Young Reader in the Making

Young Reader in the Making

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book 198: House of Mirth

House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton

What a brilliantly beautiful, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, soul-crushing book!

Poor Lily Bart.  Everyone admired her, revered her, envied her, even adored her, but not one person loved her.  Not even Lawrence Selden.  Despite his protestations and her belief that he could save her.  He could not save her; he adored her, but he did not truly love her.

Two scenes were salient to me:  Lily's tableau at the Brys' and her final encounter with Selden.  The first occurred at an opulent, society-impressing party.  What was so striking about this scene was that all the other tableaux featured multiple women.  Lily's alone was alone.  And last.  And all the tableaux featured the women grandly makeup and dressed, essentially hiding themselves behind the characters they were portraying.  Lily wore a plain white draping robe, a robe that did not conceal her true inner and outer nature, but revealed it.  Selden responded to this transparency (he sent her a note asking to meet), but instead of meeting Lily, got caught up in the popular, malicious and envious gossip, and fled.

The second scene came toward the close of the book.  Her road to degradation and poverty has been well-documented by Wharton and further discussed by the characters in the book.  Lily. as if by instinct, turned one last time to Selden.  She gave him one last chance to love her and to save her.  Again, in this scene, she was completely transparent, her mask of composure removed.  And again, Selden turned away.  Instead of seeing her, he recalls the gossip.  He does not love her.  Not truly.  And he cannot save her.  She, instead, saves him.

At the end of the book, Selden declares that at least he had loved (past tense) her.  But even here, his actions betray him.  When he finds the unsealed enveloped addressed to Gus Trenor, he does not look to see what the envelope contains.  Instead, he again believes the worst.

Not one of the men in the book could have saved Lily Bart, and, unfortunately, she was not brought up to know how to save herself.

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