Abstract

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.

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