Study Guide

The House of Mirth Appearances

By Edith Wharton

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Beauty is an asset for main character Lily Bart, a 29-year-old woman on the hunt for a rich husband. If dating and marriage is akin to war, and courtship to a series of battle tactics, then beauty is a nuclear weapon, and Lily's got her finger on the button. She uses her looks to deflect accusation, to charm, to coerce, and to manipulate. Men fall all over themselves for the opportunity to simply look at Lily. Of course, the problem with such a viewpoint is objectification. Lily is treated as more of a thing than a person, and even views herself this way.

Questions About Appearances

  1. Compare the physical descriptions of Lily Bart, Gerty Farish, and Bertha Dorset. How are these women affected by the way that they look?
  2. Is it possible for Lily to be seen as beautiful and as a real person, rather than an object? Is her beauty an obstacle to being respected?
  3. Wharton reiterates over and over again that beauty isn't enough – Lily's tact and grace are needed to win her a rich husband. So, which is a better weapon for Lily in the dating battlefield: looks or charm?

Chew on This

Lily's beauty hurts her more than it helps her in House of Mirth.

Lily's beauty helps her more than it hurts her in House of Mirth.

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