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Space Narration and Lily Bart’s Inevitable Tragedy in the House of Mirth

Author LvXiaoHe
Tutor ZhaoHuiZhen
School Nanjing University of Finance and Economics
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords The House of Mirth Lily Bart tragic fate space narration
Type Master's thesis
Year 2011
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Edith Wharton is a famous American woman writer around the turn of the 20th century. Most of her works are set in Old New York, where she was born and brought up, and depict the real situation of women in upper-class society at that time. In 1905, the publication of The House of Mirth brings Edith Wharton considerable fame and establishes her position in American literary circles. Lily Bart, the heroine, lives in upper-class society of Old New York with a goal of pursuing a rich husband. However, because of the scandals of“accepting money from a man”and“having affairs with a married man”, Lily Bart is utterly discredited and abandoned by upper-class society and dies pathetically in the end. Thus“Lily Bart’s tragic fate”is an important theme of the novel. This thesis attempts to make a study of that theme from the perspective of space narration and how space participates in the narration of Lily Bart’s tragic fate.The thesis is divided into five parts. The introduction is mainly a survey of Edith Wharton’s prestigious standing in American literary circles, her significant writings and the theory of space narration.Chapter One discusses the relationship between physical space and Lily Bart’s tragic fate. Physical space, made up of geographical space—Old New York—and scenic space, belongs to objective space. Lily Bart has lived in Old New York and is restricted in territorial scope. In addition, Old New York also imposes impacts on Lily Bart by the unique political and economic characteristics. Through analysis of the promotion and interaction of the concrete scenic space, such as means of transportation, the garden and the salon space, this thesis reveals Lily Bart’s inevitable tragic fate step by step.Chapter Two expounds the relationship between social space and Lily Bart’s tragic fate. The houses in which Lily Bart has lived are classified as social space in this thesis. Social space is also one part of objective space. In the novel, Lily Bart never has a settled dwelling. Her continuous shifts of residences expose the complicated social relations, her inevitable tragic fate of physical and spiritual homelessness and the process of Lily’s tragic development and further reveal the inevitability of her tragedy.Chapter Three explores the relationship between psychological space and Lily Bart’s tragic fate. Psychological space belongs to subjective space and is the subjective reason for Lily Bart’s tragedy. At the turn of the 20th century, the value system and views of marriage, with its financial orientation, occupies a mainstream position in upper-class society. Nonetheless, Lily Bart pursues pure love and moral excellence, in addition to insisting on the absolute importance of money. Her deviation from mainstream values and views of marriage in Old New York essentially results in her tragic fate.The conclusion points out that Lily Bart’s tragic fate is certain to happen under the combined synergy of physical space, social space and psychological space.

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