In the novel The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton, there’s a tragic and heart wrenching ending. Lily dies. She consumed too much sleeping medicine, so she died. Whether it was an accident or suicide is a controversial and popular question, but that is not the point. The point is that she died. Like many other novels of the 20th century that feature nontraditional women of society, she died. So did Madame Bovary, Tess, Edna, and many other ladies who didn’t succumb to their eras. Every novel female who did not adhere to society’s rules met their demise by the last page of the book.
It should have been expected that things would not end happily ever after for Miss Lily Bart. She was almost thirty and was not married, her best friend was a bachelor, and she had no money but still lived way beyond her means. She lived all her life trying to impress society, but she didn’t realize she simply never could win them over because she was not living by society’s rules. She was considered old to be 29 and never married. Not many men wanted her because she was past her prime. She didn’t care to be married though. She was a very independent woman. She needed money though, therefore she needed a husband. However, her independent attitude slaughtered her image. She was eventually banished due to rumors she could not rid herself of and her debt. She ends up dying. She dies because she never marries. During her era, marriage was the largest accomplishment of a lady. Because she failed to marry, she failed society, and she failed her life purpose, and she dies. Bertha was a nasty woman, but she was married so everyone believed her false rumors and she also got away with sneaking around and lying. If Lily would have been a traditional woman of her era, married and good, she would not have been destructed and killed off by Wharton.
Lily is not the only female muse of a novel to have met their demise from living their life like women to come generations after them. Madame Bovary also met her demise. She had to marry, but she was unhappy. She sneaks around and sleeps around to try to live the life she desires but can’t have. She commits suicide in the end. Tess Durbeyfield is independent. She goes to work and gets raped and then she runs away. She goes crazy and death is involved. Edna goes through self-discovery in The Awakening. She then has an affair, and at the end of the novel she ends up committing suicide. Lily and all of these other women self-destructed.
What are the authors trying to say by creating all of these tragic female stories? Stories that are supposed to show female independence, resistance, and power yet all show female demolition. Some are even written by female authors, but still do not show female empowerment. Even in the novels written by females, these unique women are destroyed. Can women live, or survive, in a society if they don’t play by the rules? Do women have to conform to make it? No bold, independent, highly intelligent, or unique woman had made it through society. They haven’t made it through any novels either. They always endure a tragic end. It’s never a die of old age situation. They always commit suicide, get murdered, get sick, have a mental breakdown, or some other violent demise. I know this can be challenged, but I know all of these common female fates mean something…