Sunday, July 7, 2013

Large Family Vision...The House of Mirth

I gobbled up Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence and loved it so much I thought I would have a go at The House of Mirth while I was on holiday in Virginia (yes...I just wrote holiday instead of vacation).

Pansies and popsicle wrappers

And towards the very solemn ending of the novel, I dog eared a page in my book I wanted to share with all of you (my Grandma Marilyn would have insisted I use a book mark...she abhors dog eared pages).  

I grew to love Miss Lily Bart very much as I read, but my heart tugged most with sympathy for her when I saw her reflecting on family and marriage.  The extravagant socialite Lily visited a very poor girl name Nettie and sitting in poor Nettie's kitchen brewed reflections within her...because you see...Nettie was very happy.

"It was no longer, however, from the vision of material poverty that she turned with the greatest shrinking.  She had a sense of  deeper impoverishment - of an inner destitution compared to which outward conditions dwindled into insignificance.  It was indeed miserable to be poor - to look forward to a shabby, anxious middle-age, leading by dreary degrees of economy and self-denial to gradual absorption in the dingy communal existence of the boarding house.  But there was something more miserable still - it was the clutch of solitude at her heart, the sense of being swept like a stray uprooted growth down the heedless current of years. 

That was the feeling that possessed her now - the feeling of being something rootless and ephemeral, mere spindrift on the whirling surface of existence, without anything to which the poor little tentacles of self could cling before the awful flood submerged them.  And as she looked back she saw that there had never been a time when she had had any real relation to life.  Her parents too had been rootless, blown hither and thither on every wind of fashion, without any personal existence to shelter them from its shifting gusts.

She herself had grown up without any spot of earth being dearer to her than another:  
there was no center of early pieties, 

of grave endearing tradition, 

to which her heart could revert and from which it could draw strength for itself and tenderness for others.

In whatever form a slowly accumulated past lives in the blood

whether in the concrete image of the old house stored with visual memories,

or in the conception of the house not built with hands, but made up of inherited passions and loyalties - 

it has the same power of broadening and deepening the individual existence, of attaching it by mysterious links of kinship to all the mighty sum of human striving.

Such a vision of the solidarity of life had never before come to Lily.  She had had a premonition of it in the blind motions of her mating-instinct; but they had been checked by the disintegrating influences of the life about her.  All the men and women she knew were like atoms whirling away from each other in some wild centrifugal dance: her first glimpse of the continuity of life had come to her that evening in Nettie Struther's kitchen.

Krysten's kitchen talent

The poor little working girl who had found strength to gather up the fragments of her life, and build herself a shelter with them, seemed to Lily to have reached the central truth of existence.

It was a meagre enough life, on the grim edge of poverty, with scant margin for possibilities of sickness of mischance, but it had the frail audacious permanence of a bird's nest built on the edge of a cliff - a mere wisp of leaves and straw, yet so put together that the lives entrusted to it may hang safely over the abyss.

Yes - but it had taken two to build the nest; the man's faith as well as the woman's courage.  Lily remembered Nettie's words: I knew he knew about me.  Her husband's faith in her made her renewal possible - it is so easy for a woman to become what the man she loves believes her to be!"

God bless you all! I'm currently reading E. M. Forster's A Passage to India because I loved A Room With a View immensely,  I am always delighted when I find truths about family sprinkled in the novels of literary giants. Much love xxoo

1 comment:

  1. What a fantastic insight into how a key element of marriage is helping one another grow and be our best!

    Also, I love that weathervane!