The final irony may be that readers remain speculative about Lily Bart.
The distant, sometimes witty narrator withholds clear judgment. Until her final weeks, she is consistently unable to choose between an immoral life of wealth and a rebellious life of morality and intellect, and the waffling costs her everything.
As a single woman, she is at the bottom of this social hierarchy and Bertha is believed because she is more influential as a married wealthy woman.
Lily has the opportunity to clear her name and gain revenge, but integrity and a certain element of guilt (at trying to distract Dorset from his wife’s affair) stop her from using the little power she has at her disposal. Analyze the depiction of marriage and female sexuality.
Describe Lily and make references to her background, ambitions and personal values.
Lily’s childhood is described as opulent, but this comes to an end when her father tells her and her mother that they are ruined.
As a woman in a rarified subculture, she has no opportunity to experience other ways of life and of thinking. It is a culture of speculation, in which money determines value and morality is confined to appearances.
Wharton’s scathing critique of this social world did not make her well-loved in it, and it should not be surprising that after this novel’s immense success she chose to leave New York to live in Europe.
Beneath the desire for spending, she cannot bear to be indebted to Trenor and although she knows she must marry a wealthy man to maintain the life she wants, she sabotages her own attempts at ensnaring Gryce. Consider how the elite of society are represented in this novel and make references to the title.
As Victoria Glendinning explains in her Introduction (: 1993), the title is taken from Ecclesiastes: ‘The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth’.