The House of Mirth (Anglais) CD – Livre audio, 29 octobre 2013
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Lily Bart is one of society's most eligible women, at the height of her powers, when the novel opens. Though she has little money, she has family connections, good breeding and the hope of coming into an inheritance. Beautiful and very charming, Lily has been brought up to be an ornament, as were most women of her class at that time. She is a gilded bird with a noble heart, but clearly she is not aware of the restrictions of her cage. Part of Lily's tragedy is that she does have character, spirit, and a conscience. However, she does not know how to align these attributes, with her ornamental avocation, and her ambitions to marry a wealthy man of good birth.
As expected, Lily is popular with both bachelors and married men. Most of the bachelors propose marriage at on time or another. The only man she has real affection for is her dear friend, Lawrence Seldon, a barrister, whose lack of income makes him entirely unsuitable as a husband. Lily had developed a gambling habit to support her lifestyle, and supplement her allowance. An unfortunate losing streak has put her into debt. In her naivete, she forms an unsavory business alliance with a married man. Later, she is unjustly accused of having an affair with him and their business arrangement also come to light.
Her family cuts her off without a penny. Society friends and connections reject their former darling, trying to extricate themselves from any repercussions Lily's indiscreet behavior may have on their reputations. Former friends turn vicious. The irony is that Lily has never committed any of the sins she is accused of. Several of her friends have, and frequently...but their sins are committed with the utmost discretion. Lily's crime is indiscretion. Her beaus disappear, as do her marriage prospects. The hypocrisy of her class becomes more apparent to her, as she searches for a means to survive, with all the familiar doors closed in her face.
Lily seeks employment as a seamstress in the New York City slums, and lives there also, in a humble room with no refinements. Having no formal training and no real ambition, (her ambivalence about work is obvious), she sinks into deep depression and begins to decline. Laudanum helps her to sleep, and she becomes dependent on the drug.
Lily's descent, from society's beautiful darling to a disheveled, desperate woman living in a shabby hotel room, addicted to drugs, is disturbing reading, to say the least. Her decline seems inevitable, especially after we read of her many poor and self-destructive decisions. She seems to sabotage herself. However, Lily Bart is ultimately the victim of a cruel society that sacrifices anyone who does not conform to its expectations.
After reading "House Of Mirth," for the first time several years ago, Lily's character has remained clear in my mind. I think of her from time to time with great poignance and a sense of personal loss.
Lily Bart, a beautiful young woman of good family whose father lost everything when she was only nineteen, is left dependent on wealthy relatives in this society until she can charm a financially secure suitor into marriage. At age twenty-nine, she is no longer a debutante, and the pressure is mounting for her to marry, though she lacks the unlimited financial resources of social rivals. Still, her wit and charm make her a delightful companion, and she is never at a loss for suitors. Intelligent enough to want a real marriage and not just a merger between families, she has resisted making a commitment to date, though the clock is ticking.
As Lily tries to negotiate a good marriage and future for herself, she is aware that the competition is fierce. Women "friends" pounce on the latest gossip and spread rumors to discredit rivals, and Lily's reputation is tainted with hints of impropriety. Her opportunities for a good marriage begin to dwindle, and when her aunt, Mrs. Peniston, dies and leaves her a bequest that covers only her debts, Lily is no longer able to compete in the society so attractive to her and begins her downward spiral.
Wharton creates a complete picture of turn-of-the-century New York society and its "important" people--their lack of scruples, their opportunism, their manipulations, and their smug self-importance, characteristics one may also see in Lily when she is part of this society, though there is a limit on how far she will stoop. But Wharton also shows how quickly a woman may become an outcast when the money runs out and she is thrown on her own resources without any training for any other kind of life. A well-developed melodrama filled with revealing details, this novel established Wharton's reputation as a novelist/commentator on the manners and morals of high society and those who would participate in it. n Mary Whipple
Lily Bart was orphaned many years ago, and her family had been financially ruined before that. However, she is accustomed to beautiful things and wants to continue to live at the top level of society. Unfortunately, her heart and soul long for more than these creature comforts. She yearns for excitement, intellectual and emotional honesty and probably true love, although she is confused about that. As she has gotten towards her late 20s, her prospects are dwindling and the only person who has the resources to support her and is already a part of polite society is Percy Gryce, a singularly boring man.
Lily rebels against Gryce just as she is about to marry him when she has a couple of heartfelt conversations with Lawrence Selden, a person she decides she might love, but who makes clear that he is not rich enough to support her as well as she should be supported.
Her choices other than Gryce are slim. There is Simon Rosedale, who is portrayed as an upwardly mobile person and therefore undesirable. He is also Jewish, which Wharton never overtly says is a problem with him for Lily, but probably figures into Lily's calculus (Wharton mainly talks about his Jewishness in the context of saying that Rosedale is more patient and able to face disappointment than others in his position because of what his people have dealt with over the centuries).
I have to admit that, unlike Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence, it took me a while to get into this book. Perhaps, I picked up this book to read a story of Old New York and manners and was not ready for such an intense character study. But once I got to page 100, the last 250 pages went by in a flash. It is beautiful and eminently interesting. You will be interested in every twist in the story.
A couple of words of caution. If you buy this edition with the Anna Quindlen introduction, DON'T READ THE INTRODUCTION FIRST. It gives away too much in the first page--when I stopped reading it until after I finished--and the rest of the introduction gives away the rest of the plot. Finally, as with Jane Austen books, the actions of the male characters are often either inscrutable or irrational. It may be that men actually acted like this in the early 20th Century (or 19th for Austen). But I think it more likely that Wharton is misconstruing the male characters in ways that male authors almost always do with female characters. But this is a minor flaw, especially since Lily is so central to this book.