Dr. C. G. Jung Visits the House of Mirth

Article excerpt

Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth (1905) presents psychological disintegration in the characterization of the novel's beautiful heroine Miss. Lily Bart. This paper applies a Jungian analysis to study the causes and effects of Lily Bart's psychological disintegration. It divides these causes and effects according to Jungian archetypes and motifs. Through such divisions, the paper reveals Lily's inability to achieve self-realization; and how does this inability gradually bring her fatal end. To demonstrate this, Lily's use of her persona/shadow, the mother archetype and its affect on Lily, and the child motif and its connection with past are scrutinized in depth.

keywords: Wharton, House of Mirth, Jung

url: http://www.clas.ufl.edu/ipsa/journal/2006_abureesh01.shtml

After his visit to the United States and his meeting with Edith Wharton, Henry James, in a letter dated the 26th of October, 1900, persuaded Edith Wharton to the "study of the American life that surrounds you. Let yourself go in it & at it" (James 32). Two years later, in another letter dated 17th of August, 1902 in which he praised Edith Wharton's The Valley of Decision (1902), Henry James repeated his inducement that she should try to write about America. He says, "I mean while you're in full command of the situation-admonish you, I say, in favour of the American subject" (James 43). At the time of Henry James's first letter, Edith Wharton was working on a novel on the American subject, especially the New York society. This work was to be entitled "Disintegration." In fact, Edith Wharton "put it aside" (Benstock 16), but after Henry James's second letter she went back to work on it. After "writing seventy pages of the story before abandoning it" (Benstock 17), she started writing her best-selling work The House of Mirth (1905). Twenty years later, she completed the abandoned work embodying it into The Mother's Recompense (1925). What is interesting here is that disintegration1 as a theme is carefully interwoven throughout both novels. Both works show how harmful irresponsible pleasure seeking can be -psychologically and sociologically- and how it can cause personality and family disintegration. Psychologically, The House of Mirth illustrates the disintegration theme in the characterization of Miss Lily Bart the beautiful heroine of the novel. In A Feast of Words: the Triumph of Edith Wharton Cynthia Griffin Wolf says "The House of Mirth is about the disintegration of Lily Bart, about the psychological disfigurement of any woman who chooses to accept society's definition of her as a beautiful object and nothing more" (106). Wolf just mentions the disintegration issue, but she does not discuss it any further or look at it either from an analytical psychology or from a psychoanalytic point of view. Although there are a few psychological studies2 of the novel, yet, throughout the huge body of criticism of The House of Mirth, there is not a single study that looks at the novel from the Jungian approach.

A Jungian analytical psychological profile of Lily's personality, as dramatized throughout the novel, will show the causes and effects of Lily's disintegrated personality. From the beginning of the novel, the reader sees Lily as a person without identity and without a fully developed personality. A developed personality, from a Jungian standpoint, is an integrated personality; to have an integrated personality is to have achieved individuation. Jung defines individuation as

becoming an "in-dividual," and, in so far as "individuality" embraces our innermost, last, and incomparable uniqueness, it also implies becoming one's own self. We could therefore translate individuation as "becoming to selfhood" or "self-realization." (7: 173)

To develop "self-realization" or to become "one's own self" is to establish a harmonious relationship between the consciousness and the unconsciousness, between the ego and the self. Focusing on Lily's personality, we see only a one-sided personality, a beautified exterior, that she is conscious of; she always projects that side to the world around her in order to win her way. …