House of Mirth

Selden's Diana

One of the tragedies in The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton is that Lily Bart is unable to marry Laurence Selden and thereby secure a safe position in society. Their relationship fluctuates from casual intimacy to outright love depending on how and where Selden perceives Lily. Selden sees a beautious quality in Lily Bart that is not present in any of the other women in the novel. This mysterious beauty that is so often alluded to, in addition to her attraction for the other men, is best understood when Lily is conceived of as the goddess Diana. As Diana, Lily Bart hunts for the perfect husband but cannot marry, remains separate from the "dinginess" of society, and finally is crushed by a remorseless rejection that can even destroy a goddess.

Diana, the goddess of the hunt and of maidenhood, perfectly combines the traits that Lily Bart exhibits. Although never explicitly connected with the goddess, Wharton's first description of Lily notes her "wild-wood grace" and "sylvan freedom":

"She paused before the mantelpiece, studying herself in the mirror while she adjusted her veil. The attitude revealed the long slope of her slender sides, which gave a kind of wild-wood grace to her outline, as...

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