House of Mirth a House of Love, Scruples, or Selfishness?

January 10, 2012 at 4:38 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: The House of Mirth

Gillian Anderson in the 2000 Major Motion Picture of The House of Mirth

Author: Edith Wharton

Publisher: Barnes & Noble

Genre: Classic Literature

Length: 277 pages

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My all time favorite questions when reading literature are: What is this character’s perception of love? What is the author telling us their own view of love is? And after reading this how do you view love? To quote Moulin Rouge: “Always this ridiculous obsession with love!” But it drives so much, and please forgive the pun, it is truly at the heart of every matter. So in reading The House of Mirth, my driving questions throughout the book have been: What is Lily Bart’s perception of love? What is Wharton trying to tell me about her own worldview concerning love?

Truth be told, I’m not sure what the answer is. She and Selden seem to have this constrained but meant-to-be-doomed-so-impossible love affair. “Ah, love me, love me—but don’t tell me so “? she tells him. She refuses Rosedale and all his money because she doesn’t love him. A lesson in morality from the beautiful Lily Bart? I’d say yes, except that she doesn’t run into the sunset with Selden when offered because he can’t support her lifestyle and she also seems to enjoy stringing Rosedale along, “the first sincere words she had ever spoken to him” not being voiced until very near the end of the book. So what is it Miss Bart? Money or love?

In the end, I have to say I think Lily is truly attempting to stand her moral ground but endlessly falls short via her own selfishness. Wharton would have you believe that this is an early stage of love, as she described Selden’s “impassioned self-absorption that the first surrender to love produces.” However, by the definition taught to me, selfishness is the direct opposite of love. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 tells us,

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Neither Lily nor Selden seem to manage to maintain, much less attempt, these characteristics.

The dichotomy of Lily Bart is a fascinating one, probably one of the many reasons this book has been deemed a classic. One essayist wrote: “Lily’s distinction lies precisely in her ability to transcend such crude ambitions” as using her beauty to marry for money (Lahoucine Ouzgane). Wharton herself writes,

And was it her fault that the purely decorative mission is less easily and harmoniously fulfilled among social beings than in the world of nature? That it is apt to be hampered by material necessities or complicated by moral scruples?

Many believe this to be a tragic love triangle between Selden, Lily, and the nature of capitalism. Some people believe the work is Wharton making a statement about love, the nature of her own marriage, and the internal struggles she herself felt during the age. But what is The House of Mirth to you? Read it and find out. No matter what you discover of Lily, you won’t regret the experience, Wharton’s prose is lovely.

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Conspicuous Consumption by Thorstein Veblen – Lost in “Education”

June 27, 2010 at 5:52 pm (In So Many Words, Reviews, The Whim) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Veblen was a famous sociologist and economist in his day (roughly turn of the century, writing his most well-known essay in 1899).  He even had his own movement! (Institutional Economics Movement).  Whether someone agrees or disagrees with his theories and how the world should be, there is no doubt about the fact that his observations on how the world is, carries a stunning amount of accuracy.

Why did we never read this for school?  The relevancy is uncanny.  The way the times haven’t changed is disturbing.  I am definitely adding this to my required reading list for when I home school my child.

This book in reality is a 100 page essay or so, not long in the slightest and should take the reader a mere hour or two to digest and properly process (depending on the reader).  What I plan to have my child address when I require this to be read are the following questions (and I’d like to know what you guys think too, if you’ve read this):

How do Veblen’s ideas tie into Darwin’s evolutionary theories?

How do they interact with Marxism and Capitalism?

How are his ideas relevant today?

How are the leisure class and ownership related, according to Veblen?  What are the roots of conventional ownership and of marriage?  Consider contemporary phrases like “trophy wife.”  (How does this affect gender roles?)

Veblen sees “emulation” as a key feature of social life in “predatory societies.”  How do the patterns of emulation change as predatory societies change?

What fundamental criticism does Veblen make of standard economics?

I actually have quite a few more that I have borrowed from other sites, essay questions and discussions to be had are all noted in a journal I am keeping of projects and assignments to remember.  My point in posting the blog today, however, is this:

How did something so famous, so moving and so relevant – something Penguin even published in their Great Ideas series – get neglected in my own education?  Not just high school with basic history, social studies, and economics, but also in college when half my life was filled with economic theory and consumer behavior as I earned a Marketing degree?  I am realizing more and more the importance of not just reading about movements and theories, not just getting summaries from textbooks, but reading the original documents!  How can your education be complete without going back to what started the ideas in the first place?  How can you presume to know anything about anything if all your information comes from a summary in a textbook and you’ve never even heard of the essay that initiated the need for that summary?

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