Free Study Guide The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton|
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FREE STUDY GUIDE - THE HOUSE OF MIRTH
Simon Rosedale’s shock at Lily’s state reveals the typical mindset of men of his time. In the patriarchal world of the time, men not only assumed, but often enforced women’s dependency on them. Women were blocked from most forms of employment which gave men their sense of independence. They were forced to rely on men for food, shelter, and even protection. For these basic securities, they were expected to serve with charm and patience. The patriarchal arrangement worked for many people. When it failed and a woman was left outside the net of security, she was a social anomaly. A woman like Lily Bart, raised as she was to be a charming dependent of a rich man, but cast outside that circle, would surely call into question the adequacy of the patriarchal system to meet the needs of all the members of the society. A man like Simon Rosedale is blind to the cruel irony of his statement that the "idea of your having to work--it’s preposterous."
In this brief chapter, Wharton paints with touching realism Lily’s sorry state. As she sits in a tea house, she feels a "sudden pang of profound loneliness. She had lost the sense of time, and it seemed to her as though she had not spoken to anyone for days." In Lily’s loneliness and her sense of dislocation, Wharton paints a desolate picture. Lily has never been comfortable being alone. She has no inner resources to find comfort in solitude. She has been trained to be attached to people and to value herself only in that attachment. She has also been raised on a routine round of social activities. Now that she is not only without work, but also without friends, she has lost a sense of time.
On the brink of complete destitution, Lily Bart faces the bare choices
her life has been presenting her for the past year the life presented
by Mr. Rosedale or that presented by Lawrence Selden. Just as she is on
Mr. Rosedale’s errand to blackmail Bertha Dorset with her love letters,
she chances to pass by Lawrence Selden’ rooms and changes her path.
Inside Lawrence Selden’s library Lily feels the same sense of ease she
felt the first time she was there. She tells him she came to apologize
for her gruff manner when he came to see her at Mrs. Hatch’s residence.
He is unable to loosen the social manners of reserve, but Lily feels that
she can think clearly and is able to be direct about her emotions. She
realizes she loves him, but that she has killed his love for her. After
a brief conversation in which Lily tells him she is planning to go somewhere
and leave behind her old self that he had known, she changes her mind.
She realizes she cannot go through with her plan. She asks him to build
up the fire in his fire place and when he is not looking, she throws the
packet of letters in it. Then she leaves.
Several changes come over Lily as she talks to Lawrence Selden in his rooms
two years after the first time she spoke to him there. She begins with
the idea of clearing the air between them as if she is about to renounce
the self she had been with him. Then she realizes she can’t do that. The
reader recognizes that Lily has thrown the letters into the fire before
she left. Since blackmail with the letters was her only possible solution
to her troubles, the reader must immediately think that the sleeping drops
will be the next solution she will use to settle her problems forever.
The poignancy of the scene reaches its height when Lawrence Selden notices
that Lily is thin. Her poverty is showing in her face and body.
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. 09 May 2017