It took me longer to finish this book than I initially expected because...it gets really, really sad. I like Lily Bart. I like reading about strong, thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent women and their attempts at finding a place in society. When it turns out there is no place for them, it gets harder to turn the pages.
I think Edith Wharton must have been a brave and brilliant woman. I can't wait to read more of her novels. She allows us to see clearly through Lily's eyes and makes us feel all of her anxiety, dread, hope, and hunger for life. Though Lily doesn't quite grasp this, we realize that there is no place for her. Society is wrong.
It seems like she only has two choices. The nice choice is to marry a rich man who wants to parade her around like a pretty doll and feel super proud of her. He promises to shower her with money, because obviously that's a woman's greatest dream. He likes when she listens to him talk, so sensitive and kind. They can play out dialogues just like in the theatre, except she is conscious that this is just playing. She wants to live.
The not so nice choice is to use her hands and try and work. She was raised to look pretty, say pretty things, and make tea in a pretty way. She struggles with having a real job. For the first time, she feels clumsy and awkward. She fails.
She can't sacrifice her soul, her intelligence, her self and become a mere ornament to be bought and displayed. She has no skills to be able to work. She has no real knowledge of society, of life, of the world, she only knows playacting, performance, pretending. She's different because she's still in touch with her inner self, yearning for real life, following her intuition. Feeling.
What to do with such women?
The ending is heartbreaking.
The book is wonderful.