The House of Mirth

by: Edith Wharton

Important Quotations Explained

1
Society is a revolving body which is apt to be judged according to its place in each man’s heaven; and at present it was turning its illuminated face to Lily.

This observation, from Book One, Chapter Four, shows Lily at the height of her confidence in searching for a husband. She has just finished laying what she believes will be the groundwork for making Percy Gryce, an extremely wealthy but socially awkward bachelor, want to marry her. Lily is indeed basking in the glow of social success, feeling the attention of others and the much-desired success in finding a potential husband whose wealth would give her security and stability. She has pushed her romantic ideas about love and her relationship with Selden from her mind and has made the logical, calculated decision to pursue Gryce. This decision makes her feel as though she is in control and winning the game of manipulation and artifice that is upper class socializing. Unfortunately, just as society is at this moment turning “its illuminated face” to her, it will also continue to revolve, taking its glorious light elsewhere and leaving Lily in the dark. This passage and others contribute to the idea that perhaps Lily has little control over her existence, and that larger forces—such as fate or luck—might be more influential in determining the outcome of the story.