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!


  1. I agree in some ways that Selden is what Lily would be if she were a man--Selden has options that Lily can't have because she's a woman. If Selden flirted with or slept with Bertha Dorset nobody will care in society except maybe George. Lily can't do that as a woman.

    But the one thing Selden has, I think, that Lily doesn't have is that he knows himself pretty well. Lily, think about what you want to be! I want to scream at her. She is maddeningly naive, isn't she?

    1. I know! Selden is more mature, and he could separate his mind between full involvement and occasion indulgences. But again, it's because he can afford having his own life (occupation), while Lily's survival doctrine is "marrying the money". In that regard, she doesn't have much choices. :(


What do you think?