Oh goodness, sorry everyone! While I was initially ahead, now I’m running a bit behind with housing renos gone wrong, and time spent helping friends who are having some health problems. I’m planning to catch right up this weekend! Okay, here is week two:
While we are given a picture of the habits of church-going being attended to at Bellomont with no one actually going, Lily convinces Percy, with a number of prevarications and untruths, that she attends and also that her bridge-playing the night before was something out of the ordinary. Yet while Lily continues her machinations to land Percy as a perspective husband, her thoughts are on Lawrence Selden. Suddenly, as if a gilded film has been removed from her eyes, she sees society in all its false shallowness and hypocrisy. “That very afternoon they had seemed full of brilliant qualities; now she saw that they were merely dull in a loud way …. the vacuous routine of the life she had chosen stretched before her like a long white road without dip or turning …”
However, while she does plan to go to church, she misses the conveyance to the disappointment of Percy Gryce. Lily finds Selden with Mrs. Dorset in the library and fields the woman’s jealousy with claims of the intention of going to church in spite of missing the carriage. Setting off to walk there, her thoughts of Selden and the reason for his presence at Bellomont caused an introspection which slowed her walk and eventually she sat to think. “She hardly knew what she had been seeking, or why the failure to find it had so blotted the light from her sky: she was only aware of a vague sense of failure, of an inner isolation deeper than the loneliness about her.” Selden, who had followed her, catches up, and Lily attempts to tease his jealousy by alluding to a meeting with Gryce. They banter until the church party, walking back to Bellomont, comes upon them.
Later, Lily manages to maneuver a walk alone with Selden and we are treated to more of Wharton’s lovely setting descriptions:
“In the woody hollows of the park there was already a faint chill; but as the ground rose the air grew lighter, and ascending the slong slopes beyond the high-road, Lily and her companion reached a zone of lingering summer. The path wound across a meadow with scattered trees; then it dipped into a lane plumed with asters and purpling sprays of bramble, whence, through the light quiver of ash-leaves, the country unrolled itself in pastoral distances.”
Selden describes to her his “republic of spirit” and Lily is entralled:
“My idea of success … is personal freedom …. (freedom) From everything — from money, from poverty, from ease and anxiety, from all the material accidents. To keep a kind of republic of spirit — that’s what I call success.”
They engage in a very deep discussion of society and money and if there is any value in the pursuit of it. He becomes more attracted to Lily as their conversation builds, as he tries to explain the freedom he covets and if she can be part of his “republic”. When Lily asks if he wants to marry her, Selden responds in the negative but says he will if she will. However, nothing comes of it and they start back to Bellomont.
It appears that because Lily has monopolized Selden that Bertha Dorset has poisoned Percy Gryce against her with gossip and he has left to return to his mother. Judy Trenor scolds Lily for her behaviour but Lily treats this catastrophe rather flippantly. Again, she seems to vacillate, first of all not realizing her miscalculation with getting distracted by Selden and therefore perhaps losing her chance at marriage to Gryce, however by luncheon, her folly had hit her: “Mrs. Dorset’s pin-pricks did not smart, for her own irony, cut deeper: no one could hurt her as much as she was hurting herself, for no one else — not even Judy Trenor — knew the full magnitude of her folly.” Musing on the unfairness of her not being able to borrow money from a male relative without being looked down upon, and Carry Fisher being able to borrow from men friends just because she is married, Lily decides to visit her aunt at Richfield to avoid any more debts, but first picks up Gus Trenor at the station who gives her an idea that she runs with: Lily asks Gus to help her invest in the stock market and, with a feeling of appreciation at her desperate situation, he agrees to help her.
Lily’s investments initially pay off and while she does pay her bills, she incurs more, anticipating that her luck has turned. Her cousin, Jack Stepney, marries Miss Van Osburgh and to Lily’s shock, she learns at the wedding that Percy Gryce is angling after the rather dumpy Evie Van Osburgh as a bride. She must abide the advances of Gus Trenor who is getting more familiar as he acts as her financial advisor, and is disconcerted to run into Selden at the wedding but their conversation is cut short as Trenor attempts to introduce her to Simon Rosedale. Lily is taken aback and, repulsed at engaging Rosedale, offends him, whereupon he mentions her visit to the Benedick. Realizing her only option is to be nice to him, she tries to recover his approval and initially her response appears to pay off. Yet her thoughts turn to Percy and confident she can win him back, she goes in search of him, only to discover that he is already engaged.
Staying at the home of her aunt, Lily is rather bored but finds that she has fewer invitations than normal, wondering if people are becoming bored with her. Yet suddenly the char-woman from the Benedick appears at the door asking to see her and Lily discovers that she is offering for sale love letters that seem to have passed between Lawrence Selden and Bertha Dorset. Disgusted at the lowness of the encounter and its subject, she intends to destroy the letters after purchasing them, but when her aunt arrives home with news of Percy Gryce and Evie van Osburgh’s engagement which was orchestrated by Bertha Dorset, and hears of some of the ridicule directed at her with regard to Percy, she decides to keep the letters, presumably to enact some vengeance on Bertha Dorset.
Did anyone else find the first sentences of Chapter V rather alarming?
“The observance of Sunday at Bellomont was chiefly marked by the punctual appearance fo the smart omnibus destined to convey the household to the little church at the gates. Whether any one go into the omnibus or not was a matter of secondary importance, since by standing there it not only bore witness to the orthodox intentions of the family, but made Mrs. Trenor feel, when she finally heard it drive away, that she had somehow vicarious made use of it.”
Everything in this society is based on appearance (and often delusion) and reality does not enter into it at all. It’s like living in the Twilight Zone.
Lily appears to latch onto Selden not only because of his “republic of the spirit” where he is able to escape the stifling expectations of upper society, but because at the depth of her psyche she really does not wish to marry Percy Gryce even if their marriage would secure her financial independence and ensure her a stability within society.
Goodness, it’s appalling that George Dorset could look on his wife’s affairs and joke, but more that she conducted them in public and everyone simply took it as a matter of course. The irony of the situation is that Lily and George Dorset speak of the affair/flirtation and then next proceeed to discuss melted butter. The contrast effectively weaves into the tapestry of Wharton’s condemnation of this society.
I’m attracted by the humanness in Lily but also to the complexity of her character. While there’s a selfishness within her and sometimes a desire to triumph over others even at their expense, there’s also a vulnerability, a softness, along with an intelligence, a tentative desire to examine life and search for a higher purpose. These characteristics alone estrange her from the society she moves in and contribute to an isolation that is not fully realized yet.
Ah, here we are introduced to a number of weaknesses in Lily’s character:
“Her intentions in short had never been more definite; but poor Lily, for all the hard glaze of her exterior, was inwardly as malleable as wax. Her faculty for adapting herself, for entering into other people’s feelings, if it served her now and then in small contingencies, hampered her in the decisive moments of life. She was like a water-plant in the flux of the tides ….”
When we see Lily’s actions in this section, is anyone reminded of lemmings running towards the edge of a cliff? She makes one bad decision after another and even though there are signals that things might go wonky, she blindly makes excuses and keeps going on a precarious path. Is this more of her idealism showing through? Or is it a willful blindness that is bordering on childishness?
Did you find Lily’s sudden, yet intense change of perception of the society she frequents believable? Was it too sudden upon the arrival of Selden or were there clues to its appearance?
Is Lily feeling love for Selden? Or are her feelings merely rising with the freedom he represents, a type of freedom that money can’t buy, that inwardly she longs for?
At the beginning of Chapter VI there is this quote: “Lily had no real intimacy with nature, but she had a passion for the appropriate and could be keenly sensitive to a scene which was the fitting background of her own sensations.” What do you think this quote implies about Lily’s character?
What do you think about Selden’s “republic of the spirit”? Is there an idealism to it that can never be realized? Do you see any weaknesses in it?
Lily accuses Seldon thus: “Then the best you can say for me is, that after struggling to get them I probably shan’t like them?” Do you think , if Lily can achieve monetary comfort, that she will be happy and content?
“They (the Wetheralls) belonged to the vast group of human automata who go through life without neglecting to perform a single one of the gestures executed by the surrounding puppets.”
“Her intentions in short had never been more definite; but poor Lily, of all the hard glaze of her exterior, was inwardly as malleable as wax. Her faculty for adapting herself, for entering into other people’s feelings, if it served her now and then in small contingencies, hampered her in the decisive moments of life. she was like a water-plant in the flux of the tides …..”
” … she was not accustomed to taste the joys of solitude except in company ..”
“Don’t you think,” she rejoined after a moment, “that the people who find fault with society are too apt to regard it as an end and not a mean, just as the people who despise money speak as if its only use were to be kept in bags and gloated over? Isn’t it fairer to look at them both as opportunities, which may be used either stupidly or intelligently, according to the capacity of the user?”
Seldon answered her with a shrug. “Why do we call all our generous ideas illusions, and the mean ones truths? ….”