a viper and thinks that she’s with a dear friend …..
In this section, the blindness of many of the characters stand out: Lily would not credit Rosedale’s sensitivity to shades of difference, Mrs. Peniston would never have thought Rosedale would set his designs on Lily; Lily does not perceive the differences in the characters of Grace Stepney and Gertie Farish, etc.
Chapter 11 really resonated with me. Mrs. Peniston disliked scenes and completely avoided confrontation. Yet resentments build up in her mind and affect how she feels about and treats Lily. No one can have a real relationship by avoiding confrontation and if one is grow, one must face and deal with struggles and displeasures.
Ah ha! Did anyone notice that while Lily’s charms seems to be declining in her normal social world, that they are increasing in another way? Gertie Farish has a long monologue on how generous and kind Lily has been. And it wasn’t just from a monetary, arms-length standpoint. She went to the Girls Club twice with Gertie and was kind to the people there. A very interesting change in Lily’s previous patterns ….
I was a little surprised at Gertie being labelled a “parasite” by Wharton, a very negative term, indeed! Initially Gertie, to me, seems to have made the most of her situation and has a positive outlook on life. She also tries to help others and if her conversation is somewhat limited, her heart is good. But part way through this section, Gertie’s views of Lily change, exemplifying her meanness and lack of caring: “Reason, judgment, renunciation, all the sane daylight forcres, were beaten back in the sharp struggle for self-preservation. She wanted happiness —- wanted it as fiercely and unscrupulously as Lily did, but without Lily’s power of obtaining it. And in her conscious impotence she lay shivering, and hated her friend —-“ Chilling …
I’m very perplexed at how Gus Trenor could have thought Lily would have a romantic interest in him. She’s never showed an interest and, in fact, avoids him implicitly. I just don’t get his surprise at her behaviour.
Like Lily, in your life have you ever felt locked into making decisions that you know aren’t good for you but don’t seem to be able to stop? Can you relate to Lily in this way?
” …. this discovery (of the women in the Girl’s Club with lives so different than Lily’s) gave Lily one of those sudden shocks of pity that sometimes decentralize a life …. But for the moment she ws drawn out of herself by the interest of her direct relation with a world so unlike her own.” Do you think the lives of these women are really touching Lily, or it is for selfish motives that she immerses herself in this world? Or both?
“No insect hangs its nest on threads as frail as those which will sustain the weight of human vanity.”
“Grace Stepney’s mind was like a kind of moral fly-paper, to which the buzzing items of gossip were drawn by a fatal attraction, and where they hung fast in the toils of an inexorable memory.” (love this!)
“Miss Bart had in fact been treading a devious way, and none of her critics could have been more alive to the fact than herself, but she had a fatalistic sense of being drawn from one wrong turning to another, without ever perceiving the right road till it was too late to take it.”
“As the pain that can be told is but half a pain, so the pity that questions has little healing in its touch. What Lily craved was the darkness made by enfolding arms, the silence which is not solitude, but compassion holding its breath.”
“Such flashes of joy as Lily moved in would have blinded Miss Farish, who was accustomed, in the way of happiness, to such scant light as shone through the cracks of other people’s lives.”
(Hoping to get the next post up tomorrow or the next day to catch-up. Sorry everyone!)