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The House of Mirth (Chapter One) - What impression of Lily Bart and the world she lives in does Edith Wharton give you at the outset of her novel?

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Introduction

Commentary: Edith Wharton - The House of Mirth (Chapter One) What impression of Lily Bart and the world she lives in does Edith Wharton give you at the outset of her novel? From Edith Wharton's introduction of 'The House of Mirth', we are able to view the purposes of this story, of which there are several. Edith Wharton shares her views about the type of society and when in which the story took place - how Lily is shaped by her society and how she is unable to get out of it, the gender issues present in the early twentieth century, and indirectly, Wharton's own criticisms about this social world. Even at the beginning of the story, Wharton already provides us with an insight into a world of aristocracy, and also the world in which she herself lived in, through the main characters, Lily Bart and Selden. She depicts Lily Bart as a wealthy, upper-class woman, with '...country houses that disputed her presence ...'. Wharton also presented us with the idea that the rich do not work, and are instead idle: Lily's 'late nights and indefatigable dancing', and both her and Selden's going out for tea on a busy Monday afternoon, when everyone else (the middle and lower classes) ...read more.

Middle

'The qualities distinguishing her from the herd of her sex were chiefly external' - this is an ironic statement, where in the previous quote he makes her seem differentiated and special, and now, this suggests that he thinks that women are all the same but what distinguishes Lily from other women, or even generally, women from each other, are their looks and their beauty. We can also tell that Selden regards Lily as an object where she has beauty, although it will not last, by referring to her beauty as a 'fine glaze'. Again this is good imagery, as one would imagine glaze to be worn off easily. And underneath that glaze - Lily's external beauty - lies 'vulgar clay', suggesting that Lily, without her physical appearance, would be rather ugly and rough on the inside. The words stringed together 'a fine glaze of beauty applied to vulgar clay' indicates that Selden thinks of Lily as a vase, something pretty, but with no real use in life. He feels that 'a great many dull and ugly people must have been sacrificed to produce her', contributing to the fact that he regards her as a manufactured object. ...read more.

Conclusion

This shows the differences between those with positions high up on the social ladder and those at the bottom. However Wharton has presented Lily with a contradictory view. Lily looks down upon women who do not have money, who have the independence and freedom to do whatever they want, who are 'ugly and unmarriageable'. However, at the same time, we sense admiration in Lily for these women as she herself feels that it is a priviledge to have independence and to own a flat, and 'what a miserable thing it is to be a woman!'. Wharton again presents us with an ironic issue. Lily feels that it is degrading for a woman to remain unmarried at a certain age. However, she herself is already twenty-nine years old. It was abnormal for women, during the early twentieth century, to remain unmarried, yet Lily was. She is this showing a rebellious streak in her along with that bit of independence that she craves. Edith Wharton has written this first chapter with conviction about the issues present in the earlier part of the twentieth century. She has portrayed the characters to play the roles that were evident during this time period, between class and gender, the issues and the contradictions. ...read more.

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