Sunday, 6 September 2009

64 - 'The House of Mirth' by Edith Wharton

Some days, I feel just like Lily Bart.

OK, I sense that there may be a little scepticism out there in Bloggerland, so I will try to explain my ideas a little more clearly (I'm not promising that I'll succeed though). The way in which I feel my life is comparable to the tragic heroine of Edith Wharton's classic novel, 'The House of Mirth', is that... well, I mean... what I'm trying to say is... Hmm. This isn't working too well. let's go back to the start.

Lily Bart - who is a woman approaching the age of thirty in turn of the (twentieth) century New York at the start of this book, and definitely not a thirty-something book-reviewing hack living in the outskirts of Melbourne - has a problem, an unsolvable, unmanageable problem which is threatening to ruin her life. Born into, and a bright star of, New York's high society, Lily does not possess the independent means to allow her to continue her life in the rarefied air of this social stratosphere and, therefore, needs to use her considerable feminine wiles to snare a rich husband who will provide her with the status, and the money, to enable her to continue living in the way to which she has become accustomed.

Lily has the beauty, and the intelligence, to pull off this seemingly minor feat; however, she also possesses something more, a sense that there is more to life than the 'gilded cage' in which she and her acquaintances spend their endless rotations between the city and the country estates of the rich and famous. Frequently, on the cusp of persuading some rich gentleman to make a proposal, Lily's better nature causes her to shy away at the last minute, and the gentleman retreats, licking his wounds, until another bright young thing comes to... mend his broken heart (what did you think I was going to say?!).

As the years pass by, these opportunities become more scarce, and Lily, despite the brightness of her star, begins to slowly fall from the social orbit in which she has been travelling. A chance meeting with Lawrence Selden, a young man who, although part of the same social group, knows his way back out of its golden residence, hastens her spin away from her path towards happiness. The problem is that she does not have the necessary desire to wrench herself from the pull of high society's gravitational field once and for all and thus falls into a gap between the two conflicting styles of life (one probably inhabited by as many mixed metaphors as the previous couple of paragraphs).

I won't say how it continues from there ('there' actually being a very short way into the book...), but I would heartily recommend this book to anyone who likes good literature, and especially to anyone who thinks that Jane Austen's heroines can be a bit weak and insipid at times; you wouldn't catch Emma or Elizabeth behaving like Lily does.

Oh yes, me and Lily Bart. I think I can see an angle now (fittingly enough, an obtuse one). You see, I have devoted large parts of my time this year to my blogging, to the extent that my wife raises her eyebrow rather pointedly whenever she notices me logged on to the site (it may not sound much, but married men everywhere will understand the significance). I am doing my best to make my blog shine among the millions of other book blogs and carrying out all the manifest duties of the assiduous book blogger, including linking to other blogs, joining challenges and commenting on other people's posts. And yet...

... it all seems, well, a bit try-hard. I know that quality of writing is not everything and that a lot of leg-work is required if you are to attract the attention you want, but I am in the unfortunate situation of wanting the love and admiration (and the millions of comments and followers that certain other blogs have), yet unwilling to take the final step towards making a real effort. Like Lily, I shy at the final hurdle, having done most of the hard work, but pulling away from turning myself from the gentleman amateur blogger I currently am into the hard-nosed, advertisement-revenue-seeking, freebie-requesting, award-receiving, million-blog-adding professional that other people are quite prepared to be. I would (secretly) like to be the Bertha Dorset of the Blogosphere, but I am actually doomed to be poor Lily.

Catharsis, a wonderful thing (and nothing to do with a sibling's chest infection). I have purged my bitter feelings and am now ready to continue serenely with my blogging life. I love you all.

I apologise: I am nothing like Lily Bart.