House of Mirth

Lily Bart and the Nature of Nature

Nature, whether in the form of the arctic tundra of the North Pole or the busy street-life of Manhattan, was viewed by Naturalist writers as a phenomena which necessarily challenged individual survival; a phenomena, moreover, which operated on Darwin's maxim of the "survival of the fittest." This contrasted sharply with the Romantic view, which worshipped Nature for its beauty, beneficence and self-liberating powers. In Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, Lily Bart attempts to "survive" within the urbane "drawing-room" society she inhabits. Although Selden uses Romantic nature imagery to describe Lily, throughout the novel such Romantic imagery and its accompanying meanings are continually subverted. By simply invoking different understandings and views of "Nature," Wharton demonstrates that not only is Lily's ability to "adapt" to various environments isn't necessarily salutary, but also that flower imagery, used in an ironic fashion, captures perfectly Lily's need for "climates of luxury." It is Wharton's image of a "hot-house," however, which ultimately captures the ambiguous nature of what, to Wharton, truly is Nature.


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