This won’t be a Lily love fest. Don’t get me wrong. I dig Lily. I even regard her as one of my literary girlfriends. She’s smoking hot and she ain’t half bad with words, either. But like all girlfriends, she’s got issues. Big, deep-seated ones. Like she’s dead, that’s a problem. Her other problem is her identification with a bogus moral code. She fetishizes her looks, she frets about her reputation, and she firmly believes in the value of appearances. When it comes to this narrow system of values, Lily is a fairly clingy gal. She just won’t let go. Her code serves her well for a while, but ultimately it’s her undoing. There are two general interpretive camps when it comes to Lily’s death. One argues that she dies by accident and is saved by paying back her 9K debt to Trenor, that rapacious scoundrel. The other argues that she dies by suicide and wonders about the dubious significance of squaring her ledger at all. Truth is, Lily is both saved and damned. On the one hand, Lily values propriety and keeping up appearances. By paying back her debt, she squares herself with her own self-conception. This is nothing to sniff at. Saved. However, she’s profoundly and deeply mistaken to think that she owes Trenor anything. An obligation incurred under false pretences is no obligation at all. There’s literally no debt to pay. She doesn’t owe Trenor a penny. By refusing to abandon her false belief, Lily is guilty of the sin of attachment. She descends into nervous exhaustion, and dies. Damned. I feel rather plucky about all this, that Lily is both saved and damned. It’s properly philosophic and equivocal. Entirely in keeping with Lily’s enigmatic exit.
The House of Mirth (5), or I Love Lily?