The Conventional and the Queer: Lily Bart, An Unlivable Ideal


In criticism of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, more attention has been paid in recent years to the unconventional side of Lily Bart. Wai-Chee Dimock, for example, calls Lily “something of a rebel” (783), while Benjamin D. Carson and Elaine Showalter place her as “intruder” (707) and “outsider” (138) in her society, respectively. Ruth Bernard Yeazell admits at least “the faltering pulse of resistance” in Lily (731), and Maureen Howard describes her as “just unconventional enough” (139). Lily as a conformist is an obvious picture to paint, which is why exploring her non-conformism in criticism has been so stimulating and fruitful. However, even with so much focus on her unconventionality, few critics have questioned the one aspect that keeps criticism of The House of Mirth from becoming even more comprehensive: Lily’s sexuality.

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