Lily Bart is caught up in materialism.
The tragic heroine of The House of Mirth was raised to believe that success is to be measured solely by what one owns; social status; money; “making it.” It’s a lie of course.
In chapter six, there’s a brief sense of liberation when Selden offers a different view. Lily had had an inkling of it all along. Most of us feel the truth that way. A deep-down-inkling. His words (or Wharton’s words) are worth reflecting on. Worth living by actually…
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“Freedom? Freedom from worries?”
“From everything–from money, from poverty, from ease and anxiety, from all the material accidents. To keep a kind of republic of the spirit–that’s what I call success.”
She leaned forward with a responsive flash. “I know–I know–it’s strange; but that’s just what I’ve been feeling today.”
He met her eyes with the latent sweetness of his. “Is the feeling so rare with you?” he said.
She blushed a little under his gaze. “You think me horribly sordid, don’t you? But perhaps it’s rather that I never had any choice. There was no one, I mean, to tell me about the republic of the spirit.”
“There never is–it’s a country one has to find the way to one’s self.”
“But I should never have found my way there if you hadn’t told me.”
“Ah, there are sign-posts–but one has to know how to read them.”
– From Chapter 6, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
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