House of Mirth “repins” via
During my senior year of my undergrad years, I studied Edith Wharton’s novel House of Mirth and it’s tantalizingly yet depressing protagonist Lily Bart. Lily loves her upper class life in the early 1900’s yet is tormented by the upper classes’ views on marriage: believing girls of the upper class should maintain their status by marrying a man merely to continue to “live well” instead of because you may love and respect him. Lily turns down proposal after proposal, even from Lawrence Seldon whom she actually loves for she is caught up in the idea that she must marry well, yet is horrified by the prospect of a loveless life. As she slowly begins to reject the upper classes’ view on marriage, attempting to gamble and win her way to the “top” herself, she soon finds the upper class rejects her. She goes from taking yacht tours of Europe and rejecting a future with Lawrence Seldon in the hopes of marrying “even higher,” to working at a millinery, living in poverty, and eventually overdosing on sleeping pills. Lily repeatedly sabotages herself from a potential happy life with Seldon, rejecting Lawrence’s offers of help when he could have helped her, so focused is she on the idea of striking it rich.
Besides the overdosing part I hope, I think Lily’s struggle has been so universally popular even with modern women because we all find a piece of Lily in ourselves. Like it or not, the archetypes for women have always been the Stepford Wife-type, the selfless mother-type, or the career girl-type. And more likely than not, there’s the desire to be all those types in all of us: Admit it, isn’t that why we love Disney Princesses? Stories about wealthy men falling hard for the girl they cloak in luxury? The reason why we slurp up wedding magazines and sappy fairy tale stories? Maybe you do it when no one else is around, when you’re home alone on the weekend. Maybe you erase your search history after you read one of those stories, and maybe you pretend to scoff at them in public but I know that you have to say yes! We love them! They strike the Stepford in all of us and it’s alluring, glamorous, and desirable. But how many times do we find ourselves falling into the Lily-Bart-trap of sabotaging our own happiness because we are discontent, always looking for more, trying to do it alone, building relationships that look impressive, making judgments based on appearances, growing jealous over comparisons, and holding out for better things when we could be perfectly content if we only looked around instead of always, always forward and upward? The House of Mirth is a satire of course–that’s obvious by its title–but it’s also something of a tragedy because so many times we strive to build our own houses of mirth, hoping that by creating it, joy will come, instead of making our house where there already is happiness and laughter for the most impressive thing in the world is a woman who is completely content with whatever and wherever she is.
– ❤ A.
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