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A product of her society, “at once vigorous and exquisite, at once strong and fine . As Lily can neither totally accept her society’s values nor be hypocritical enough to survive without doing so, she finally must perish.Lily’s fall from social grace is incremental rather than precipitous, occurring gradually as she makes small compromises in order to survive.
Although not involved in the feminist movement of her day, Wharton’s preoccupation with the limiting effects of societal restrictions on the human soul necessarily invokes feminist issues, for women especially suffered under this society’s narrow boundaries.
Lily Bart, for example, finds her options severely limited because of her gender; even taking tea alone with a man in his apartment results in social condemnation.
Although primarily dealing with a narrow social range and short historical span—the upper echelons of New York society from the 1870’s to the 1920’s—she mines verities about the whole of human nature from these small, seemingly unrepresentative samples of humanity. Using manners to register internal events as well as external circumstances allows her to indicate deeper emotions indirectly.
Far from being anachronistic or irrelevant, Wharton’s novels go deeper than their surface manners and mores to reveal universal truths about individuals in relation to their society, and she explores themes relevant to any era. make up stories about the only people who were real to her imagination—the grownups with whom she was surrounded. The constricting effect of an elaborate and confining set of behavioral guidelines on the human psyche and the human spirit’s survival within these narrow boundaries provides one of the overriding themes of her fiction.
Newland Archer often muses on the peculiar demands and expectations placed on women.
When he declares, “Women ought to be free—as free as we are,” Wharton notes that he is “making a discovery of which he was too irritated to measure the terrific consequences.” May Welland Archer is yet another victim—in this case, of her husband’s narrow definition of her character—and Ellen Olenska is the victim of society’s preconceptions of a woman’s behavior.
We seek students who will avail themselves of the rich academic, cultural, and social opportunities of the Penn community.
Students who flourish at Wharton and Penn possess a history of academic excellence, a healthy degree of motivation, and a well-developed interest and involvement in their environment.
Hardly lacking for opportunities to marry well, Lily nevertheless manages to sabotage her best chances, as she does in bungling her courtship with Percy Gryce, an eminently eligible but overwhelmingly boring pillar of the community.
Lily’s unique place in New York society—simultaneously insider and outsider—makes her one of Wharton’s most fascinating creations and offers the reader a privileged perspective on this world. [who] must have cost a great deal to make,” Lily is also “so evidently the victim of the civilization which had produced her that the links of her bracelet seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate.” Lily’s need to be surrounded by the beautiful things that only immense sums of money can buy and her distaste for the common and ugly enslave her to those she might otherwise find at best ridiculous and at worst repellent; they cause her to reject the only person for whom she feels genuine emotion, Lawrence Selden, a cultivated lawyer of modest means.