Thursday, September 22, 2011

Introduction: Georges Duroy and Lily Bart - Bel Ami and House of MIrth

Agnes Martin
Georges Duroy (Bel Ami) has been widowed. His lovely young wife Suzanne has died in childbirth. His very young son is now the heir to the great Walter fortune. Duroy has come to New York City because he has heard of the beautiful and incomparable Lily Bart (House of Mirth). He wishes to marry her, return with her to Paris, have her preside over his extravagant lifestyle and sensitively guide the raising and education of his son. He expects no hindrance in his plans. He is offering a fortune and a way out for her.

Georges Duroy in Bel Ami and Lily Bart in House of Mirth are both caught in the Foucauldian grid, web, at the end of the 19th century. They are caught in Foucault's power/knowledge/capital nexus, but one rarely knows they are in it until ...well until they study Foucault. People know they are trapped, but usually in a local way where the system keeps throwing obstacles at them, and they blame themselves for a long while until they fully know, if ever, that that's the way it is set up. Their existential, situationalist choice then is to give in or resist, and how best to resist when inside the Foucauldian paradigm. Baudrillard since 9-11 has suggested otherwise. Just leap out of it. Risk it all. DeLillo's solution is in narrative transcendence, but Baudrillard reading through Foucault does not believe in transcendence so it is not an option with either one of them.

Duroy is not a bastard, not a horrible person. He is just making choices inside his wiggle room and it is pretty confining. To dump judgement on him as a character doesn't make much sense. The PC feminist introduction in my edition of House of Mirth by an esteemed Harvard professor, blames Lily for being shallow and seeing herself only through the eyes of everyone around her. Of being an object of conspicuous consumption for some man she traps. This is simplistic psychological swampy interpretation. She is securely caught in the web. She has some wiggle room, just enough to know that she is caught in a place and time that is boring but comfortable, until it isn't anymore.

Georges can only improve his situation in life by marrying up. The same is true of Lily, only her situation is worse. A young woman cannot do anything if she isn't married. And she must not, must remain spotless, until she snags someone who can afford to keep her in the style to which she has become accustomed. Lily and Georges could never have had each other as they are in the books, when unmarried, if they had met and been attracted to each other. Both are caught in the awful hypocrisy of the social structure they are wedged in, and neither sees anyway out but up or sink and drown.

So to condemn them with ideas from our own times is just precession and only a silly game of speculation. If you see them in the time they are in and the grid of power/knowledge/capital of that time, you may have a chance to see your own place now in that same grid, as it plays out today.

This is the grid DeLillo has Eric Packer in on that last day of his life in Cosmopolis. It is start stop. Moving in quarter inches as Torval says. As House of Mirth unfolds Lily Bart begins to feel the tightening threads as Georges Duroy feels them in the beginning of Bel Ami. Duroy is on his way up and Lily is on her way down, which she can always so far, stop, but always only at great personal loss of her sensibilities and integrity. And in House of Mirth, she sees the dead end sign at the end of the road.

This fanfic is an imagined meeting of the widowed Duroy, after his marriage to Suzanne, and Lily who live in the same time warp, are close in age, move in a similar social class, and what might have been possible for them.

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