Chapter 4 Summary

In the morning, Lily receives a note on her breakfast tray. Her hostess, Mrs. Trenor, needs help making dinner cards and sifting through mail. It is generally assumed that Lily, who is dependent on the charity of her hosts, will give such help whenever needed. The request reminds Lily of her precarious place in the world, but she pretends it does not bother her. She shows up, looking perfectly groomed, at ten o’clock in the morning—a time of day that is regarded as practically dawn in her social circle.

Mrs. Trenor is a tall woman of middling beauty whose whole goal in life is to give bigger parties than anyone else. She is friendly to anyone who is not capable of rivaling her in this regard. Her husband is an uncommonly wealthy man, so she generally likes everyone—including Lily, of course.

As Lily sifts through the paperwork involved in Mrs. Trenor’s current week-long house party, Mrs. Trenor complains about how difficult it is to host such an event. This week’s party is turning into a disaster. Already she has heard complaints because a two-time divorcee, Mrs. Carry Fisher, is on the guest list. Mrs. Dorset, meanwhile, is angry because Lawrence Selden did not come. Although Mrs. Dorset is married, she is always involved in a fling with some young man.

For the next three days, Lily pursues Mr. Gryce as delicately as she can. She has long since learned the risks of trying too hard, so she does not appear to try at all. She merely flits in and out of his awareness, always taking care to appear to him in a good light. It soon becomes evident that he is falling for her.

One afternoon, Lily sits down on the Trenors’ front steps and allows herself to feel relieved. Soon she will marry Mr. Gryce, and then she will achieve the lifestyle and the relative self-sufficiency she has long desired. No longer will she be forced to spend her life thanking people for their little gifts and opportunities; instead, she will be in control.

To be sure, Lily knows that Mr. Gryce is a careful man who does not spend money frivolously. However, she is sure that she can convince him to spend money when she is his wife. She can tell how vain he is beneath his timidity, and she plans to make that vanity center on her:

She intended to be to him what his Americana had hitherto been: the one possession in which he took sufficient pride to spend money on it.

As Lily sits on the steps, she hears more visitors arriving. When someone walks up behind her, she turns around thinking that Mr. Gryce is coming to sit with her. Instead she sees Lawrence Selden, who has decided to come to the party after all. Lily is glad to see him, but she barely gets to say hello. Mrs. Dorset hurries over, grabbing his attention for herself.