Monday, November 25, 2019

The House Mirth Readalong Week #3: Chapter 7-12

Blunders, Force of Nature, Corrupted Society

From chapter 7 on we saw how Lily was 'jumping out of the frying pan into the fire'. It seems that one blunder led to another (worse) in rapid succession; it's like watching a snow avalanche. But are they really her blunders, her series of personal bad decision? Could she have avoided them? Here are my random thoughts.

Chapter 7-8

Lily trusted her money investment to Gus Trenor. Okay, to escape poverty she needed to have money fast. Solution: investment. It's perfectly understandable. She couldn't do it by herself, so she used her charms to induce Gus Trenor to help her. I cringed at this, but then, what can a woman in her position do to get assistance from men? So, okay, she had an income now, replenished her wardrobe, and back to the game again. The problem is Lily's 'crude passion for money' which she inherited from her mother. She has become a gambler, who couldn't stop at the right moment. She should have stopped when Trenor began to charge for "commission"! So... yes, it's a blunder.

Chapter 9

She shouldn't buy those letters from the char woman. Better save the money for emergency - but how she supposed to understand that, when her mother has taught her from childhood to spend, spend, and spend. It's a force of nature-the cursed inheritance things, then, though perhaps indirectly related to her downfall. Still, did she really think she could get even with Bertha Dorset with the letters? Haven't she learned enough of the power of money? Or did she do it for Selden's sake? Nah, I don't buy it. It's just her defense to soothe her reasons.

Chapter 10

And she shouldn't spend money lavishly on charity, either, especially when it was for pure selfish purposes! But, again, Lily hasn't been taught of saving money, so again... put the blame on her mother. Or, on the corrupted society where she grew up in.

Lily, who has hitherto prided herself of the wide knowledge of men's psychology had miscalculated (or more precisely: neglected) the "Rosedale consequences". Blunder no. 2.

By the way, I loved Wharton's nature symbols of the bluebottle:

"Because a bluebottle bangs irrationally against a window-pane, the drawing-room naturalist may forget that under less artificial conditions it is capable of measuring distances and drawing conclusions with all the accuracy needful of its welfare."

Chapter 11

As was with her miscalculation on Bertha Dorset, Lily well understood men's vanity, to use it for her advantage, but failed to recognize the same in women. Yes, I am talking about Grace Stepney's poisonous story to Mrs. Peniston. Of course, Lily wouldn't have known its huge implications with her dear hypocrite aunt, so it doesn't really count as blunder, right?

Chapter 12

I have always wanted to lecture Lily on this chapter, so I'll take this opportunity to pour it out here.

"Lily, you have once technically turned down Percy Gryce - which was perfectly understandable, because that's not what you have wanted. But don't you realize that you're not getting any younger, and the possibility to find a suitable [rich and respectable in her circle] suit gets thinner and thinner? So when a guy who, though hitherto seemed reluctant to marry you, is now smitten by you - DON'T THROW HIM AWAY! He's your last chance! And what if he's not as rich Percy Gryce? He has a quite comfortable professional career. And though is out of your circle, he still loves to attend the parties and enjoys the luxury you love once in a while, and they respect him. You could still charm them with your skill. What more, he is funny, intelligent, and with him, you will achieve the freedom you have dreamed of. He's the most suitable man for you! And most importantly he loves you, understands and respects you, and will never treat you like a trash - like some men! And you love him too, so what more do you expect? Now when he finally made up his mind to love you - and even has sealed it with a kiss, for Heaven's sake, Lily... TAKE IT!"

Oh... this chapter is so heartbreaking to read, I must stop for a while. After her 'triumph' in the tableaux vivant, and topped with Selden and Lily's romantic moment in the "almost midsummernight's dream" garden, Lily's declaration of: "Ah, love me, love me - but don't tell me so!" always gets me. Why Lily, why can't you?? And this, I think, is the worst or biggest blunder Lily Bart has ever did (the rest is just the snowball effects). She could have done it, or at least could nurture Selden's love a bit longer before saying ‘yes’. To "throw the door on his face" so soon is terrible, terrible mistake!

Well, after this, The House of Mirth began to be uncomfortable, and even painful in the last chapters, to read. But one must get on, because it also gets interesting. So... I’ll brave myself ‘till next week!


  1. Exactly! That last chapter (#12) was a devastating turning point. There are so many questions I have. Her choices leave me baffled.

    BTW, Wharton just set the stage so beautifully. Yeah, but she threw it away. : (

    1. Most sadly, Lily doesn't even have more than 1 choice (because of her upbringing). It's either change or extinct (the Darwinian aspect of the story).

  2. Chapter 12 was very tough to read!

  3. i'm just starting book 2... i really wonder why Wharton chose to include so many negative traits in her main character. i get that she's trying to point out the unreality present in the upper class culture, but she seems to go about it in such a circular way... i guess she likes ant traps better than bear traps... (approaching the subject in an indirect way instead of straight on)

    1. I think it's because of her Naturalism ideas. Wharton uses her main character to show that our way of thinking is mostly influenced by our upbringing, inherited flaws, and environment. Those aspects shape us to become who we are, and there's almost no way to be otherwise. So, I think she'd wanted to emphasize that helplessness in Lily's blunders.


What do you think?