House of Mirth

Exactly What the Occasion Requires: The Significance of Carry Fisher in The House of Mirth College

Commonly called “a novel of manners” because of the way characters are shown thinking and speaking about how people in society ought to conduct themselves, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton focuses chiefly on Lily Bart, a woman whose social decline and fall is read chiefly as a criticism of the habits and customs of New York’s upper class in the early 20th century. Lacking personal resources, not entirely respectable, and long past the age where women of her era were regarded as marriage material, Lily Bart nonetheless enjoys both celebrity and a lavish standard of living until her inability to adapt to social expectations pushes her farther and farther down the social ladder until she dies in poverty. Many critics describe Lily’s decline and fall as something inevitable, however the text contains powerful evidence that it is not. Most of the evidence is concentrated in the character of Mrs. Carry Fisher, a character who in many respects is a foil for Lily. Despite disadvantages far more severe than the heroine’s, Carry thrives while Lily self-destructs. This disparity refutes the popular notion that Lily Bart is a helpless creature who has no other options except to make the choices she makes. This essay will show how Carry...

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