Free Study Guide The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton|
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THE HOUSE OF MIRTH: LITERATURE NOTES ONLINE
She has not seen much of Rosedale, but has continued to think of the
possibility of marrying him. She has been invited to spend the night with
Carrie Fisher, who is enjoying momentary prosperity since her success
with the Brys. She gets to Mrs. Fisherís house and finds Simon Rosedale
in the parlor talking to Carry Fisherís young daughter. It is clear that
he isnít doing this for advantage, but that he is sincerely kind to her.
Lily thinks he is "kind in his gross, unscrupulous, rapacious way,
the way of the predatory creature with his mate." That night in her
room, she and Carrie Fisher talk. She sees that Carrie Fisher loves to
have the chance to enjoy spending time with her daughter and wonders what
if she would spend all her time with her daughter given the economic stability.
Carrie tells Lily of Bertha Dorsetís recent machinations with Mrs. Gormer
and warns her that her only chance to escape from Bertha Dorsetís cruelty
is to marry.
Chapter six finds Lily back in danger at the hands of Bertha Dorset, who suspects her husbandís admiration for Lily and her own danger of losing him to her. The reader must remember that Lily has in her possession the love letters that Bertha Dorset wrote to Lawrence Selden. These letters, though, are not mentioned in the narration of Lilyís private thoughts. On the surface of the story, the only method of revenge Lily is shown to have against Bertha Dorset is in her ability to marry Berthaís husband.
The alternative between George Dorset and Simon Rosedale is a pretty
sad one. Lily thinks about marrying Simon Rosedale but carefully avoids
thinking about what marriage to him would mean for her. In highlighting
this avoidance, Wharton makes the reader think about it. During the time
the novel was written, few writers were willing to address the reality
of sexuality, but they had many ways of hinting about it by glaring silences
like this one. It is clear that Lily is on the verge of a kind of prostitution.
She not only doesnít like Simon Rosedale, she finds him repulsive. Yet
she still considers marrying him. Whatís more, she is almost forced to
it by her social predicament as an unmarried young woman who has been
used as a pawn in a nasty power play between another husband and wife.
Lily appreciates having gotten the blunt news from Carry Fisher that her only hope is to marry and marry soon. She takes a walk with Simon Rosedale one afternoon and inwardly marvels at the ironic parallels this walk has to the walk she took last year with Lawrence Selden at Bellomont. She tells Rosedale that she is now willing to marry him. He colors and tells her he no longer wants to marry her. She is surprised, but maintains her composure. He is so taken with her composure that he presses her to let him explain himself. He says he is even more in love with her this year than he was last year, but now things have changed since she has lost her good standing in society. He has worked too long to risk losing his new position on the verge of entering this society. He says "A man ainít ashamed to say he wants to own a racing stable or a picture gallery. Well, a taste for societyís just another kind of hobby." It is a hobby he has begun to succeed in and associating with the wrong people is the surest way to lose his place in it.
When Lily withdraws again and tells him he must stop coming to see her
if this is the case with him, he pushes back again. He tells her she should
get even with Bertha Dorset and if she did that, he would marry her. She
is intrigued by what he is proposing and remains to hear him out. He wants
to know why she doesnít use the letters to blackmail Bertha Dorset into
bringing her back into society. Then she could marry him and he could
provide her with the material means to make Bertha Dorset powerless to
hurt her any further. Lily listens to the whole story and at points begins
to be seduced by the idea of solving all her problems. At the end, however,
she knows she will never do it. She tells him she will not do it and he
responds angrily with the conjecture that she is refusing to do it because
the letters are addressed to Lawrence Selden.
Almost at the end of the novel, Wharton finally draws out the card she showed
early on--the letters from Bertha Dorset to Lawrence Selden. They present
Lily with an escape from her present social predicament and a chance to
get even with Bertha Dorset. Wharton is careful in her characterization
of her protagonist. Lily might be a person who schemes to flatter rich
men into marrying her, but she is not the kind of person who thinks to
use black mail. That has to come from the bad guy in the novel, Simon
Rosedale. Here, Whartonís anti-Semitism surfaces again. Not only is he
new rich and very successful at manipulating his way into the inner sanctum
of the social circle of the old rich, but he has bad grammar, and, on
top of all of that, heís a Jew. Since it is he who brings up the idea
of using the letters to blackmail Bertha Dorset into returning Lily to
her good reputation, it is clear that Lily will not take this path to
social respectability. It is therefore a tantalizing hope of escape that
will never be used. It serves as a means of showing the protagonistís
essentially moral nature.
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