(Angry) Thoughts on The House of Mirth

For science, read this article first.

We had the most uninspiring NYE. Nathan played video games, I read a book, we ate okayish takeout burritos and not a drop of alcohol touched our lips. We were both tired and I was feeling sick. There was a minor adventure when a baby bird fell down the chimney, and Nathan got to have a Cinderella moment when he caught it and it flew from his hands out the window, singing a merry tune as it went.

Anyway. I wanted to watch The House of Mirth.

I hadn’t seen the movie since I was about 15, half a lifetime ago (literally). I had fuzzy but fond memories about how tragic everything was for Lily, but mostly about what a dreamboat Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz) was. I had a ridiculous crush on Eric Stoltz after this movie. I remember reading the book around that time as well, which just further furnished all my daydreams about how wonderful Selden was.

So, we watched the movie last night. I have never, ever, not in my entire life, had such a dramatic – violent – change of heart on my feelings about a book or a movie. I can’t even explain it. I’ll try my best, splitting my reaction and interpretation into two halves:

Fifteen year old me: Lawrence Selden is such a babe, and look – he’s so above all of that high society rubbish. All of those people chew you up, spit you out and abuse you, Lily – be like Selden, reject it and be free. It’s all your fault – you cared too much about money and luxury, you could have lived a more humble life as Selden’s girlfriend if you’d been brave enough to shrug off societal expectations. He was just waiting for you to make that leap, you could have been happy but you were too stupid!

Thirty year old me: Lawrence Selden is the worst. He could not have been more of a jerk. Yes, the social circles that Lily move in are unwaveringly cruel, and yes, she made one terrible decision after another, but this was almost always a result of her naivety and trusting nature. But Selden planted the seeds of everything – it was him who kept her at arm’s length and was happy to derail her chances at security and maybe even happiness because it was more fun for him toy with her, confuse her and tempt her for his own amusement, but never offer any sort of commitment or even emotional availability. He swindled her – he took advantage of her love for him by not guiding her towards what was right or responsible for a woman of her position, but instead acting like “if you act according to my principles – even if they ruin your whole life – then maybe you’ll live up to my expectations and maybe I’ll give you the time of day”. He promised to love her, but withdrew it the moment that she had a get a job and couldn’t be the decorative nymph of his lust-dreams. He is a user, he is selfish, he thinks he is so much more special than anybody else, he thinks that society’s rules don’t apply to him, but really, he’s just the worst.

There! If I had a punching bag, I’d be taping Stoltz as Selden’s smarmy face to it right now – it is 24 hours later and I’m still mad. I guess that as you get older, you meet so many Seldens in real life. They are everywhere, and that’s why the film still feels so raw and relevant even now. You will also meet a Bertha Dorset or two. I suppose I should be proud that I have a better sense for these kind of toxic mind games these days, but it frightens me how naive I was when first watching the film – with age comes experience, I guess!

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