Monday, December 16, 2019

The House of Mirth Readalong Week #6: Book 2 Ch. 10 - end

=Rosedale isn't that bad after all

I can see now that, compared to the other men in Lily Bart's set, Rosedale isn't that bad. He had ambitions, yes, but at least he also possessed compassion towards Lily. He's the only one who still regarded Lily as a friend, while her former 'friends' all denounced her. That he could not relinquish his selfish ambition, it's in accordance with Wharton's theme of determinism - the Naturalists' formula. And it struck me also that Rosedale is actually very similar to Lily, in regards of their struggles between two passions.

=The battle of influences - which will triumph?

Chapter 11 reveals again Lily Bart's heroism in her persisted rejection of Rosedale to the end, despite of her longing to be freed from poverty. In the end, I should say that Lily's inheritance from her father, sharpened by Selden's republic of the spirit, has finally (slightly) triumphed over the influence of her mother's upbringing.

=Lily and Selden - is it possible?

Selden and Lily loved each other - theirs is the only relationship that is pure, without concession. So, why couldn't they be together? I think there's two reasons:

1. On Selden's part:
It's because Selden and Lily came from two different world. Selden was attracted to Lily, but he also 'judged' her as the member of her world. He couldn't marry her because he hated her crude passion for money. This is also Selden's personal struggle between two influences: his love for Lily, his longing to save her; and his critical view of her world. It's so difficult to put trust on something you have taught all your life to hate. So, when, after hearing so many rumors about Lily, Selden saw Lily in Gus Trenor house, how he supposed to think about this suspicious situation? How was he supposed to believe in Lily, when she herself was always swayed to the world she started to hate? No, it's almost impossible on Selden's part to be 100% percent sure of Lily. And Selden has been enjoying his life all along, why would he sacrifice it, when Lily herself rejected him twice (or thrice?) when he heroically proposed to marry her?

2. On Lily's part:
Her world was her habitat, so she clung to it to the end. That's why, though Selden's world was much attracted, and part of her longed to live in it, she couldn't uproot herself from her world.

Then, when her case started to look hopeless, I think it's also partly her pride that made her shrinking from Selden's humble offer altogether.

In the end, they are not destined to be together. If this were Victorian novel, things could be different. Selden perhaps, would brave himself to marry Lily at critical moment, and Lily would be touched, and relented, and... a happy ending. But, this is a Naturalist fiction, and we were not supposed to 'triumph' over the force of nature.

=Suicide or accident?

Should you even ask? Of course it's suicide. Every sentence in the last chapter leads to this conclusion. Lily was terribly unhappy for the time being, and in chapter 14 she has lost all hope. Suicidal person doesn't deliberately end his life just like that, because human instinct is always to survive, to cling to life. It is a mental process, which at the end, when he or she did not see any tiny spark at the end of the tunnel, then the most natural step is just added a little drop of the drug. It's a decision one takes when there's nothing to lose - death becomes more and more alluring. And so at the end, the mind gave up to the mental.

It always a devastating read, The House of Mirth is! But, what a beautiful vivid writing from Edith Wharton! I always nickname her 'the female Zola', and how appropriate it is!

I must thank Cleo @ Classics Carousel for hosting this readalong. It has been fun and wonderful, though I have not as actively participated as I have hoped, due to my works, but it's always amazing to read a piece of magnum opus like this with some friends. :)

Monday, December 9, 2019

The House of Mirth Readalong Week #5: Book 2 Ch. 6 – 9

Chapter 6 & 7

I'm glad that Lily wasn't tempted to take revenge to Bertha through George Dorset, even when she just needed to say "yes" to him to activate it. And the persistent way she rejected Rosedale is rather admirable, though I still think that Rosedale isn't as evil and selfless as the other men in Lily's set. He's clearly in love with Lily (his jealousy over Selden is one proof), though he's also ambitious. But isn't Lily too? Here, again, I saw the "shadow" of how her mother's education (to follow the money) and her father's character (to seek subtlety) have influenced Lily - from which she was always torn between two impulses, without being able to compromise them. And that explain Lily's indecisiveness and contradiction from the beginning. Poor Lily... I was tired just of reading about it, let alone she who must live it through!

Chapter 8 & 9

=Will Lily ever get married?

We have come to the stage, where Lily's only possible marriage was either with Rosedale or Selden. Rosedale had the money but not the subtlety. His scheme regarding Bertha Dorset's letters disgusted Lily. Okay, then how about Selden? He had the subtlety, but not the money. In her present situation, that's the best thing to accept. But no; if she was disgusted with Rosedale, she felt ashamed to Selden - one thing I don't quite understand. Was she trying to prove to Selden that she's different from the society he detested? Why did she always imply to Selden that she did not need his help, every single time she really needed it - and Selden's ready to give it? Was she too proud? I began to think, her pride has made her situation going from bad to worse.

Lily should have known that with Selden she would be a free woman, an equal in the marriage. Wasn't it that that she thought after? Well, without the large drawing room or the jewelry, perhaps, but, hey... one can't always get everything in life, right? Or maybe, that's Lily's real problem - that she has brought up by her mother as a spoiled brat, who always gets the best of everything?

If so, then she is a child-woman who never grew up. She had a vague sense of better qualities she inherited from her father - that she deserved to achieve more in life. But she had no father to guide it. And she certainly needed her mother to guide her through the slippery stairs of society. But on top of everything, it's a rotten society, where a girl does not have chance to improve by herself and be independent.

I have actually read through chapter 10, but I think I'd better stop here, because after this we'd come to the hardest part of the story, and I need to brave myself!

Monday, December 2, 2019

The House of Mirth Readalong Week #4: Book I Ch. 13 – Books 2 Ch. 5

Book I

Chapter 13

=It’s payday, the broker came to collect his commission.

It's quite incredible that an adult woman like Lily did not understand that money cannot multiply by itself. It's true that she, like many other people of that era, was ignorant about investment market. But she must have been realized that men in her set could not have expected nothing but little coquetry when she received from him regular money. She, of all girls, could have seen Trenor's expectations long ago before it's too late. But, again, the crude passion for money she inherited from her mother, forced her to ignore these facts.

Chapter 14

=The power of rumors upon women

I kept regretting Lily's cold ignorance towards Selden after the tableaux vivants. Otherwise, their intimacy would, at least, have stopped any rumors about her and Trenor, even if she did not instantly paid her debts. Because it's clear that Lily's downfall mostly came from rumors. When Selden, even after Lily's cold reception, came (perhaps) to propose to her, saw her rushed from the Trenors', it instantly dawned on him what people has hitherto talked about Lily. At least, he thought he has seen the proof. And who could blame him? Selden was attracted to Lily because he knew she was different from others, so her being alone with Trenor, why, it justified her being still embracing the corrupted society. First her cold reception, then the proof, it's enough to make a man like Selden fled away.

The rumors eventually ruined also Lily's chance of Mrs. Peniston's inheritance (by which she could have paid her debts and bought her independence). Do you believe she's ignorant of the rumors? She might have known that rumors are bad for girls' reputation.

Chapter 15

=How long will she survive the challenge?

Rosedale's proposal came when Lily still had a tiny hope that Selden would help her. At that point, what do you think she would do if she knew Selden has left her? I believe she would be rejected nonetheless, though without fully closing the door to Rosedale. I think the inherited passion issue (from her mother and father) went both ways in Lily. It's only a matter of which would triumph over the other.

Book II

Chapter 1

=Selden is what Lily would be if she were a man

It struck me that Selden was actually "made" with similar ingredients as Lily. He ran away from Lily because he was disappointed that Lily still failed to detach herself from her set - which he detested. However, he was also fond of the entertaining luxury the same set offered. And he inherited that taste also from the mother side.

The only thing differs him from Lily, is that he could detach himself anytime he wants to. He could act as mere spectator, or just a little involved (even flirted with somebody's wife), and others won't mind, he's still respectable. With Lily, they imposed upon her certain rules, as if saying: if you want us to receive you, you have to always be charming, but not too charming that our husbands get attracted to you.

As Lily said in chapter 1, it is acceptable for men to wear shabby coat, as long as he amuses others with his wit, but women must look charming all the time, because their only function is to entertaining men's eyes.

And finally, Selden's means of his detachment is his professional career - the ultimate means of independence women at that era didn't have opportunity of!

Chapter 2 & 3

=Personal or inherited flaw?

If Lily Bart has one negative quality which was not inherited or influenced by the environment, it was her shrinking from (ugly) obligations, as Wharton wrote in this passage:

"Moral complications existed for her only on the environment that had produced them; she did not mean to slight or ignore them, but they lost their reality when they changed their background."

After the Trenor incident, and especially when she knew to what extend Bertha could ruin her, how could she fled to the Riviera with the Dorsets?

Then, after Bertha's too-obvious-scandal, Lily should have seen the hints from Bertha's accusation to her of having an affair with her husband. Couldn't she predict that somehow she could be in danger? Selden could, and people said women's intuition is better than men's... She should have stayed away right then and there!

Chapter 4

=Lily Bart's original qualities vs inherited flaws

It's said that one's true character will only appear when one's in hard situation. Her humiliating defeat has actually revealed Lily's true capacity of toughness. Her maintaining her dignity at the testament reading, and her manner towards her ex friends at the restaurant, are truly heroic!

Chapter 5

=Lily's waning (marriage) chance

Now she even gave serious thought on Rosedale. :( It's so sad to think that there was time when girls have no chance of happier life outside marriage.

The next chapters are the most interesting because we'd get to see how Lily would settle her final choice!