edith whartons the house of mirth

The novel “The House of Mirth” was published in 1905. In this work, Wharton vividly portrays personal relations depicting that the new rich separate out the spheres of men and women more radically than ever before. Edith Wharton is s feminist writer who gathered together a vast stock of miscellaneous information and ideas, and that the use she made of them gave her novel sometimes an air of greater understanding and comprehensiveness than her own experience of life could supply.

Thesis Female characters depicted in the novel are feminists who fight for freedom and personal identity but they suffer greatly because of extreme sense of dignity and desire to oppose men. The main character, Lily Bart, is a feminist looking for a prosperous wealthy man to marry. It is clear from ‘The House of Mirth’ that the young woman’s task in life is to get herself as ‘well’ married as she can, in the financial and the social sense. Lily is a feminist who takes heart in the hope that it may take much time and effort to achieve her dream.

She tries to unit her supreme capacity of love with the sacred individuality of her life. Lily wants to have the same rights as men have, to be equal with them, and that is why she invents for herself a new role. Wharton describes Lily’s hopes: “Lily’s preference would have been for an English nobleman with political ambitions and vast estates; or, for second choice, an Italian prince with a castle in the Apennines and an hereditary office in the Vatican” (Wharton 2005). From the psychological point of view, these hopes and ideals were caused by lack of money and low social status Lily wants to forget.

Put all of these together the author creates a complicated emotional mix of feminist ideas and desperation. “Ned Van Alstyne, connoisseur of the “female outline,” sees Lily as the epitome of physical perfection” (Sapora 1993, 371). As Lily’s self splits inwardly, reader see it fragmenting into the multiple images of the different sections. The beginning chapters mark a turning-point: the change of pace which plunges both Lily and readers into a broken course through worlds built on different assumptions.

After this, the narrative divides and reassembles its characters more speedily consigning them to the Caribbean, London or Alaska, and bringing them back almost within a sentence (Rosk 2003). It takes Lily rapidly through repetitions of previous events, in distorted forms and different set¬tings. New York is reconvened in Monte Carlo; the country-house drawing-room has its ‘flamboyant copy … a caricature approximating the real thing’ (Wharton 2005) in the loud milieu of the Gormers; Fifth Avenue finds its ghostly shadow in the social void of the hotel world.

Lily, like Alice, seems to have passed into a grotesque wonderland where she begins to lose her sense of herself. Wharton describes this change as: “[Lily] had an odd sense of being behind the social tapestry, on the side where the threads were knotted and the loose ends hung” (Wharton 2006). In the novel, many women characters go beyond their ideology trying to be free from male oppression. Bertha Dorset is another woman who fights for freedom of sexual relations and true love. Liberation and freedom is depicted through sexuality. Her sexuality is still her life, just as it made her on the pillory superior to her husband and lover.

The physiological value is added through an unsound state of public morals depicted in the novel. Also, Wharton, without a scorch¬ing rebuke selects such crimes and invests them with all the fascination of genius, and all the charms of a style. Bertha is described as rebellious person who cannot exist in loveless marriage. She is beautiful and elegant attracting attention of other men:” in the luxurious shade of the after-deck, the wretched Bertha, in full command of her usual attenuated elegance, sat dispensing tea to the Duchess of Beltshire and Lord Hubert” (Wharton 2005).

Bertha never avoids disquieting realities. But it is precisely an indiscriminated change, this stream of undifferentiated ran¬dom perceptions, which is called “life”. Having resisted and overcome feeling of culpability, Bertha finds herself again in danger. From the beginning, Lily character is defined in opposition to the forces that finally overwhelm her. To underline gender differences, Wharton depicts Lily through the vision of Law¬rence Selden. As an observer, Selden shapes Lily to his own interests, and his view of her becomes one element in what destroys her.

Here, however, it is difficult for readers not to see Lily as he sees her, as an expensive and polished work of art, a product of social processes Selden cannot quite grasp, because he is another beneficiary: “He had a confused sense that she must have cost a great deal to make, that a great many dull and ugly people must, in some mysterious way, have been sacrificed to produce her” (Wharton 2005). Through men eyes, Wharton depicts that all women suffer greatly because their role in the life is limited by ideology.

These limits were put by institution of marriage and importance of social status in the society as the main markers of happiness and respect (Harrison-Kahan 2004). Wharton characterizes her consistently and rather frighteningly as someone with no insides, no inner life, no ‘soul’. Left alone in a room she communes with the mirror, ‘her only notion of self-seeing’ is the ‘image of herself in other minds” (Wharton 2005). So in a sense Lily has no private life. Doublings and reflections of herself are where she acquires a sort of depth.

She is the archetypal product of ‘the custom of the country’ which idealizes self-invention and speculation (Sapora 1993). Pizer states: “with Wharton using the conventional language and imagery of a pessimistic environmental determinism–of man as not merely related to or dependent on his social setting but as destructively imprisoned by it” (Pizer 1995). In its own increasing fragmentation and broken reflections, the second book of the novel becomes the mirror-world the re-working in dream, of the first, where the earlier repressions return and face the leisured lady with what has constructed her.

From the start, the novel acknowledges the relationships glimpsed here: between class position and sense of self, between one woman’s dazzling beauty and another’s dingy work, and between women’s display and men’s demand: “Do look at Mrs George Dorset’s pearls — I suppose the smallest of them would pay the rent of our Girls’ Club for a year’ (Wharton 2005). But until it removes Lily from her class, it cannot follow through its premonitions about how profoundly social and inward selves may be connected.

As Selden proposes of the rich: “take them into another element and see how they squirm and gasp! ” (Wharton 2005). From the psychological point of view, in the terrible course of Lily’s insomnia, this process of painful disintegration plays itself out in Lily’s own body and mind: “She had not imagined that such a multiplication of wakefulness was possible: her whole past was reenacting itself at a hundred different points of conscious¬ness. Where was the drug that could still this legion of insurgent nerves? ‘ (Wharton 2005).

In this desperate unraveling of the self, it is hard to imagine any kind of reconstruction or future: “Perspective had disap¬peared — the next day pressed close upon her, and on its heels came the days that were to follow – they swarmed about her like a shrieking mob” (Wharton 2005). This simile of the terrifying crowd, throughout the novel a fearful image to the fastidious Lily, seems a menacing final judgment on the decorative leisure-class lady. It seems almost to have been conjured up by the introduction of Netty’s baby, shortly before (Singley 2003).

Netty, like Lily, is a victim of modern times, abused by men, power, gender and money. Her lover was her employer in a big importing firm. But here is a fantasy of reversible disaster. Trenor’s money cures her illness; she is loved by a man who knows her story; the marriage is the only happy one we see in the novel; even the gossip columns become benign, when we hear how Netty reads them to find Lily’s name. She offers the reassurance that Lily is loved, and that the society lady justifies her useless life by sending her light into dull places.

Lily even finds that a kitchen is a glowing refuge, and that on the edge of the abyss is a happiness built by two people’s faith. Above all, the incident presents a picture of self-recreation: Netty “had found strength to gather up the fragments of her life, and build herself a shelter with them” (Wharton 2005). Sleeping in Gerty’s arms, Lily is the daughter; as she dies, briefly, the novel allows her to be the mother, resolving all problems of her use and productivity, by a baby generated from a vision of female kindness, not from male desire.

The gritty feel of the novel also gives an added realistic mood and that might signify the reality of everyday life (Singley 2003). The trend towards more smooth representation parallels the transition of the general audience to a higher emotional level. Great psychologism is evident in the scenes when Lily enters the new world full of sorrow and depression. The dull worker can have a rich life and a kind voice.

But as well as coding class, they mark gender: all the forms of dinginess that terrify Lily are female. One of the casualties of the dingy, readers learn, is Lily’s own mother, whose “worst reproach to her husband was to ask him if he expected her to “live like a pig”‘ (Wharton 2005), and his financial failure is her collapse; her death-bed adjuration to Lily to escape stays with her daughter throughout the novel (Clubbe 1996). The mother’s voice is strong, but the fear goes beyond either Lily or Mrs Bart.

From the feminist perspective, the novel consistently produces the monitory figures of dismal women who have no rich man to support them: among others, Mrs Haffen adding blackmail to clean¬ing, when her husband loses his job; Grace Stepney “with a freckled nose and red eye-lids, who lived in a boarding-house and admired Mrs Peniston’s drawing-room’ (Wharton 2005). Even the women in the little restaurant, with their notebooks, music, proof-sheets and engrossing occupations offer no inspiration. Lily’s aim is to be invulnerable, married and wealthy enough to escape the struggle.

The additional psychological impact is added through narration itself. Readers explore his situation largely through minor characters:, and through which readers participate in the novel. Though the narrative and making skilful use of changing perspectives, ‘The House of Mirth” is very much a feminist story, as Lily turns uneasily between the two poles: desired wealth and poverty. Indeed, it can at times be said that her conscious¬ness is the action (Gabler-Hover, Plate 1993). The theme of solitude creates a feeling of guilt being one of the reasons that her sexual freedom does not take her very far.

Society seems solid and secure but in fact it is an imaginative construct created by its inhabitants: the gossips and the poor relations. The other side of heroes’ terror of solitude, however, is the bondage of gender that keeps them in a prison of the self. Men characters go blank too whenever they might be expected to notice the double standard of privileges and oppres¬sion in society. At the end, Lily cuts her connections with the world and anticipates death. From the feminist and psychological point of view, Wharton’s mastery of details is consummate, as befits someone deeply versed in the then comparatively new disci¬pline of psychology.

It is assumed that everyone knows what is ‘virtue” but that no-one will blow the whistle so long as the proprieties are observed. As in the novel life is shown to be a perpetual observance of rites in which nothing much happens but everything has meaning and consequences. Despite her efforts to escape the rituals of femininity, Lily seems fated to reenact them, even though, as Wharton recounts these scenes and revises their conventions. Lily’s painful alienation and death is a sort of guilt even for the characters themselves, though most of them don’t know it.

Works Cited

Page 1. Clubbe, J. Interiors and the Interior Life in Edith Wharton’s ‘The House of Mirth. ‘ Studies in the Novel, Vol. 28, 1996, p. 543. 2. Gabler-Hover, J. , Plate, K. The House of Mirth’ and Edith Wharton’s “Beyond! “. Philological Quarterly, Vol. 72, 1993, p. 357. 3. Wharton, E. The House of Mirth. Available at: http://www. gutenberg. org/dirs/etext95/hmirt10. txt 4. Harrison-Kahan, L. “Queer Myself for Good and All”: The House of Mirth and the Fictions of Lily’s Whiteness. Legacy: A Journal of American Women Writers, Vol. 21, 2004, p. 34. 5. Pizer, D. The naturalism of Edith Wharton’s ‘House of Mirth. ‘ Twentieth Century Literature. Summer 1995. Available at: http://www. findarticles. com/p/articles/mi_m0403/is_n2_v41/ai_17861988 6. Rosk, N. V. Spectacular Homes and Pastoral Theaters: Gender, Urbanity and Domesticity in the House of Mirth. Studies in the Novel, Vol. 33, 2001, p. 322. 7. Sapora, C. B. Female Doubling: The Other Lily Bart in Edith Wharton’s ‘The House of Mirth. Papers on Language & Literature, Vol. 29, 1993, p. 371. 8. Singley, C. J. A Historical Guide to Edith Wharton. Oxford University Press, 2003.

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