every Starbucks should have a polar bear (scoradh) wrote,
every Starbucks should have a polar bear

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House of Mirth, Edith Wharton

This story, to me, seems rather similar to Anna Karenina in that it shows the terrible fate of a woman cast off by society for a supposed wrong-doing. However, in Lily Bart's case the wrong-doing is just that: supposed, while Anna really did run off with another man. Lily, unlike Anna, doesn't throw herself around in that hysterical (and annoying) Russian manner - rather, she makes the best of what she's got, but unfortunately finds that to be not very much.

I do wonder about the ending, though. If Lily had lived and loved with Selden, would the book have lost its impact? I don't think it would have if it had been written another way, and by that I mean if Wharton had truly believed that a society girl could function outside of her original rarefied environment. She implies that this is impossible, that Lily can't compete with working girls who'd been brought up to their lives since childhood. However, I reckon that's a symptom of the times rather than reality. This could have been an amazing story if Lily, who had the strength of mind to shy away from revenge on Bertha Dorset, turn down Rosedale at every opportunity, and visualise a life for herself outside the pointlessness of high society, actually achieved something. America at that time seemed full of opportunities, yet the class Lily clings to so fervently is more closed-off and useless than anything in Regency England. I think the book fell foul to the melodrama typical of its era, which is a shame.

Wharton is so extremely witty that, with a little optimism, this book would have become one of my favourites:

Mrs Peniston thought the country lonely and the trees damp, and cherished a vague fear of meeting a bull.

It's rather clever of her to have made a speciality of devoting herself to dull people - the field is such a large one, and she has it practically to herself.

The analogy was justified by the appearance of the lady, whose large-eyed prettiness had the fixity of something impaled and shown under glass.

She also makes keen observations:

It is less mortifying to believe oneself unpopular than insignificant, and vanity prefers to assume that indifference is a latent form of unfriendliness.

she might hate him, but she had never been able to wish him out of the room.

It's interesting to read this after The Age of Innocence, where divorce was still new and awful. Here it's creeping in to acceptability, giving a hint of the future country where the divorce rate is now the highest in the world.

Previously, on Book Glomp 2010:
The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories, Anton Chekhov | I'll take you there, Joyce Carol Oates | Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides ♥ | The School for Husbands, Moliere | On Green Dolphin Street, Sebastian Faulks | The Famished Road, Ben Okri | Lord of the Flies, William Golding | Moby Dick, Herman Melville | A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway | Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell ♥ | The Sea, the Sea, Irish Murdoch ♥ ♥ | Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad | Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy | The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman | The Sea, John Banville | paddy clarke ha ha ha, Roddy Doyle | The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough ♥ | The Godfather, Mario Puzo ♥ | The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman | Possession, A.S. Byatt ♥ ♥ ♥ | Angela Carter's Book of Fairy Tales | The Mysteries of Pittsburg, Michael Chabon | Dragon Haven, Robin Hobb, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Carrie Ryan, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon ♥, Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby, Life of Pi, Yann Martel | Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier | At Swim, Two Boys, Jamie O'Neill ♥ | The Children's Book, A.S. Byatt | Un Dun Lun, China Mieville | Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel &hearts | This Book Will Save Your Life, A.M. Homes | Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons ♥ ♥ | Whose Body?, Dorothy L. Sayers | Crime and Punishment, Feodor Dostoevsky, The Invention of Love, Tom Stoppard ♥ ♥ ♥, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard, Love's Shadow, Ada Leverson, The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov, The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame, Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie ♥
Tags: book glomp 2010
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