First, a September Bookclub Recap
House of Mirth #CocoBookClub was a blast! We missed those of you that weren’t able to join us (pretty much everyone…), but Julie and I had a great time! There are only a few things I love as much as talking about books, namely chocolate and cats, and I had both of those with me last night, so basically I had a perfect evening.
There will be many more perfect #CocoBookClub evenings to come, so never fear! Unless you’re afeard over our spooky selection for October! But before I announce our next novel, here’s a brief recap of last night’s #CocoBookClub.
SPOILERS AHEAD – SCROLL DOWN TO THE PICTURE OF OUR NEXT BOOK IF YOU HAVEN’T FINISHED HOUSE OF MIRTH YET
We began our discussion with some historical & biographical information about 1905 New York Society, the Newport Season, and Edith Wharton.
I went to Newport a few weeks ago and actually saw some of the charming “country-houses”.
Edith Wharton’s life has a lot of similarities to Lily Bart’s. The phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” is in reference to her family: her maiden name was “Jones.”
Wharton’s mother, Lucretia Jones, also bears resemblance to Mrs. Bart. Wharton once wrote that it was her mother’s “training” which “did more than anything to falsify & misdirect my whole life” (Life & I).
Julie & discussed gender roles & inequality, the piercing social commentary, and of course, our star-crossed lovers.
Some quotes that highlight our thoughts:
“Isn’t marriage your vocation? Isn’t it what you’re all brought up for?”
She sighed. “I suppose so. What else is there?”
“She had been bored all afternoon by Percy Gryce… but she could not ignore him on the morrow, she must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be ready with fresh compliances and adaptibilities, and all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honour of boring her for life.”
“What a miserable thing it is to be a woman.”
“And the other women—my best friends—well, they use me or abuse me; but they don’t care a straw what happens to me”
“You asked me just now for the truth—well, the truth about any girl is that once she’s talk about she’s done for; and the more she explains her case the worse it looks.”
We of course laughed about the tableaux vivants and drew comparisons to Gilmore Girls and the awkward performance scene in Vanity Fair.
We bemoaned Lily’s fate but concluded that she was ignorant of the implications of her business dealings with Gus Trenor. Our best piece of evidence? Wharton takes names very seriously, and Lily, like the flower, is symbolic of innocence, purity, and beauty.
One observation that rings true of The House of Mirth (and that we LOVE about Wharton) is that Wharton’s protagonists challenge social taboos, but are unable to overcome the barriers of social convention. Lily is not only a product of her surroundings…
“Her whole being dilated in an atmosphere of luxury. It was the background she required, the only climate she could breathe in.”
… She is also a victim. Lily died the moment she no longer fit in.
Selden believes this as well. He thinks: “She was so evidently the victim of the civilization which had produced her, that the links of her bracelet seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate.”
It would have been so easy for Wharton to have given Lily a happy ending. One honest conversation could have saved her. But what we admire about Wharton is that she is brave enough to remain true to characterization and to inflict the consequences of their choices. There really was no other way this novel could have ended.
Lastly, a quote to tug on your heartstrings:
“Selden was still looking at her, but with a changed eye. Hitherto he had found, in her presence and her talk, the aesthetic amusement which a reflective man is apt to seek in desultory intercourse with pretty women. His attitude had been one of admiring spectatorship, and he would have been almost sorry to detect in her any emotional weakness which should interfere with the fulfilment of her aims. But now the hint of this weakness had become the most interesting thing about her. He had come on her that morning in a moment of disarray; her face had been pale and altered, and the diminution of her beauty had lent her a poignant charm. THAT IS HOW SHE LOOKS WHEN SHE IS ALONE! had been his first thought; and the second was to note in her the change which his coming produced. It was the danger-point of their intercourse that he could not doubt the spontaneity of her liking. From whatever angle he viewed their dawning intimacy, he could not see it as part of her scheme of life; and to be the unforeseen element in a career so accurately planned was stimulating even to a man who had renounced sentimental experiments.”
I hope you’re as excited as we are for our next selection! Allow me to announce our October book club thriller… Frankenstein!
Join us for a haunting Halloween edition of #CocoBookClub on Thursday October 29th!
Kara Thiot (@karathiot) says
Here’s a question (perhaps THE question re: HoM) one of our fellow readers had & my response!
Sara: “Finally finished. What is the ‘word’ they both think of and never say?! It’s driving me crazy because it seems like it’s supposed to be obvious. …I did a quick google search earlier today, but I couldn’t find anything.”
Kara: “Yeah, that’s what I’m seeing, too. Like no one really knows. It’s all conjecture of what it could be: a word of love or understanding, or maybe an impression/feeling like rebirth. Maybe it’s not even a ‘word’ since at the end they speak in silence. Maybe it’s a meeting of souls – ‘hello’ and acknowledgement of their true selves / a casting off of societal expectations. They play word games and never hit at the truth when they speak to each other. It’s only in silence they come to a perfect knowledge.”