Chapter 24 Summary
Mrs. Hatch is just the sort of person who needs a social secretary: “rich, helpless, unplaced.” From new money in the West, she lives in a world of total luxury without any rules or traditions to constrain it. She wants desperately to learn the refined cultivation of high society; she spends a great deal of money on beauty consultants, bridge teachers, and other so-called experts. However, she has made little progress toward her goal.
Lily is astounded by Mrs. Hatch’s lifestyle. Mrs. Hatch lives totally according to her own pleasure, with no regard whatsoever for social rules Lily has always taken for granted. In her first days at her new job, Lily marvels to see a few men from her old circle in Mrs. Hatch’s acquaintance. Ned Silverton, the former paramour of Mrs. Dorset, often visits with his friend Freddy Van Osburgh, the only male heir to an enormous old fortune. At first, Lily feels pleased to have figured out where young men go when they mysteriously disappear from the stuffier obligations of high society, but for the most part, she is annoyed by her new realm. As petty as her old world was, it at least had an order of its own to hold it together. Mrs. Hatch’s world is chaotic. She does not do anything precisely wrong, but she constantly makes choices that demonstrate poor taste—and Lily does not know how to correct her lack of refinement.
As time passes, Lily watches, perplexed, as a group of men pushes Freddy Van Osburgh into greater intimacy with Mrs. Hatch. Lily gets the impression that a matchmaking plan is afoot. In some ways, this pleases her. She derives “ironic amusement” from the idea of “launching such a missile as Mrs. Hatch at the perfidious bosom of society.” However, Lily does not like the fact that she may be helping to make this happen.
One day, Selden appears at Lily’s new home and announces that he has come to talk. Embarrassed to be seen in such reduced circumstances, Lily becomes stiff and rude. She says that there is nothing to talk about and that she is earning a living. He tells her that she should leave Mrs. Hatch. His comments confirm Lily’s suspicions that Mrs. Hatch is trying to marry Freddy Van Osburgh, but they do not stop Lily from being annoyed at Selden. She insists there is nothing wrong with her current position; it is at least better than living like Gerty Farish.