Lily, whose parents are both dead, lives with a wealthy aunt, but has no money. This is a heartbreaking tale of those damned to live the high life in the Gilded C Age; and more specifically, about women's precarious footing within that cage. I'll be there sharp, remember; you won't go back on me, Lily? In particular, her chapters are adorned with gorgeous first sentences. When Lawrence Selden heard I was coming, he insisted on fetching me himself and driving me to the station, and when we go back this evening I am to dine with him at Sherry's. Oh, my dear, did you ever see such pearls? Lily explains that she was just visiting her dress-maker at the Benedick. Charming woman, the Duchess, you understand; and a very good friend of mine; but rather a liberal education.
Or is her inaction the point of it all? The stroll soon resolved itself into a tranquil session on a bench overhung with laurel and Banksian roses, from which they caught a dazzle of blue sea between marble balusters, and the fiery shafts of cactus-blossoms shooting meteor-like from the rock. Faced with a series of rich losers - supremely boring Percy Gryce; some old Italian Count; even, clutch your pearls, a Jew - she sabotages herself at every turn. Trenor earns Lily ten thousand dollars, which she discovers was actually a gift from the married man. The consciousness that much skill would be required made Lily rest thankfully in the greatness of the obligation. Now, I know this may all seem a bit harsh, and I may be missing the point, but this is my third book by you, and I have yet to come to a full appreciation of your novels that a writer of your stature deserves. Without the impressive financial portfolio to back her up, as well as her mother passing away shortly after her father, Lily became a social outcast.
You know I'm not the kind to sit in a crowd and jaw--I'd always rather clear out when that sort of circus is going on. The following morning, Selden realizes that he still loves Lily. It isn't so bad on Italian nights--then she comes late, and there's time to digest. New York at the turn of the century was a time of opulence and frivolity for those who could afford it. Top photo: New York Fifth Avenue mansions of the early 1900's.
This is what drives Wharton's protagonists: a deep need to belong, and a fear of the unknown. Lily attends a weekend party at the country home of Judy and Gus Trenor, where she attempts to cement an engagement to the wealthy — and boring — young bachelor Percy Gryce. My aunt has come back to town, and I must be with her for the next few days. So you can sense the ambivalence running throughout this book: Wharton is unhappy, and she both envies and condemns Lily. When the sun comes out, Lily complains about the heat again but feels grateful for the trees planted on the street where they are walking.
At some point, if one has a brain, or a heart, one transgresses all the rules of a particular society, and re-entry is denied. Wharton portrays in her book is just as monstrous. Beneath the nearest lamp-post he glanced at his watch and saw that the time was close on eleven. The rooms were packed with the gazing throng which, in the afternoon hours, trickles heavily between the tables, like the Sunday crowd in a lion-house. Besides, he was a living reminder of the worst mistake in her career, and the fact that he had been its cause did not soften her feelings toward him. She finds ways to sabotage her social encounters with eligible bachelors.
That's why The House of Mirth is a tragedy that admits itself to all readers who can see beyond the instance and recognize the shadow of limitation that darkens everyone's life to some extent. As frustrating as Lily Bart could be — she kept making small errors that damaged her reputation — I also pitied her for how she was mistreated by society. The selection of the wife includes a careful investigation into her family's medical history, and is chosen for her biological and physical attributes or contribution to the bloodline. Besides, in her set all the men and women called each other by their Christian names; it was only on Trenor's lips that the familiar address had an unpleasant significance. Oh, she could make him believe anything--anything! Which was why I am saddened to give this such low rating. She detected in him at once all the signs of extreme nervous tension. Judy Trenor sends Lily to go to the train station to pick up her husband, Gus Trenor.
In the meantime, a bitter Bertha sabotages Lily's chances with Gryce by shocking him with the knowledge that Lily plays cards for money. The House of Mirth was one of her early novels and my favorite, although I like all of her novels. Miss Bart was an intimate friend--she wouldn't hear a word against her. Can make you want to overthrow Edith Wharton violently. Book I, Chapter 2 Lily sits in the cab and chides herself for making such a mess of her encounter with Rosedale. The cruise itself charmed her as a romantic adventure.
Wharton traveled throughout Europe to encourage young authors. Why should Percy Gryce's millions be joined to another great fortune, why should this clumsy girl be put in possession of powers she would never know how to use? The fact that her immediate anxieties were relieved did not blind her to a possibility of their recurrence; it merely gave her enough buoyancy to rise once more above her doubts and feel a renewed faith in her beauty, her power, and her general fitness to attract a brilliant destiny. It was not easy to connect with her. He is the observer, the person who cannot marry. They have a world to win! She was not fond of Bertha Dorset, but neither was she without a sense of obligation, the heavier for having so little personal liking to sustain it. Fisher, viewing the Riviera as an easy introduction to London society, had guided their course thither. Selden acknowledges that he is not a suitable suitor for Lily, or, at any rate, that he does not visit often because he is aware that Lily is not interested in him romantically.
Luckily Gerty Farish had wandered off to the next table, and they were alone. Lily is inconsistent and unstable, but her real problem is that she must sacrifice either money or love, and she can't bring herself to make the choice. Lily is glad to get out of her Aunt Julia's, boring, dowdy home. Love is Selden, who lacks money - also possibly heterosexuality, according to some, but I don't see it. At the Bellomont, we are introduced to an array of characters, all of whom are in the upper-crust New York social elite. Lily's carefree ways make enemies with her own sex as well.