The House of Mirth By Edith Wharton Character Analysis Mr. and Mrs. Bart

Although the novel begins with Lily already orphaned, her parents are critical characters in her development. Her mother raises Lily with a sense of entitlement to wealth. Her father, portrayed as a tired shadow of a man who works ceaselessly to provide his wife and daughter with money, is never home long enough to give Lily an adequate male reference point from whom she can gauge other men. Instead, she is taught to gauge a man's worth by his wealth.

Chapter III presents a clear portrait of the family dynamic in which Lily was raised. Described by the narrator as "turbulent," the Bart household is a flurry of French and English maids, trips to Europe, extravagant spending sprees for clothing and material possessions, and discussions about money. Lily's mother is the dominant parent, youthful in appearance and able to "dance her ball-dresses to rags." She tells Lily that she had been "talked into" marrying Mr. Bart, a match she obviously regrets. She henpecks her husband into further extravagances by asking him repeatedly "if he expected her to 'live like a pig'" when he challenges her spending. When the family loses its wealth, she tells her daughter, "But you'll get it back — you'll get it all back, with your face."

Lily's father is described as a "hazy outline of a neutral-tinted" man whose presence in the household is relegated slightly above the positions occupied by "the butler and the man who came to wind the clocks." As an adult, Lily can recall no time when her father was not bald and beset with worry, even though he was only two years older than Mrs. Bart. In his efforts to return the family to prosperity, he works ceaselessly. Because of this, Lily's recollections of him consist mainly of hearing his voice asking the house servants about Lily's well-being after she has gone to bed. He works through the summer, and spends his weekends visiting with his wife and daughter on their holidays in Southampton. He also works while Mrs. Bart and Lily vacation in Europe. He eventually experiences complete financial ruin.

Despite the family's financial circumstances, Mrs. Bart insists on keeping up appearances. Her hiding of the family's misfortune results in her daughter's lack of knowledge concerning monetary matters. Following her husband's death, Mrs. Bart continues to live beyond her means. Two years younger than Mr. Bart, Mrs. Bart dies two years after his demise of "a deep disgust."

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