September 27th, 2016
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lily is, essentially, upper middle class. She has enough money and status to play bridge and attend balls with the truly wealthy, but she is living beyond her means, and her debts are always mounting. In order to secure a place for herself in society and to pay off her debts, she has to find a rich husband. Lily’s story illustrates the strain of the upper middle class trying to achieve true wealth—and the terrible consequences of failure—in a society where a few people have everything and most have nothing….
Inequality, Piketty argues, ruins romance. In a society where the primary routes to wealth are inheritance and marriage, marriages become more about strategy than about mutual affection. At the book’s start, Lily hopes to secure her future by marrying the wealthy but criminally dull Percy Gryce. But her heart spoils her plan, as she spends time with her true love Lawrence Selden—a modest lawyer—when she should be courting Gryce, and another eligible young women angles in and marries him. Later, as Lily’s prospects become increasingly limited, Simon Rosedale, a wealthy social climber (and sleazy anti-Semitic caricature) proposes a mutually beneficial marriage. He can give her material security, while she can give him status. Lily rejects him. No one fulfills her like Selden does. But, as Piketty notes, in highly unequal societies it is impossible to become wealthy from a profession alone. “Study leads nowhere” in “a society in which the minimum objective is to obtain 20 to 30 times the average income of the day.” Selden is a mere lawyer, not a robber baron. He will never be able to provide Lily with the life that Gryce or even Rosedale would.