The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton
The House of Mirth Appearances Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Book.Chapter.Paragraph)
No insect hangs its nest on threads as frail as those which will sustain the weight of human vanity. (1.10.6)
Every once in a while we get a line like this in House of Mirth, one that clearly expresses Wharton's point of view. Her judgments are to be found scattered throughout the novel.
She was quite aware that she was of interest to dingy people, but she assumed that there is only one form of dinginess, and that admiration for brilliancy is the natural expression of its inferior state. She knew that Gerty Farish admired her blindly, and therefore supposed that she inspired the same sentiments in Grace Stepney, whom she classified as a Gerty Farish without the saving traits of youth and enthusiasm.
In reality, the two differed from each other as much as they differed from the object of their mutual contemplation. (1.11.46-7)
The problem with Lily objectifying herself all the time is that she assumes everyone else will do it, too. When someone like Grace treats her as a dangerous enemy instead of as a beautiful flower, Lily is unprepared to meet such animosity.
Tableaux vivants depend for their effect not only on the happy disposal of lights and the delusive interposition of layers of gauze, but on a corresponding adjustment of the mental vision. To unfurnished minds they remain, in spite of every enhancement of art, only a superior kind of wax-works; but to the responsive fancy they may give magic glimpses of the boundary world between fact and imagination. Selden's mind was of this order: he could yield to vision-making influences as completely as a child to the spell of a fairy-tale. (1.12.14)
This is not the only time that Selden is credited with some sort of other-worldly powers of perception. He is the only one who remembers the way out of the gilded cage of society, and of course there's his silent communication with Lily, particularly at the end of the novel when he discovers "the word" (see "What's Up With the Ending?" for a full discussion).