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Jane Eyre vs House of Mirth Lily

The novels, Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, and House of Mirth, by Edith
Wharton, contain many similarities and differences of which I will discuss in this essay.
The focus will be on the main characters of each book, Jane Eyre, and Lily Bart and will
include important points and ideas demonstrated in these novels.
To begin, Jane, from Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre, was an orphan who
was raised by an upper-class family who resented her and did not want her, therefore
torturing, abusing, and treating her as someone at a status even lower than the servants.

As a child, she knows that her status is awkward and even later on, as a grown woman,
she is considered a second class citizen simply because of her sex.  Further into the
novel, once she has become the governess at Thornfield, the social status put upon
her is inferior to Rochester and others of high class.  She is forced into this social
standing despite the fact that she is expected to display the manners and education of
an upper-class woman.  In comparison, Lily, of Wharton’s novel, House of Mirth, was
raised in a very prestigious, well-to-do family and grows up to be one of New York’s
most eligible socialites.

As an irresponsible, uncontrollable gambler, Lily tends not to
worry, nor give her bad habit a second thought because she is under the impression that
her “out of reach” way of life and her elite circle of friends will be her protection from
the consequences that her actions may bring.  However, the novel takes a turn and Lily’s
compulsive gambling is discovered, resulting in being cut off financially by her family
and being cast out by her peers.  For the first time in her life, now poor and alone, she
must find a job and a home in the lower-class slums of New York.  And, although women
without money, in that era, did have jobs, Lily’s problem was that she was not willing to
give up the glamorous life she was raised to lead.  To point out another difference in
status between the two characters, Jane Eyre rarely displayed a longing to be part of the
higher class, whereas, Lily Bart is intrigued and attracted by it.
Another comparison between Lily and Jane can be made regarding beauty.  This
topic is apparent almost immediately in House of Mirth.  In the beginning of the book, it
is expressed that, “One or two persons, in brushing past them, lingered to look; for Miss
Bart was a figure to arrest even the suburban traveller rushing to his last train” (p.18).
He goes on to wonder that,  “she must have cost a great deal to make, that a great many
dull and ugly people must have been sacrificed to produce her” (p.20).

These excerpts
demonstrate Lily’s external beauty.  This notion is made even more obvious in the line,
“the qualities distinguishing her from the herd of her sex were chiefly external”.  Lily was
beautiful and charming which may have aided her on her way to popularity.  Even her
name, Lily, implies beauty and can be seen as an emblem of femininity.  Jane is very
different from Lily concerning the aspect of ‘beauty’.  She is not blessed with physical
beauty and is described as ordinary and plain.  However, Jane consists of a certain kind
of beauty, perhaps more important.  She is internally beautiful and has the advantage of
having the beauty of mental intelligence and humility.  Important to mention is that
unlike Lily, who tries to win over men with her looks, Jane is able to win over Rochester
with her personality and intelligence.

Jane values her knowledge and thinking over her
physical beauty, whereas, Lily values money, her status, and prestigious friends.  Perhaps
she is taught this notion of inner beauty by Lowood in that it was a school that stifled any
sign of beauty, but gave her a chance to better herself intellectually.  In Jane Eyre, as
Rochester chooses Jane to be his next wife, he proposes by saying, “You – strange, you
almost unearthly thing! – I love you as my own flesh. You – poor and obscure, and small
and plain as you are – I entreat to accept me as a husband”. We see words like strange,
unearthly, plain, poor, small, and obscure as adjectives that describe something ugly and
hard to look at.  Yet, Rochester also expresses, “my equal is here, and my likeness” when

The personalities of Jane and Lily are significantly different from each other.
Both characters shared conflicts that were centered around home and marriage, (in
Jane’s case, seeking marriage while maintaining her independence), and the two display
strong characteristic traits throughout the novels.  Similarly, both are strong minded.  Lily
often dares to be up-front about the things that most women of her day were hesitant
about expressing, such as love and money, and the uncomfortable correlation between the
two.  However, her irresponsible, pleasure-seeking way of life that involved a lot of
gambling, is what sets Lily apart from Jane.  Lily’s challenged her independence in that
she felt she must marry just to survive.  On the contrary, Jane Eyre was revolutionary for
the Victorian era in which she lived and her views, values and beliefs moved directly
against the society at the time. Jane did not like to follow the orthodox way of doing
things.  She chose to live her life her way, not the way women of her time traditionally
did.  She made her own path and didn’t let tradition or anything else stop her from being
a modern woman.  Like Jane, Lily attempted to live by her own rules. In the beginning of
chapter 2, Jane sets the tone for the rest of the novel by saying, “I resisted all the way.”
Both characters, are affected by the line drawn between men and women during
their time, as well as with equality and the roles that their sex plays in society.

They also
display very different views of and desire very different traits concerning members of the
opposite sex.  In House of Mirth, Lily is busy enjoying the privileges of her social status
and trusting in its ‘protection’.  During this time, she secretly goes on with her gambling
life and secretly associates with a man who is unacceptable to those in her status.  He is
considered unsuitable for Lily because he is not as wealthy as them and the relationship is
frowned upon.  In those years, women were seen as a status symbol that a man were to
“possess”, however, he was not already of their status, therefore Lily should not have
acknowledged him the way that she had.  In Jane Eyre, Jane is torn between marriage to
Rochester and maintaining her independence.  Lily is torn between something different,
something more shallow and insignificant; she is torn between 2 men, Lawrence Selden
and Simon Rosedale.

Jane knows that women are viewed as completely dependent upon
their husbands and dependence is a notion that she has not been familiar with for some
time. Throughout the course of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane is used as a representation
of a modern woman.  While she enjoys what independence she has, the fact remains that
she is in love with Rochester but cherishes for equality.  She struggles in that Rochester, as a
man, is naturally “above” her and she is “below” him, as a woman.  As Rochester reacts
to Jane refusing his proposal for marriage, saying, “Oh, Jane, this is bitter! This – this is
wicked.  It would not be wicked to love me,” Jane responds, “It would to obey you.”
(p.473).  She yearns to combine her love for Rochester with her desire for independence
and equality.

This fact makes up a big conflict that exists through much of the book.  To
Jane, love and equality are like oil and water, and therefore, cannot mix.  Eventually, Jane
is able to end this conflict and marries Rochester.  It is apparent that Lily, in her search
for her husband, is only concerned with prestige, wealth, and status.  This shallow,
materialistic way of thinking plays a role in her tragic death.  She is clearly not in touch
with what is truly important and substantial.  Jane, on the other hand, is only concerned
that her mate will share the same values that she does.  She is not concerned with his
money or place on the social ladder.  Her desires delve much deeper and focus on what is
within rather than what is owned and possessed externally.
In both novels, Lily and Jane are identified as the heroines of the novels.
While this is easy to see with Jane, I find it difficult to agree with regarding Lily.
This is because it is hard to see a “heroine” as someone who drinks, screws around, and is
generally amoral.  This description of a character does not carry the typical characteristics
of what most would consider to be a heroine.  However, Jane clearly exhibits the identity
of a heroine.

Aside from being a striking figure, she is considered a heroine for many
reasons.   She displays patience and understanding of interpersonal relationships.  Also,
she is very particular with detail regarding her education at Lowood to teaching Adele at
Thornfield.  Finally, she incorporates her strong moral sense into every decision she
Both Jane Eyre and House of Mirth end dramatically, however, very different
from each other.  Eventually, Jane is married to her love, Rochester, and is experiencing
fulfillment and joy at its best for the first real time in her life.  She expresses her
happiness after Rochester’s proposal by saying, “if ever I thought a good
thought – if ever I prayed a sincere and blameless prayer – if ever I wished a righteous
wish – I am rewarded now.”  Here she implies that she has been rewarded, as if, for a
good deed.  In a sense, her engagement can be seen as a reward in that somehow, perhaps
in an unearthly aspect, Jane is being acknowledged and complimented for all of the
hardships she has overcome, all of the obstacles she has conquered, and all of the
determination and dedication towards bettering her own life, independently through the

She has essentially triumphed over all of the struggles she ever encountered.
House of Mirth ended very differently and Lily’s fate, sadly, was not nearly the same.
In the end, her popularity fades when she is accused of relations with a married man and
is discovered to have had possible inappropriate business dealings.  Her closest friends,
the one’s she trusted with her “protection”, denied her in a desperate attempt to avoid
being associated with Lily’s behavior, therefore jeopardizing their reputations.  Lily
conducted her business life and personal life in a very indiscreet way which proved later
on to be her biggest fault.  After essentially losing her identity and failing in her goal
to climb the social ladder, Lily dies from an accidental overdose just after she realizes the
extent of the mistakes that she has made.

Finally, in comparing the main characters of the novels, Jane Eyre and House of
Mirth, Jane Eyre and Lily Bart share few similarities and maintain many differences.
Much of this can be attributed to the fact that they were raised extremely different from
one another and as a result, grew up with different values and senses for what was truly
important in life and what was truly necessary to survive.  Jane emerged from a strict,
abusive upbringing, into a well-rounded, strong-minded, responsible, and dedicated
adult who triumphed in the end.

Lily suffered a fate that she almost seemed destined
for.  Lily shares her name with a common flower.  This fact may contain an aspect of
symbolism in that like a dying flower, Lily’s character gradually begins to “wilt” as
the novel goes on.  Even her last name, Bart, shows symbolism in that it contains the
word “art” which may imply something about the materialistic world that she tries to be a
part of.  Interestingly, and perhaps most symbolic, is the fact that the lily is the “flower of
death”, an outcome that her whirlwind, uptight, unrealistic life inevitably led her to.

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