House of Mirth


  1. ^ In the opening sentence of the House of Mirth Edith Wharton places Lily in "Grand Central Station" where Selden is taken by surprise to see her.[1] The name of the famous New York City railroad terminal was changed from "Grand Central Depot" to Grand Central Station after extensive renovation of the "head house" between 1899 and 1900. The name Grand Central Station stuck despite further massive reconstruction between 1903 and 1913 when the site was named Grand Central Terminal.
  2. ^ The Year of the Rose also appears in one of her donnée books as a possible title for her novel.[4]
  3. ^ Cynthia Griffin Wolff tells us (as cited in Restuccia (404))[9] "In the first Donnée Book,". . ."'A Moment's Ornament' appears as the initial title of the novel." Wolff goes on to pinpoint a "pernicious form of femininity"—"femininity as the 'art of being'—as the subject of. . .'the House of Mirth'."
  4. ^ Louise Barnett (1989) analyzes The House of Mirth as a "speech act drama" and interprets high society as a fully realized character. She further posits that in this "speech act drama" the only language that exists is for social discourse dominated by the linguistic strategies of men, yielding no language for personal discourse. Thus, the "word that would have saved both Lily and Selden. . .remains unuttered and unutterable"(61)as cited in Killoran(34)[11]
  5. ^ Carol Singley defines "Old New York" society this way: "Wharton's family represented a class of American aristocrats made comfortable from inherited wealth, steeped in traditional values, and well practiced in patterns of ritualized behavior. Members of her society socialized with one another and shunned the ostentation of the nouveau riche, who after the Civil War were making their way into the ranks of Old New York."(5)[12]
  6. ^ Ironically, critics in the '20s and '30s criticized Wharton precisely because of her wealth and pedigree as a member of "old money" Manhattan. They reasoned that "such a woman could not understand the average working person. . . ." and that "[Wharton's] upper-class characters. . .constituted too narrow a subject matter. . . ." to be of any importance to the real world. (3)[11]
  7. ^ Rosedale tells her that he knows of no dress-makers in the Benedick and adds,"Yes. [ Benedick ] that's the name [of the building]; I believe it's an old word for bachelor, isn't it"(35)?[1]
  8. ^ In an attempt to free herself from the socially prescribed narrative of marriage she seeks Selden's cooperation to create a new social narrative[15] saying, ". . .sometimes I have fancied you might be that friend—I don't know why, except that you are neither a prig nor a bounder" (30)[1]
  9. ^ the portrait shows "a woman in profile with her hair piled high, carving her husband's name on a tree and dressed in an ivory robe that looks diaphanously loose and provocatively clinging at once."[17]
  10. ^ Wharton describes the impression Lily's pose has on Selden as "divested of the trivialities of her little world, and catching for a moment a note of that eternal harmony of which her beauty was a part.(139)"[1]
  11. ^ "Lily's artistic skill has been entirely focused on reading this theatrical effect—a gorgeous, static, utterly silent rendition of self. Paradoxically, it is here Selden finally supposes that he has glimpsed the real Lily Bart and that he might love her. Yet, it is also here that Lily despairs of realizing true comradeship. The very terms of her success have revealed the impossibility of concocting a new narrative with Selden. She no longer even asks for friendship but instead sadly inquires, 'Why can't we be friends? You promised once to help me' "(22).[15]
  12. ^ Lily skillfully says, "But I should be selfish and ungrateful if I made [carelessness about money and worry about bills] a reason for accepting all you offer, with no better return to make than the desire to be free of my anxieties. You must give me time—time to think of your kindness—and of what I can give you in return for it—" (176)[1]
  13. ^ Jeffrey Myers tells us, "Lily Bart's surname means 'beard' in German; and in English 'to beard' means 'to defy' and 'to oppose boldly.' Though Lily defies social conventions, her first name is the Virgin Mary's symbol of purity and innocence . . . ." (XXIII)[3]
  14. ^ Singley reports that Edith Wharton's mother, Lucretia Rhinelander Jones, had such high social aspirations, it gave rise to the expression "keeping up with the Joneses."[4]
  15. ^ Lily muses as she reflects on her social constraints compared to Selden's freedom, "How alluring the world outside the [great gilt] cage appeared as she heard its door clang on her! In reality, as she knew, the door never clanged: it stood always open; but most of the captives were like flies in a bottle, and having once flown in, could never regain their freedom. It was Selden's distinction that he had never forgotten the way out." (70)[1]

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