Monday, May 10, 2010

Book #2: Going the Way of Lily Bart?

Day by day, as I sat at my childhood desk, I could feel myself slipping. I couldn’t bring myself to return emails from old friends – smart, practical friends who’d seen the writing on the wall and baled on English literature after one degree and gone on to law school and HR certificates. Their career prospects appeared to be soaring – job offers in New York, business trips to Frankfurt – while I languished in this dead-end profession.

Maybe that was why Edith Wharton spoke to me. She knew how to make beauty of the mess that misguided, bleary-eyed girls make of their lives.

Wandering through a used bookstore, I found a dog-eared copy of The House of Mirth, and re-reading the opening paragraph was like rediscovering an old perfume, the smell of Chanel No. 5 as it first smelt at age eleven: “Selden paused in surprise. In the afternoon rush of the Grand Central Station his eyes had been refreshed by the sight of Miss Lily Bart.” From there, the intriguing images unfold before you, from Lily’s “desultory air” to her “air of irresolution which might, as he surmised, be the mask of a very definite purpose” to Selden’s fascination with “the modeling of her little ear, the crisp upward wave of her hair.” Everything about this woman – from her unpredictable moods to the minute details of her appearance – catches Selden’s fancy. Yet thanks to her aspirations to marry the biggest Sugar Daddy in New York, Selden is all too aware that he’s “far out of her orbit.” He’s like the nice, nerdy guy in high school who befriends the beautiful, popular girl by flirting when she’s had a bad day and offering to do her homework.

The thrall and mystery of female beauty. What woman doesn’t secretly desire such power? A guilty pleasure, no doubt. As modern women, we’ve transcended such nonsense – the vanity, the narcissism, the endless desire to be desired. Long evolved beyond all that, we’re supposed to be rushing off to meetings dressed in boxy suits, staying up late to write the Long-Term Plan, kicking butt at the Curriculum Committee Meeting. Yet Wharton’s brilliance is that she can awaken flutters in even the most liberated of readers by showing what it would feel like to possess, vicariously, Lily Bart’s power and vulnerability – to be immersed in the milky, mesmerized gaze of some idealized admirer.

I remember that when I first started really enjoying sex (by this point, I was on my third boyfriend), it had everything to do with seeing that look on his face, as he shoved a firm pillow beneath my butt and his eyes swept over my flesh. I reveled in the feeling of relinquishing control, and the sense of suspense was irresistible.

Photo from: here


Bushpig.vrc said...

age 11???

Leslie Shimotakahara said...

Indeed. What can I say? I'd been reading "Vogue" since eight.....


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About Me

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Toronto, ON, Canada
Leslie Shimotakahara is a writer and recovering academic, who wanted to be simply a writer from before the time she could read. Hard-pressed to answer her parents’ question of how she would support herself as a writer, Leslie got drawn into the labyrinthine study of literature, completing her B.A. in Honours English from McGill in 2000, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern American Literature from Brown in 2006. After graduation, she taught English at St. Francis Xavier University for two years. Leslie woke up one morning and realized that she’d had enough of the Ivory Tower. The fact that she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do with her life loomed over her, and the realization was startling. It was time to stop studying and passively observing life and do something real instead. She needed to discover herself and tell her own story. This blog and the book she has written under the same title (Variety Crossing Press, spring 2012) are her foray. Leslie's writing has been published in WRITE, TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and GENRE.