To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

If it's Wednesday, this must be Wharton.

Here is a bit from The House of Mirth.

"You're perfectly beautiful now, Lily: your eyes are shining, and your cheeks have grown so pink all of a sudden - "

"Ah, they were pale, then - ghastly pale, when I came in? Why don't you tell me frankly that I'm a wreck? My eyes are bright now because I'm so nervous - but in the mornings they look like lead. And I can see the lines coming in my face - the lines of worry and disappointment and failure! Every sleepless night leaves a new one - and how can I sleep, when I have such dreadful things to think about?"

"Dreadful things - what things?" asked Gerty, gently detaching her wrists from her friend's feverish fingers. "What things? Well, poverty, for one - and I don't know any that's more dreadful." Lily turned away and sank with sudden weariness into the easy-chair near the tea-table. "You asked me just now if I could understand why Ned Silverton spent so much money. Of course I understand - he spends it on living with the rich. You think we live on the rich, rather than with them: and so we do, in a sense - but it's a privilege we have to pay for! We eat their dinners, and drink their wine, and smoke their cigarettes, and use their carriages and their opera-boxes and their private cars - yes, but there's a tax to pay on every one of those luxuries. The man pays it by big tips to the servants, by playing cards beyond his means, by flowers and presents - and - and - lots of other things that cost; the girl pays it by tips and cards too - oh, yes, I've had to take up bridge again - and by going to the best dress-makers, and having just the right dress for every occasion, and always keeping herself fresh and exquisite and amusing!"

She leaned back for a moment, closing her eyes, and as she sat there, her pale lips slightly parted, and the lids dropped above her fagged brilliant gaze, Gerty had a startled perception of the change in her face - of the way in which an ashen daylight seemed suddenly to extinguish its artificial brightness. She looked up, and the vision vanished.

"It doesn't sound very amusing, does it? And it isn't - I'm sick to death of it! And yet the thought of giving it all up nearly kills me - it's what keeps me awake at night, and makes me so crazy for your strong tea. For I can't go on in this way much longer, you know - I'm nearly at the end of my tether. And then what can I do - how on earth am I to keep myself alive? I see myself reduced to the fate of that poor Silverton woman - slinking about to employment agencies, and trying to sell painted blotting-pads to Women's Exchanges! And there are thousands and thousands of women trying to do the same thing already, and not one of the number who has less idea how to earn a dollar than I have!"

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