Falling in Love with Lily Bart

Take a look at this:

Photo Oct 01, 3 24 33 PM

Yes, Lily. Yes I do mind not being able to buy all the books I want, thank you for asking.

I’m really enjoying The House of Mirth so far and have fallen desperately in love with Lily Bart. Isn’t that the point? No? Anyway, Lily Bart is a 29-year-old New York socialite at the turn of the century, well aware that the time has come for her to get married. Her parents passed away after her father was “ruined” financially, and she has no one to finagle her into a marriage. Lily is accustomed to wealth and is eager to marry a rich husband and cement a spot in high society, where she currently hovers on the fringes.

Despite her rather money-grubbing ways, Lily is a product of her time. Raised to be nothing other than a rich man’s wife, Lily nevertheless is full of wisdom and uncomfortable truths about the plight of women. She sees past the veneers people display to the truth beneath, even though she sometimes would rather not face the consequences of the choices she decides to make.

Lily sets her sights on a dull, horrible mama’s boy and charms him into wanting to marry her, but she finds herself drawn to an unsuitable suitor, the not-rich-enough Lawrence Selden. Selden is charmed by Lily’s wit and beauty but scorns her for wanting to marry only for money. For Lily, being happy means entering willingly into a loveless, boring marriage with a man she hates, trading freedom for financial security. It’s unfortunate for Lily that marriage is one of the few ways a woman can sustain herself in this period, a concept that Selden fails to grasp.

One of my favorite parts of the book so far was a conversation/discussion/disagreement between Lily and Selden, in which they discuss what it means to be free:

Selden: “My idea of success,” he said, “is personal freedom.”

Lily: “Freedom? Freedom from worries?”

Selden: “From everything—from money, from poverty, from ease and anxiety, from all the material accidents. To keep a kind of republic of the spirit—that’s what I call success.”

Lily: “You think me horribly sordid, don’t you? But perhaps it’s rather that I never had any choice. There was no one, I mean, to tell me about the republic of the spirit.” 

Lily’s plight is apparent in this short passage. What other choice does she have? Just like in the picture above, there is a huge difference between the amount of freedom allotted to men and women. Selden has the luxury of dreaming about freedom whereas Lily’s idea of freedom is trading one bad fate, spinsterhood, with another—a loveless marriage. I admire Lily because she has the intelligence to see her environment and her choices clearly, and the honesty to come to terms with her flaws.

I’m really excited to keep reading. Have any of you read The House of Mirth and want to share your thoughts on Lily Bart?

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