House of Mirth

Existing Apart: Manifestations of Otherness in The House of Mirth

In Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, the cold and unforgiving world of New York's high society never favors the perspective of the outsider, or the looker-on. But the author seems to award a great deal of credit to those characters who adapt to this position, thereby accepting its flaws along with its attributes. Lawrence Selden is one of these figures, and unique for the fact that society accepts him as a looker-on, perhaps because he accepts himself in this stance. He views everything from a separated stance, always stepping back to view scenes he himself is participating in. His love for Lily is both born of and destroyed by this aspect of his personality. Her love for Selden, on the other hand, is simply complicated by this perspective. Lily's relationship with her own aloof and separate tendencies changes during the course of the novel, greatly affecting her view of the world, and most importantly her relation to Selden. For most of the novel, however, Lily is an outsider who refuses to admit it. And just as for Selden, and all the rest of the characters in this category, Lily will find this trait to be both her blessing and her doom.

Selden's place as an outsider is maintained mostly by his tendency to...

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