Archive for May, 2010


If You Know What I Mean…

May 28, 2010

Whoa, two posts to my last one. I guess that means I’ve been taking to long to cogitate on the happenings of Lily Bart, Lawrence Selden and those other wacky denizens of The House of Mirth. My humble apologies.

And my humble apologies to you, dear reader. For by my lack of posting you were forced to read my brother’s unexpected  explication of Hoosiers. (Did you really summarize the plot of Hoosiers as “this tale of a spinster woman’s last chance at love (and some basketball)”???) Nine out of ten people who see that movie don’t even realize that Barbara Hershey is in that movie. It’s all lay-up drills and Hinkle Fieldhouse.

But having said that, interrupting a press conference is always bad form. That’s why I’ve always had such conflicted feelings about Notting Hill. (C’mon, Hugh Grant, that was neither the time, nor the place.)

In fact, I’ve noticed this blatant disregard for press room etiquetteas a common trope in movies. If anyone is looking for a good media studies thesis topic might I suggest a paper with the title of “Stop the Presses!: Hollywood’s Presentation and Misrepresentation of the Press” But that’s neither here nor there, back to the book…

Anyhoo–I can’t help but agree with you about Lily Bart’s relationship with Mr. Trenor. There’s definitely a bit of the “if you know what I mean–nudge, nudge, wink, wink” about their relationship. I think Lily might be doing a bit more than laughing at his jokes and confiding in his good nature.

Also, am I the only one who is a more than a bit suspicious of Trenor’s ability to magically multiply money on rampant stock market speculation? If the recent stories of Ponzi schemes and ill effects of stock market speculation are any indication this is not going to end well for Lily.

But I guess, I should actually read the and stop my own version of speculation.




May 27, 2010

Have you seen this movie Hoosiers?  I watched it last night and I was kind of fascinated by this character played by Barbara Hershey, Myra Fleener (definitely a great character name on a par with Gerty Farish and Cressida Raith).  This character spends the first three-fourths of the movie being cold to Gene Hackman’s Coach Norman Dale (except for when she doesn’t divulge her knowledge of his past coaching malfeasance with teary eyes — why was she crying?) and then they go on a single date and the next thing you know she’s interrupting a press conference (inappropriate!) to find out whether or not he plans to stay in Hickory (way to play your cards close to the chest).

Do you have any insight into this character?  Does anyone?  Please share.

The whole movie was kind of odd…the team went from being ramshackle to all-star with very little drama.  Like five seconds of line drills solved the years of mismanagement.  You should see it and let me know what you think.

But anyway you may be questioning what all of this has to with The House of Mirth. Honestly–nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  Except that I meant to post last night and instead got drawn into this tale of a spinster woman’s last chance at love (and some basketball) and found myself filled with questions.

But I’ve also been reading my Wharton and now I’m in need of some cultural Babblefish.  Would Gus Trenor and Lily Bart’s relationship translate into an affair if the novel were written in modern times?  Could Wharton’s readers connect the implicit dots or is my jaded and cynical mind connecting dots that don’t exist.

Here’s Wharton’s description of the relationship:

She found it reassuringly easy to keep Trenor in good humour.  To listen to his stories, to receive his confidences and laugh at his jokes, seemed for the moment all that was required of her, and the complacency with which her hostess regarded these attentions freed them of the least hint of ambiguity.  Mrs. Trenor evidently assumed that Lily’s growing intimacy with her was husband was simply and indirect way of returning her own kindness.

So they’re just friends?  For some reason I don’t think it’s only his “confidences” that she’s “receiving” (note that while typing this I’m raising and lowering my eyebrows in a lascivious manner).

Here are some other recent favorites in the book.

  • The fact that Gerty and Selden “now and then…do a play together.”  This week Love Letters.  Next week The Gin Game!
  • Lily’s dissatisfaction with one millionaire family marrying into another–such a waste!”Why should Percy Gryce’s millions be joined to another great fortune”?  Doesn’t he realize there are all these (relatively) poor, young pretty girls just waiting for a rich husband.

Well that’s all I got.  Until next time,




May 20, 2010

Let me act as Babblefish for this early 20th Century excuse-making that you mention in your last post.  If House of Mirth were taking place in modern times Selden’s admittedly lame blatherings:

To keep a kind of republic of the spirit–that’s what I call success.

Would probably sound a little something like this:

Lil I think you’re great but I dig dudes.  C’mon I think Glee is on!

Selden can’t give Lily the love she wants because Selden can’t give Lily the love she wants (if you know what I mean…notice how I repeated the exact same sentence only in italics.)

For more proof let’s read further and learn more about this “republic”

“Ah, then I ‘m [sic] afraid we can’t let you into the republic.” (Selden)

“Why not?  Is it a celibate order?” (Lily)

“Not in the least, though I ‘m bound to say there are not many married people in it.” (Selden)

So there’s sex being had…but marriage is not an option. Selden is gay.

That and in my introduction by Mary Gordon, she refers to Selden as “the Jamesian bachelor” — enough said.

I’ve read a little more — Lily’s trying to find a way back into the heart of Gryce (I think) via Mr. Trenor (what is it about this woman and train stations?  I hope these aren’t some Anna Karenina style harbingers).  And we’ve found out that Rosedale represents new money striving to join the ranks of the New York old money aristocracy.

Here’s hoping for more mirth!



Oh, He’s Playing the Ol’ “Republic of the Spirit” Card

May 17, 2010

I have to say your last post (if you remember it, it has been some time since I’ve had a chance to read and ponder the finer points of House of Mirth) was extremely apt. In it you, well you bastardized, the fine rhyme and rhythm of Iowa’s very own Meredith Willson.

This was apt not because the score of The Music Man is metaphorically or stylistically tied to HOM (although, for reasons I cannot explain “Shipoopi” runs through my head every time I read about Lily Bart’s shenanigans, but I think that’s just me), but because the reason I have been so long in posting was because I was on a little Iowa vacation.

But today, while I was traveling back, I decided to dig back into the goings on at Bellomont and see what Lily Bart and Lawrence Selden where up to. Sadly, I found out, not a lot. Selden blathers on about his “republic of the spirit.” He said “personal freedom blah, blah, blah” but what I hear was “Look at me hit on Lily Bart–And she thought Percy Gryce was boring?!? Note to self: Do not mention my new piece of Americana.”

So, I am confused. Is Selden supposed to be more rebellious and “dangerous” than Percy Gryce? Because at this point I have to admit, I think they’re both kind of lame.

I think Lily Bart could do much, much better.



With A Capital T

May 6, 2010

Dear Twin

I am ever so glad that you address the rampant bridge addiction that we see displayed in this novel…and propose ways to combat it. I keep expecting to see Gwen Van Osburgh, Percy Gryce and Lady Cressida grab hands and join in a circle dance as they sing:

Trouble, oh we got trouble,
Right here in New York City!
With a capital “T”
That rhymes with “B”
And that stands for Bridge,
That stands for bridge.
We’ve surely got trouble!

Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble…

I’ve seen, I don’t know how many, bright-eyed rosy-cheeked youngsters enter a bridge party with a spring in their step, optimistic and filled with derring-do only to see them leave, sallow, sunken-eyed and shiftless muttering about the “luck of the flop” and “the hippopotamus contract”.

And then the next thing you know their walls are covered with posters of Omar Sharif and that youngster you once knew is a complete stranger.

Or maybe I’m just jealous because the bridge portion of the puzzle section of the newspaper always left me scratching my head.

And don’t get me started on the Jumble! Or should I say “don’t get me started on the blumje”? (Trick question: of course I shouldn’t because I’d never understand what that means–mujelb? umblej? Aaah!)

As you saw above I quoted (and riffed quite successfully, if I do say so myself) Iowa’s favorite “Music Man”–Meredith Wilson. This post has me thinking of a possible musical adaptation for Wharton’s novel. So far the working title is Mirth! Or Lily B! Some songs in progress are “Let Me Tell You (About my Americana Collection)” and “Rosedale’s Song (The Douchebag’s Lament)”* I’ll keep you posted as progress is made.

I’ve been reading more but the progress of the story seems to be just more of Lily ricocheting between immense happiness about landing Gryce and joining the ranks of high society and despair…at landing Gryce and joining the ranks of high society. “I’m rich–yay!” “They’re boring–sob!”

I’m over it.

And now Lily’s spending lots of alone time with that man’s man (wink, wink) Selden–and I’m guessing that that will come back to bite her in the bottom.

Well I’m off to make more Mirth.

*I should note that thus far I don’t have a lot of concrete evidence to prove that Rosedale is going to turn out to be a douchebag…Call it a gut feeling.


PSA: Bridge to Nowhere

May 2, 2010

I agree, in the annals of unfortunate names of literary character, Mrs. Peniston has to rank right up there. I am just glad that Edith Wharton took the high road and had the good judgement to never describe Mrs. Peniston as “upright,” “rigid,” or (even worse?) “soft and mushy.” If she, had my giggles would have been unstoppable.

Lucky for us all, Edith Wharton had some self control.

One thing I couldn’t help noticing that you failed to mention in your recent summaries of Chapters 3 and 4 was the social addiction that was ravaging Wharton’s New York. That’s right Twin Brother, I am talking about the insidious dangers of that four handed demon: Bridge.

Here’s Lily’s attempt to resist the charms of the game: “For a long time she had refused to play bridge. She knew she could not afford it, and she was afraid of acquiring so expensive a taste.”

Suddenly I had the PSA’s of my childhood running through my head. Such classics service announcements as this:

And this piece of muckraking sitcom-ery:

I started envisioning my own late 19th century public service announcement for Bridge:

We open on seedy room, the gaslights dimly lit. Four unfortunate souls sit around a table. All red-eyed, bedraggled as they have given up on all else in life if it does not serve their demanding mistress: Lady Bridge. As the camera pans around the table we pause on a young man who appears older than his years sitting across from an attractive woman whose eyes meet across the table and in voiceover we hear these words from The House of Mirth:

“Ned’s case was familiar to Lily: She had seen his charming eyes–which had a good deal more poetry in them than the sonnets–change from surprise to amusement, and from amusement to anxiety, as he passed under the spell of the terrible god of chance; and she was afraid of discovering the same symptoms in her own case.”

The young woman jumps up and overturns the table while crying out: There’s so much to live for! What about sestinas? Epic? For the love of all that is good, even free verse!”

As the young woman storms out a voiceover comes in: “Next time it”s your turn to bid, will you pass?”

It’s still a bit rough, but what do you think?