House of Mirth - The Nature of Nature Essay

House of Mirth - The Nature of Nature Essay

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House of Mirth  - The Nature of Nature

  Nature, whether in the form of the arctic tundra of the North Pole or the busy street-life of Manhattan, was viewed by Naturalist writers as a phenomena which necessarily challenged individual survival; a phenomena, moreover, which operated on Darwin's maxim of the "survival of the fittest." This contrasted sharply with the Romantic view, which worshipped Nature for its beauty, beneficence and self-liberating powers. In Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, Lily Bart attempts to "survive" within the urbane "drawing-room" society she inhabits. Although Selden uses Romantic nature imagery to describe Lily, throughout the novel such Romantic imagery and its accompanying meanings are continually subverted. By simply invoking different understandings and views of "Nature," Wharton demonstrates that not only is Lily's ability to "adapt" to various environments isn't necessarily salutary, but also that flower imagery, used in an ironic fashion, captures perfectly Lily's need for "climates of luxury." It is Wharton's image of a "hot-house," however, which ultimately captures the ambiguous nature of what, to Wharton, truly is Nature.


Lily, although a city-dweller, is described by Selden as one who is intimately connected with a benevolent, life-giving Nature. He exclaims, "The attitude revealed the long slope of her slender sides, which gave a kind of wild-wood grace to her outline- as though she were a captured dryad subdued to the conventions of the drawing-room" (13). Selden's notion of Lily's "sylvan freedom" and her interconnectedness to all things "natural" is echoed later in the novel, when Lily is either described as, or compared to, a "rose," (167) an ...

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...entury Literature 44.4 (1998): 409-27.

Howard, Maureen.  "On The House of Mirth."  Raritan 15 (1996): 23 pp.  28 Oct. 2002  <>.

Howe, Irving.  Edith Wharton, a Collection of Critical Essays.  Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962.

Lindberg, Gary H.  Edith Wharton and the Novel of Manners.  Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975.

Lyde, Marilyn Jones.  Edith Wharton, Convention and Morality in the Work of a Novelist.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1959.

Miller, Mandy.  Edith Wharton Page.  19 Nov. 2002    <>.

Pizer, Donald.  "The Naturalism of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth."  Twentieth Century Literature 41.2          (1995): 241-8.

Wharton, Edith. The House of Mirth. (1905) New York: Signet,. 1998.

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