2015 Undergraduate Prize: Brittany Barron

Lily Bart’s “Process of Crystallization”

Changing Brier Rose’s Fate in The House of Mirth

In Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (1905)[1], Lily Bart struggles to choose between either a luxurious life among New York City’s elite, wherein she will live dependent upon a man, or a life that she controls of her own volition. Lily’s beauty is unmatchable, and she looks the part of an admirable object, but she longs for a more substantial life. In A Backward Glance[2] (1934), Wharton expresses that she wanted to write about a “frivolous society” and “what its frivolity destroys” (207). Society “destroys” Lily. To portray Lily’s downfall, Wharton turns to fairy tale motifs[3], and Lily shares similarities with the fairy tale figure Sleeping Beauty[4]. One way to examine their similarities is to read Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s fairytale “Brier Rose.” While Brier Rose marries a prince, and they live happily ever after, Lily repels marriage. New York society wants Lily to mirror Brier Rose, in that she marries well and follows the trajectory of a successful woman at the turn of the century; however, she has been taught to act passively and never develop an identity beyond her role as society’s object, mirroring a damsel in distress. Although Lily establishes herself in society, she agonizes under the pressure of its rules, which include always looking her best and giving up her agency. Even present day feminist Roxane Gay understands the fairy tale’s damsel in distress paradigm: “A compromise is required for happily ever after. The woman in the fairy tale is generally the one who pays the price. This seems to be the nature of sacrifice” (193). Throughout the novel, Lily comes to understand the “sacrifice[s]” she must make to attain the ideal fairy tale life. Lily turns to drugs when she cannot live up to society’s expectations, desiring rest and escape in an otherworld. She resembles Brier Rose as she constantly fights the fatigue that clouds her daily life and often envisions “herself lying on the black walnut bed” (Wharton 118). While Brier Rose never questions her position and status, Lily fights hers. She understands that the room where she sleeps contains “nothing in it [which] was really hers” (118). If Lily follows Brier Rose’s footsteps, she will be at a man’s mercy and continue to own nothing that she calls “hers.” He will decide her fate, following the fairy tale trope that Helene Cixous delineates: “Sleeping Beauty . . . is lifted up by the man who will lay her in her next bed so that she may be confined to bed ever after, just as the fairy tales say” (“Castration” 43). In order to prevent herself from suffering Sleeping Beauty’s fate, “confined to bed” for a man’s pleasure, Lily commits suicide. Instead of writing a fairy tale ending for Lily, Wharton critiques the fairy tale mythology, underscoring how it hurts young women’s development as independent adults, and she creates a feminist retelling of the fairytale “Brier Rose.”

In using the fairy tale motif, Wharton reveals the dangers of placing importance on Lily’s physical attributes rather than her intellectual pursuits. Brier Rose’s and Lily’s beauty limits their identities to their outward appearances. In “Brier Rose,” the sleeping princess acts as an object that men admire and compete for: “The princess became known by the name Beautiful Sleeping Brier Rose . . . From time to time princes came and tried to break through the [brier] hedge [to her]” (Grimm 697). The last prince succeeds and wakes Brier Rose with a kiss. Rather than consider Brier Rose’s personality, the prince wants to save her because she looks “marvelous”: “Her beauty was so marvelous that he could not take his eyes off her” (698). Besides her “beauty,” Brier Rose remains a mystery and never develops beyond an object. Similarly, Lily’s beauty defines her. Members of society consider it her sole feature, and she basks in their appreciation. She strives to sustain and finesse her outward appearance, which she believes will secure her place in the leisure class: “Only one thought consoled [Lily], and that was the contemplation of Lily’s beauty. She studied it with a kind of passion, as though it were some weapon she had slowly fashioned for her vengeance” (Wharton 29). The ostensibly favorable quality turns dangerous, for a “weapon” is used to inflict an injury. Lily’s “weapon” could very well harm herself. Nevertheless, Lily treats her asset as the key to her survival in the competitive world of tea ceremonies and dinner parties. Her friends respond to her remarkable features, specifically Lawrence Selden, a bachelor and Lily’s confidant, and his thoughts reinforce how her ruminations on beauty are dangerous. When Selden sees Lily at Grand Central Station, he ponders her appearance: “[A] great many dull and ugly people must, in some mysterious way, have been sacrificed to produce her . . . [A] fine glaze of beauty and fastidiousness had been applied to vulgar clay” (7). Here, Lily’s physical attributes succeed any mental prowess she may possess, causing “sacrific[ial]” rituals in order for her to attain an outstanding gift. Likewise, Brier Rose’s features entice princes to save her and deliver them to their deaths upon the brier hedge. All the while, Brier Rose maintains her sleeping posture. Due to their beauty, Brier Rose and Lily assume the guise of artwork.

Comparing Lily to artwork, Wharton establishes how society treats her as an object. Under the sleeping spell for one hundred years, Brier Rose, though alive, transforms into a piece of art and princes dwell upon her motionless body; correspondingly, Lily carries a distinct likeness to women in paintings. Selden associates Lily with art: her creator formed her from clay, and like a piece of art, Lily seems perfect. Cynthia Griffin Wolff characterizes Selden as a “connoisseur,” who builds his impression of Lily from the art he collects—the “neo-classical” and “Art Nouveau” (28, 19). If he were to fall in love with Lily, he would add her to his art collection. After all, Wolff explains how Lily reflects the Art Nouveau movement: “She would be like the Wood Nymph of the Art Nouveau, her evocative purity casually, ‘naturally,’ placed in a bower of flowers . . . Virtue and nobility should be effortless companions to her artistically rendered self” (24). To solidify her likeness to art, Lily assumes her role as an immortally pure, untouchable, and fantastical “Wood Nymph.” Lily’s similarities to a piece of artwork reinforces her status as an object.

Wharton continues associating Lily with artwork. Lily fulfills the ideal expectations of an artist’s masterpiece, which portrays how society manipulates her identity. Lily attends the Brys’ tableaux vivant, a party which celebrates popular artwork, and Lily wears the costume of Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Mrs. Lloyd. In reproducing the portrait, Lily is married, silent, and immobile—exactly how society likes women. And Lily resurrects Reynolds’s subject: “It was as though she had stepped, not out of, but into, Reynolds’s canvas, banishing the phantom of his dead beauty by the beams of her living grace” (Wharton 106). When she “step[s] into Reynolds’s canvas,” she also “step[s] into” society’s expectations. Yet, underneath all of her beauty, Lily still possesses human features: “For all the hard glaze of her exterior, [she] was inwardly as malleable as wax” (44). As much as society wants to objectify Lily, she is “malleable” and maintains the ability to change. She has not yet completely submitted to society’s expectations. Although Lily maintains her still, marbled portrait appearance on the outside, she lacks these qualities on the inside. She enjoys her beauteous qualities, but she does not want to belong in someone else’s art collection. If Lily wishes to immortalize her outward appearance like the Wood Nymph or Mrs. Lloyd without society’s influence, she may only do so in an otherworld, and later, death, but not with a man at her side.

When Wharton associates Lily with sleep imagery and an otherworld, her heroine escapes society’s constricting rules. Diane L. Chambers lists the ideals of New York society, which expects women “to be well-dressed, to marry, to manage a home, and to be witty and clever without being too intellectual” (33-4). However, in an otherworld, society no longer defines Lily’s identity. While Brier Rose lives in a magical otherworld, Lily only accesses this otherworld fleetingly. In Brier Rose’s world, magic alleviates her curse. Thirteen wise women celebrate Brier Rose’s birth, and each of them grant a wish for her. The thirteenth wise woman curses Brier Rose with death, but the twelfth wise woman uses her wish to turn her death into a long sleep. At the end, after the prince wakes Brier Rose from her curse, “They lived happily to the end of their days” (Grimm 696). No such magic exists in Lily’s world, though. Lily only catches glimpses of an otherworld when she and Selden spend time together. When Selden asks Lily to accompany him outside at the Brys’ tableaux vivant, she follows him and “The faces about her flowed by like the streaming images of sleep” (Wharton 108). The sleep imagery connects Lily to Brier Rose and creates a fantastical landscape. Once outside, Selden and Lily admire their surroundings, and the sleep imagery continues: “The magic place was deserted: there was no sound but the plash of the water on the lily-pads, and a distant drift of music that might have been blown across a sleeping lake” (108). In the “magic place,” Lily and Selden exist outside of the extravagant parties and New York City’s greedy society: “The lovers seem united in some higher sphere . . . it is only in this other-world that they can be united” (Wolff 30). Nothing matters except Lily and Selden. “United,” Selden and Lily complete their parts as prince and princess; however, Lily foregoes her role as a princess for the time being.

In the otherworld, Lily may live happily ever after like Brier Rose, but she cannot develop into an independent adult. Just when Lily and Selden enter their magical world, they must leave. Flower imagery emphasizes the portraiture Lily reflects, and she reaffirms her exclusive relationship with art: “Her face turned to him with the soft motion of a flower” (Wharton 109). A “flower” is a piece of art, and, as Wolff states, in neo-classical art, “Purity is identified with the repeated floral motif: and of these masses of flowers, none were more consistently used than the lilies . . . [Artists] portray [a woman] as though she had grown naturally in her floral surroundings, a being literally incorporated into a world of nature” (19-20). In the canvas where Lily belongs, flowers and nature may linger at her side, but a man may not. As Mrs. Lloyd or another neo-classical art form, Lily remains alone in her portrait. When Selden and Lily briefly kiss, she rejects his advances: “Ah, love me, love me—but don’t tell me so!” (Wharton 109). Lily cannot reciprocate Selden’s love. She wishes to stay her inhuman, untouchable, and artistic self. Thus, Selden kisses Lily, and he breaks the magical spell of their otherworld. She cannot accept the reality—sharing her life with a man—which Selden presents to her: “Lily is another Sleeping Beauty, slumbering in a dormant presexual state from which she never awakens” (Lidoff 522). While Brier Rose wakes up, marries the prince, and presumably enters adulthood, Lily’s fails to progress into adulthood when she lives under society’s influence.

Wharton reveals that the standards placed upon women are unrealistic. Lily’s “presexual” state parallels Cixous’ philosophy that “[w]omen haven’t had eyes for themselves. They haven’t gone exploring in their house. Their sex still frightens them. Their bodies, which they haven’t dared enjoy, have been colonized” (“Sorties” 68). Society’s rules for women to act maidenly and virtuous prevent Lily from “exploring” her interests and her body. Therefore, her identity, too, is “colonized.” Society offers her a limited view of the world and her potential: “She could not figure herself as anywhere but in a drawing-room, diffusing elegance as a flower sheds perfume” (Wharton 79). Life outside of the “drawing room” scares Lily, circumscribing her to a half-life. Lily wishes to remain the pure Wood Nymph, the only life she knows, and if she loves Selden, she gives up that purity and connection to immortal art objects. Others fawn over Lily’s physicality, and she loves their admiration, which encourages her to believe in it as her only valuable quality. Although the prince breaks Brier Rose’s curse along with her image as a piece of artwork, Selden fails to wake Lily up. She acts as the admired object, the role which society has taught her to play.

Despite playing the role society selects for her, Lily resists submitting to a man, and Wharton alters the usual fairy tale trope. Two princes exist in Lily’s life: “She has a Prince Charming in Selden, [and] a frog prince in Gus Trenor” (Lidoff 527). Trenor offers Lily another chance at a luxurious life, but she rejects him. Lily asks her “frog prince,” a stock market expert, to invest her money. Trenor readily helps Lily, and, one night, he lures her to his house without his wife present. He wants Lily to himself, for he believes she owes him, and he tells her: “The man who pays for the dinner is generally allowed to have a seat at the table” (Wharton 114). As Lorraine DiCicco explains, Trenor wants Lily to “‘pay up’ sexually” (88). Thus far, members of society dote upon her from a distance, which requires no action on her part. Trenor, however, requires more from Lily, and she refuses his offer: “She drew back from [his touch] with a desperate assumption of scorn” (Wharton 116). Lily prefers to flaunt her beauty rather than her sexuality—if she even fathoms her sexual charm. And Lily disdains Trenor’s sexual cravings. Lily does not concern herself with sexuality, as Lidoff observes, “When a fairy tale princess matures beyond her youthful fears of sexuality, she kisses the frog who is then revealed as a handsome prince; Lily, however, is unable to transcend her early repugnance to unite the two figures” (531). Lily appreciates her “frog prince’s” assistance; yet, she never intends to sacrifice her purity, which survives in her slumbering, artistically rendered state, to a licentious male. Trenor wants Lily to crawl into his “bed,” which reflects Cixous’ tenet: “And so her trajectory is from bed to bed: one bed to another, where she can dream all the more” (“Castration” 43). In his “bed,” she will “dream” instead of live and develop an identity. While Lily believes that she defeats Trenor, she ignores that she will have to marry and bed another man, if she wants to belong in the upper class.

Living under society’s rules, Lily acts passively, preventing her from accessing her full potential and learning how to protect herself; accordingly, Wharton underscores a damsel in distress’ flaws, such as her helplessness and her daydreaming, which leave Lily unprepared for a man who contradicts Prince Charming’s heroism. After Lily’s refusal, Trenor accuses her of borrowing money from other men and believes that she teases, or sleeps with, these men. Whether or not she sleeps with the other men, and despite his false claims, Trenor expects special treatment for his part. Trenor’s brutish words and actions startle Lily: “She stood silent, frozen to her place . . . Her heart was beating all over her body—in her throat, her limbs, her helpless useless hands. Her eyes travelled despairingly about the room—they lit on the bell, and she remembered that help was in call” (Wharton 116). Yet, Lily never calls for help, for she lacks important skills: “The one instrument with which Wharton allows Lily to initiate action works only by holistic magic,” and her “power” derives from her attractiveness (Lidoff 529). While Lily knows her outward features and how to manipulate them, she never looks inside to see if she possesses other traits; as a result, she depends upon her beautiful magic. With her physical allure as her only defense, she begins to wither under ugly situations where her magic dissipates. Consequently, Lily freezes when Trenor approaches her like Mrs. Lloyd remains frozen when Reynolds captures her in his painting. The art objects Lily reflects, especially Brier Rose, all act passively. The prince wakes Brier Rose with a kiss, which requires no effort on her part. Similarly, Lily only takes action—action merely meaning that she leaves Trenor’s house—when Trenor stops threatening her, realizes his mistake, and tells her to leave. Society enforces Lily’s passivity, which reflects Cixous’ belief that “Either woman is passive or she does not exist” (“Sorties” 64). If Lily rebutted society, including speaking out against Trenor, she would not survive the backlash and cease to “exist” in her privileged world.

As a woman at the turn of the century, Lily lacks the knowledge to survive independently, and she shrinks under the world’s harsh realities. Here, Wharton outlines the differences between a princess and a woman living in New York City. After the incident, Lily visits Gerty Ferish, Selden’s cousin and her friend, in order to compose herself. Lily tells Gerty, “Can you imagine looking into your glass some morning and seeing a disfigurement—some hideous change that has come to you while you slept? Well, I seem to myself like that—I can’t bear to see myself in my own thoughts—I hate ugliness, you know—I’ve always turned from it” (Wharton 131). Lily’s interaction with Trenor offers her a glimpse of the world’s “ugliness.” While Lily should criticize Trenor for his actions, she sees flaws—“ugliness”—in herself. After her adorned life, these flaws scare her. Again, someone shatters Lily’s magical otherworld. Trenor breaks the spell when he tries to force himself upon her, and he reveals that she may not hide behind her portrait forever. While talking to Gerty, Lily reveals her fear for the day she wakes up and completely loses her beauty. Right now, Lily only sees herself as ugly in her thoughts. Eventually, in order for Lily to avoid her fear in the material world, she will need to forsake her luxurious life, stay asleep, and never wake.

When Lily understands the emptiness of her privileged life, she begins to resent it, reinforcing the ugliness that begins to pervade her life, and Wharton continues revising the fairy tale narrative. No one saves Lily from her downfall when she belongs to an otherworld rather than the human world, whereas the prince wakes Brier Rose and rescues her from the isolated tower. The prince attends to Brier Rose, and she follows his lead: “Then he leaned over and gave her a kiss, and when his lips touched hers, Brier Rose opened her eyes, woke up, and looked at him fondly” (Grimm 698). However, Lily must take care of herself, and she lacks the capability to handle her problems. She contains “no capacity to . . . bear hardship” (Wolff 24). Furthermore, during difficult times, “Lily had no heart to lean on” (Wharton 118). Like the artwork and the princess she mirrors—Brier Rose who sleeps in an isolated tower for one hundred years—Lily faces her pain alone. Lily hates loneliness, and it makes her confront more ugliness: “She knew herself by heart too, and was sick of the old story. There were moments when she longed blindly for anything different, anything strange, remote and untried; but the utmost reach of her imagination did not go beyond picturing her usual life in a new setting” (79). Lily grows tired of her “usual life,” and even though she thinks about her future, it never changes. A new setting never appears, for Lily prevents that from occurring, and she keeps watching her life crumble. While the prince wakes Brier Rose from slumber and he supports her to move on with her life, Lily lives a solitary life.

In her solitude, Lily faces the hardships required to break society’s rules, and Wharton reveals the realities that the fairy tales omit. Lily avoids marriage, but Brier Rose marries the prince and lives her fairy tale life. Unlike Brier Rose, Lily tries to function without a man. Due to Lily’s similarity to Brier Rose, her plan will fail, unless she dies. Cixous explains why Sleeping Beauty depends upon a man: “Sleeping Beauty is lifted from her bed by a man, because, as we all know, women don’t wake up by themselves: a man has to intervene, you understand. She is lifted up by the man who will lay her in her next bed so that she may be confined to bed ever after, just as the fairy tales say” (“Castration” 43). As long as Lily is alive, in order for her to maintain her lifestyle, she needs a man “to intervene.” Without a husband, Lily lacks the means to preserve her life of privilege, and she makes a choice. She takes jobs as a secretary and a hat maker as a member of the working class, but no one teaches her how to manage on her own. At the jobs, she struggles, and Elizabeth Ammons notes, “The job [Lily] has been trained for is highly specialized and her skills, if she does not choose to use them as some rich man’s wife, are not transferrable” (32). Lily’s “skills” do not apply to her working class jobs, and she begins to understand that a charming atmosphere will not always surround her in her earthly life. She recoils from her surroundings when she lives alone in a boarding house: “[S]he was beginning to feel acutely the ugliness and discomfort of her surroundings. The day’s task done, she dreaded to return to her narrow room, with its blotched wallpaper and shabby paint” (Wharton 224-5). In a “blotched” and “shabby” atmosphere that contrasts with Lily’s beauty, she loses her physical strength to tiredness. Furthermore, Lily suffers in her new, harsh surroundings: “My eyes are bright now because I’m so nervous—but in the morning they look like lead” (207). When Lily wakes up and notices the changes in her life, her usual “bright[ness]” dims. Her current life ceases to measure up to the high expectations which society teaches her to reach for.

Wharton reveals how much pressure society places upon Lily when she takes chloral, a drug, to confront, albeit passively, her declining social status and help her sleep. When she sleeps, she avoids the dread of looking into her “lead” colored eyes, a result of trying to attain perfection. Additionally, sleep allows her to escape her earthly life: “In the sleep which the phial procured she sank far below such half-waking visitations, sank into depths of dreamless annihilation from which she woke each morning with an obliterated past . . . The drug gave her a momentary illusion of complete renewal” (Wharton 230). When Lily sleeps, her beautiful life returns, and she forgets her current circumstances. Lily’s beauty never truly disappears, though. She still keeps her association with nature, where flowers blossom and Brier Rose sleeps in a peaceful slumber. The night of Lily’s death, flower imagery reemerges, and Lily binds herself to art eternally: “She was like some rare flower grown for exhibition, a flower from which every bud had been nipped except for the crowning blossom of her beauty” (247). Lily commits suicide—she overdoses on chloral—and she reflects the Wood Nymph, who ensconces herself among flowers. She reaches Brier Rose’s otherworld where magic exists, relying on herself to make it happen.

When Wharton ends the novel with Lily alone in bed, she emphasizes how Lily differs from Brier Rose. Lily reassumes control over her life, repelling society’s image of her as a damsel in distress. The day after Lily’s drug overdose, Selden visits her boarding house with the intent to propose marriage. However, Lily belongs to the canvas, but without society impeding her: “When Selden confronts her lifeless body, Lily has been irretrievably transformed into an object; her ‘self’ has finally been transfixed, rendered suitably free from weakness and flaw” (Wolff 38). While she is an “object,” she is no longer society’s object. She commands her identity and how others see her. Lily preserves her independence evermore, and she does so in bed, wherein she mirrors Cixous’ princess figure: “The story of Sleeping Beauty . . . [takes place] in bed and [where she is] asleep—‘laid out.’ She is always to be found in bed” (“Castration” 43). Correspondingly, Lily resembles Brier Rose when she lies “in bed” in her deathly pose—the picture of Brier Rose sleeping in the tower. In bed, Lily controls her fate. She dies in her bed and will sleep in the same bed—a coffin—forever, rather than marry a man who moves her from bed to bed. Lily enforces her own rules and redefines the damsel in distress paradigm which Cixous sets up: “She sleeps, she is intact, eternal, absolutely powerless. He has no doubt that she has been waiting for him forever . . . when she opens her eyes she will see only him; him in place of everything, all-him” (“Sorties” 66). Instead of being “absolutely powerless” like Sleeping Beauty, Lily reassumes her power when Selden cannot wake her. Her prince appears at her bedside, but she no longer “wait[s]” for him. Moreover, she will not see “him in place of everything”; after all, she cannot wake up. At last, Lily’s beauty finishes “a process of crystallization which had fused her whole being into one hard brilliant surface” (Wharton 149). In death, Lily finds her happy ending and otherworld, where society no longer rules her life.

Lily Bart defies the material world with her luminous beauty and presence. She mirrors the lovely fairytale character Brier Rose, who remains frozen under a one hundred year curse. While Lily and Brier Rose garner attention for their attractive exteriors, their other qualities go unnoticed. At the turn of the century, society ignores intellectual pursuits in favor of the superficial, which leaves Lily feeling the emptiness of evanescent pleasures. Unlike in a fairy tale, a handsome prince does not save Lily from life’s ugly realities and a frog prince’s cruel intentions. New York society uses Lily until she breaks under its unrealistic expectations. It teaches her to ignore her wants and needs in favor of a man’s. Additionally, it expects her to wait for a man who moves, acts, and lives for her, but Lily subverts from the damsel in distress paradigm. Tired of making sacrifices for a perfect life, she stops waiting for her prince, and she takes chloral to sleep away her suffering. While a prince’s kiss awakens Brier Rose from her slumber, and she marries him, Lily’s happily ever after resides in an otherworldly, eternal slumber. After Lily’s failed attempts at working class jobs, she realizes that she needs to die in a bed of her own, where she rules independently, rather than a bed she shares with a man.

Works Cited

Ammons, Elizabeth. “The New Woman.” Edith Wharton’s Argument with America. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1980. 25-55. Print.

Chambers, Diane L. “Wharton, Women, and Authorship at the Turn of the Century.” Feminist Readings of Edith Wharton: From Silence to Speech. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. 25-48. Print.

Cixous, Helene. “Castration or Decapitation?.” Trans. Annette Kuhn. Signs 7.1 (1981): 41-55. JSTOR. Web. 19 Apr. 2014.

—. “Sorties: Out and Out: Attacks/Ways Out/Forays.” The Newly Born Woman. Trans. Betsy Wing. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1996. 63-132. Print.

DiCicco, Lorraine. “The Enfreakment of America’s Jeune Fille a Marier: Lily Bart to Carrie Bradshaw.” Journal of Modern Literature 33.3 (2010): 78-98. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Apr. 2014.

Gay, Roxane. “The Trouble with Prince Charming, or He Who Trespassed Against Us.” Bad Feminist: Essays. New York: Harper Perennial, 2014. 192-204. Print.

Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. “Brier Rose.” The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm. Ed. Jack Zipes. Norton Critical Edition. New York: Norton, 2001. 696-98. Print.

Lidoff, Joan. “Another Sleeping Beauty: Narcissism in The House of Mirth.” American Quarterly 32.5 (1980): 519-39. JSTOR. Web. 24 Jan. 2014.

Wharton, Edith. “The Secret Garden.” A Backward Glance. New York: Scribners, 1964. 197-212. Print.

—. The House of Mirth. Ed. Elizabeth Ammons. Norton Critical Edition. New York: Norton, 1990. Print.

Wolff, Cynthia Griffin. “Lily Bart and the Beautiful Death.” American Literature 46.1 (1974): 16-40. JSTOR. Web. 24 Jan. 2014.

[1] Over the past ten years, scholarship on The House of Mirth includes Jennifer L. Fleissner’s “The Biological Clock” (2006), which discusses the novel’s placement within the naturalist canon, while applying feminist thoughts about the “biological clock,” and Susan Fraiman’s “Domesticity beyond Sentiment” (2011), relaying how the novel separates femininity from sentimentalism.

[2] In her memoir, Wharton mentions fairy tales and how she “never cared much” for them as a child, except for “the story of the boy who could talk with the birds and hear what the grasses said” (4). Additionally, she notes that “fairy stories,” such as Perrault’s, “left her inattentive and indifferent” (33).

[3] Few scholars have written about the intersection of Wharton and fairy tales. Joan Lidoff’s article “Another Sleeping Beauty: Narcissism in The House of Mirth” (1980) introduces the idea that Lily resembles the passive and pure Sleeping Beauty; however, she never fully develops the comparison beyond a few brief statements and does not draw upon Grimm’s fairy tale for these comparisons. Moreover, Elizabeth Ammons examines fairy tales in relation to Wharton’s The Reef and Ethan Frome in “Fairy-Tale Love and The Reef” (1976) and “Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome and the Question of Meaning” (1979). More recently, Nancy Von Rosk’s article “Prince Charming or Animal Bridegroom?” (2012) delineates the similarities between Wharton’s “Bunner Sisters” and Grimm’s fairy tales. Besides Ammon’s and Rosk’s articles, there remains a lack of overlap between Wharton and fairy tale scholarship.

[4] Before the Grimm brothers wrote “Brier Rose” (1812), French author Charles Perrault penned “La Belle au Bois Dormant” (1697), translated “Sleeping Beauty,” the first known publication of the fairy tale. The Disney film adaptation (1959), among other artistic renderings, refer to the fairy tale princess as Sleeping Beauty; therefore, any instances in which I use Sleeping Beauty, I am still referring to Brier Rose.

Author bio:

Brittany Jade Barron is a senior at the University of North Georgia, seeking a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a minor in Gender Studies. Her poetry, creative nonfiction, formal essays, and reviews have appeared in The Chestatee Review, Sanctuary, Papers and Pub(lication)s, Momentum, and Southern Literary Review. Her research interests include feminism, mental illness, and trauma theory. Brittany would like to thank Dr. Mary Carney for her input and expertise while she worked on her Edith Wharton project and for Dr. Carney’s continuous support as an invaluable mentor.

One thought on “2015 Undergraduate Prize: Brittany Barron

  1. Pingback: Edith Wharton Society Undergraduate Essay Prize 2015 now available | The Edith Wharton Society

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