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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“My idea of success,” he said, “is personal freedom.” 

“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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