Open Educational Resources

Going No Place?: Foreground Nostalgia and Psychological Spaces in Wharton's The House of Mirth

Sean Scanlan, CUNY New York City College of Technology


This essay argues that the power of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth comes not from Lily Bart's function as a mere symptom of historical and economic pressures, but from the complex narrative and psychological process by which she negotiates a sequence of homes and their repeated collapse. Informing this process is nostalgia, a feeling that frames Lily Bart's step-by-step fall from riches to rags. Reading Lily via cognitive and family systems approaches suggests that Lily's rootlessness is predicated on a subtle transformation from her reliance upon simple "background" (aesthetic and monetary) nostalgia to a more complex and overwhelming "foreground" (experiential and embodied) nostalgia. Her transition to foreground nostalgia shapes her recognition that no route to a stabilizing home is available on equitable terms.