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Sunday, June 28, 2009

More of the chapter

What makes Selden’s acts of consumption most troubling is the underlying fact that he does, in his own way, love both nature and Lily. While he is not the only character consuming Lily, his element of adoration reveals the simple truth that a glorification of women and nature is not ultimately in the best interests of anyone. While the reader may easily be repulsed by characters like Gus Trenor, who overtly desires sexual consumption, and Bertha Dorset who uses people to her advantage and then disposes of them, it is easy to be wooed by Selden perhaps because his romantic ideals are so deeply entrenched in western thought. Nevertheless his “love of nature” is toxic because it is a love based on unattainable ideals, incomplete comprehension and sulking inaction.

His passivity is part of his literary type. Like many bachelor characters, Selden is represented as a spectator. Early in the novel, Wharton establishes a pattern of visual consumption and private contemplation which remain fundamental to Selden throughout . Wharton begins the novel with Selden being “refreshed” by the sight of Lily Bart in Grand Central Station. She writes:

It was a Monday in early September, and he was returning to his work from a hurried dip into the country; but what was Miss Bart doing in town at that season? If she had appeared to be catching a train, he might have inferred that he had come on her in the act of transition between one and another of the country-houses which disputed her presence after the close of the Newport season; but her desultory air perplexed him. She stood apart from the crowd, letting it drift by her to the platform or the street, and wearing an air of irresolution which might, as he surmised, be the mask of a very definite purpose. It struck him at once that she was waiting for some one, but he hardly knew why the idea arrested him. There was nothing new about Lily Bart, yet he could never see her without a faint movement of interest: it was characteristic of her that she always roused speculation, that her simplest acts seemed the result of far-reaching intentions (5).

Brief as this passage is, it is saturated with the interpenetrations of nature and culture. The language of the passage, even when not directly addressing nature is suggestive of nature and also suggestive of Lily’s role as a natural commodity. Selden’s shock at seeing Lily in the station “at that season” carries the connotation of cyclic vegetation. For Selden, Miss Bart is like a botanical commodity out of season in this particular place. The passage then entertains Selden’s more acceptable notion that Lily be “in the act of transitioning between one and another of the country-houses which disputed her presence”. While this may seem to reestablish Lily as a social being, it is important to recognize that even in these “country-houses” Miss Bart functions as an ornament to enhance the atmosphere at gatherings hosted by her wealthier friends.

As the passage continues, Wharton repeats the use of the word “air” to describe what might otherwise be called Lily’s manner or behavior. This choice further aligns Lily with the natural and heightens what Selden perceives as her separation from the crowd. The simple fact that Selden is described as “refreshed” by the sight of Lily, suggests that he is invested in a world-view that ascribes a spiritual value to beauty; the culturally determined province of both women and nature. This world-view is further explicated by Selden’s pastoral, leisure class relationship with the “country”. His return from a “hurried dip into the country” suggests that for him nature is a place apart from everyday life, a place for escape and renewal – both physical and spiritual—an idea which emphasizes the relationship between Lily and nature since she too has the capacity to “refresh” him when viewed against the bustling urban backdrop of Grand Central Station .

Indeed, the sight of Lily is more important to Selden than the substance of her. Wharton makes clear-- “[t]here was nothing new about Lily Bart ”—yet Selden cannot help but feel that there is great significance in seeing her. This further suggests Selden’s pastoral persuasions; an idealizing and artful interest in nature (and women) devoid of any real comprehension of or concern about the functions of the natural world. Wharton’s description of Selden’s pleasure in viewing both Lily and nature, along with his moralizing and critical detachment, stand in place for a whole patriarchal system of thought, in which nature and Lily become symbolic of significance without being significant in their own rights.
Selden is aligned with the dominant culture that sustains him, and looks with a hyper-critical eye at Lily’s negotiations of nature and artifice. It is not difficult to sense the imperious moralistic overtones of these observations. Though attracted to what he considers “natural” in Lily, Selden is scornful about what he perceives as Lily’s “artifice”. To Selden, Lily is a master of her art. Within the first a few pages of the novel Selden perceives both the brightness of Lily’s hair and the timing of her blush as “art” (7). In describing the scene when Lily leaves the Benedick Wharton writes:
She paused before the mantelpiece, studying herself in the mirror while she adjusted her veil. The attitude revealed the long slope of her slender sides, which gave a kind of wild-wood grace to her outline--as though she were a captured dryad subdued to the conventions of the drawing-room; and Selden reflected that it was the same streak of sylvan freedom in her nature that lent such savour to her artificiality (12).

This perception, closely aligned with Selden’s point of view, acknowledges in its language both the natural beauty of Lily, and the way it interacts with elements of artifice. Selden’s perception privileges the artificial, by having the natural lend “savour” to Lily’s “artificiality”. Furthermore his acknowledgement of the natural is coded as he also overlays the “wild-wood grace” of her form with the significant cultural imagery of the “captured dryad subdued”. This coding impresses upon the reader the depth of Selden’s culturally mediated conception of women and nature.

In the tableaux vivants scene, an episode which is defined by Selden’s point of view, the concept of Lily as “dryad” is restated. Wharton writes, “Her pale draperies, and the background of foliage against which she stood, served only to relieve the long dryad-like curves that swept upward from her poised foot to her lifted arm” (106). Here Selden’s view of Lily is more sensitive. Although the language of art and nature still mingle in this passage, the focus is on the Selden’s perceptions and glorifications of Lily’s “naturalness”. The passage continues, “[t]he noble buoyancy of her attitude, its suggestion of soaring grace, revealed the touch of poetry in her beauty that Selden always felt in her presence” (106). This language intensifies Selden’s escalating idealization. Here it is clear that for Selden, Lily is most beautiful when she is consumed as “natural”. Furthermore it is obvious that for Selden “nature” is idealized, magical, and pure.

Ironically, in this scene Lily is at the height of her artificiality, yet Selden is sure that “for the first time he seemed to see before him the real Lily Bart” (106) . Wharton goes on to describe what this “reality” entails, a Lily Bart “divested of the trivialities of her little world, and catching for a moment a note of that eternal harmony of which her beauty was a part” (106). This vision, Selden feels, allows him to acknowledge “the whole tragedy of her life” which he considers the cultural and social trappings which “cheapened and vulgarized” her beauty (107).

As the two characters leave the party for the terrace garden the reader might expect that some genuine connection will be attained, but close reading passage reveals more of the same aesthetic consumption of Lily. Wharton writes,
Selden had given her his arm without speaking. She took it in silence, and they moved away, not toward the supper-room, but against the tide which was setting thither. The faces about her flowed by like the streaming images of sleep: she hardly noticed where Selden was leading her, till they passed through a glass doorway at the end of the long suite of rooms and stood suddenly in the fragrant hush of a garden (108).

Wharton’s language here reverts again to natural metaphors. The image of the two moving “against the tide” seems hopeful. The faces flowing and streaming also seems on the verge of undoing those social constraints which have thwarted the possibility of connection between Selden and Lily. Quickly though Wharton introduces the image of the dream, and it must become clear that what is about to transpire does so outside of the realm of reality. The passage goes on to intensify this, describing “emerald caverns in the depths of foliage” which render the garden a “magic place” in which Selden and Lily accept “the unreality of the scene as a part of their own dream-like sensations” (108). This acceptance complete, “Lily withdrew her hand, and moved away a step, so that her white-robed slimness was outlined against the dusk of the branches” displaying herself as a blossom (108). This botanical verisimilitude is replicated a moment later when “her face turned to him with the soft motion of a flower” (109). This phrasing not only reinforces the flower image, but removes agency from Lily as a person. This brief exchange between Lily and Selden, although on the surface both lovely and sympathetic, is profoundly problematic in that it once again positions Selden as a consumer, aligned with patriarchal privilege and a powerful pastoral impulse to glorify beauty and nature as ideals, or ultimate realities, at the expense of authentic understanding. Despite the sensitivity and beauty of the tableaux vivants and garden scene, Lily remains a stranger to Selden. No longer perceiving Lily as artificial, Selden is moved by the “beauty” and “poetry” of nature contained in Miss Bart. Nevertheless he is unable to reconcile that with the circumstances of their actual lives. When Lily slips “through the arch of boughs, disappearing in the brightness of the room beyond” Selden is unable to follow her.

When he re-enters the house he is reabsorbed into the realm of the dominant culture which places a high sexual value on the flower-woman. The language of the passage indicates this transition through a focus on architecture and distinctly masculine details such as the cigars in “silver boxes invitingly set out near the door” (109). Further illustrating and ironizing Selden’s alignment with the dominant culture is the fact that the two people he meets as he is leaving the party are Ned Van Alstyne and Gus Trenor.

These two men on the surface may seem the polar opposites of Selden, certainly Selden does not see himself as part of their type, but is clearly opposed to it, especially in the earlier viewing of the tableaux. In this earlier scene Selden describes Ned Van Alstyne as evoking “indignant contempt” and compares him to Caliban (107). Nevertheless this final episode at the Brys reveals a good deal about the similarities Selden shares with these men. In their parting conversation Van Alstyne says “Hallo, Selden, going too? You're an Epicurean like myself, I see: you
don't want to see all those goddesses gobbling terrapin” (109). While Selden would never put his feelings in such simple language, the fact remains that rather than suffer the compromise of Lily as an ideal, Selden flees the scene. His tenacious will to preserve nature as a thing apart, a sacred beauty, ultimately opens the way for the events which most profoundly initiate Lily’s demise.

Selden’s pastoral consumption of Lily and Gus Trenor’s will to sexually consume her are not finally opposed so much as serving each other’s ends. Selden cannot compromise his pure vision and so Gus is given the room to make his attempt at acquisition. This attempt and the consequences it sets in motion press Lily to the brink and in Lily’s death Selden is able to gratify himself with the perfection of her “real” presence.

45 comments:

proswet654 said...

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黑色星期五 said...

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book said...

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林淑凡 said...

宇宙萬物中,沒有比人的存在更值得驚訝的!是怎樣的緣份讓我能在分享你的心情~~ ....................................................

韻玉 said...

Hello~Nice to meet you~..................................................

JeremiahRenne332 said...

與其爭取不可能得到的東西,不如善自珍惜運用自己所擁有的 ..................................................

FloyKnop said...

喜樂的心是健康良藥,憂傷的靈使骨枯乾。........................................

家祥皇雯 said...

文章很棒~感謝!!..................................................

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韋于倫成 said...

人生的「三部曲」應該是無愧的昨天,充實的今天,與充滿希望的明天。 ....................................................

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柏勳 said...

Birth is much but breeding is more. 加油!..................................................

建銘建銘 said...

you always know the right thing to say!............................................................

孟NathanaelD軒 said...

the food is delicious!............................................................

BryannaR22369 said...

量力而為,別勉強了,Cut your coat according to your cloth...................................................

威隆 said...

當一個人內心能容納兩樣相互衝突的東西,這個人便開始變得有價值了。..................................................................

曉薇 said...

原來天鵝嫁給癩蛤蟆就會生出醜小鴨.................................................................

怡潔怡潔 said...

Poverty is stranger to industry..................................................................                           

江婷 said...

喜歡你的部落格,留言請您繼續加油.................................................................

于庭 said...

成熟,就是有能力適應生活中的模糊。.................................................................

云依恩HFH謝鄭JTR安 said...

向著星球長驅直進的人,反比踟躕在峽路上的人,更容易達到目的。............................................................

俊豪袁阿危惠敏 said...

如果成為一支火柴,也要點亮一個短暫的宇宙;如果是一隻烏鴉,也要叫疼閉塞的耳膜。.................................................................

群平群平 said...

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云依恩HFH謝鄭JTR安 said...

blog不錯唷~我會常常來看的~加油~!! ..................................................................

吳婷婷 said...

人生中最重要的是要自尊、自愛、自立、自強、自信。..................................................

郁如郁如 said...

感謝您給我的啟示!............................................................

楊儀卉 said...

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幸雨幸雨 said...

If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.............................................................

潘凱花潘凱花 said...

如果你批評他人。你就沒有時間付出愛............................................................

家榮家榮 said...

河水永遠是相同的,可是每一剎那又都是新的。. . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

dawsonfelicia張君dawsonfelicia均 said...

生命如夏花洵爛;死如秋葉之靜美。............................................................

WillianT_Smotherman0恆迪 said...

Thanks a lot for sharing (o>▽<)............................................................

芷李玟 said...

缺少智慧,就是缺少一切..................................................

家唐銘 said...

生存乃是不斷地在內心與靈魂交戰;寫作是坐著審判自己。..................................................

王辛江淑萍康 said...

Lets cross the bridge when we come to it............................................................

承王蓁 said...

你不能改變容貌~~但你可以展現笑容.................................................................

思張張亦 said...

知識可以傳授,智慧卻不行。每個人必須成為他自己。. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

凱v胡倫 said...

百發百中不是一試就成的。..................................................

冠陳儒 said...

來看看你逛逛blog囉,加油!..................................................................

316 said...

Make yourself necessary to someone..................................................................

文滢 said...

如果成為一支火柴,也要點亮一個短暫的宇宙;如果是一隻烏鴉,也要叫疼閉塞的耳膜。............................. ...................................

怡靜怡靜怡靜怡雯 said...

男女互悅,未必廝守終生,相愛就是美的。......................................... ........................

冰微 said...

生命如夏花洵爛;死如秋葉之靜美。........................................ ........................

Masud Khan said...

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