Date Approved


Graduate Degree Type


Degree Name

English (M.A.)

Degree Program


First Advisor

Ashley Shannon

Second Advisor

Jo Miller

Third Advisor

Avis Hewitt


Much of traditional literary study of Lily Bart’s struggles and social failures depicted in The House of Mirth focuses on her fear of losing her freewill, her reliance on fate or Fortuna, and her dislike of the options set before her. In this paper I will use several important scenes to illustrate that Lily’s penchant for gambling more accurately explains her behavior and rejection of social and cultural expectations. Preferring her freedom and weighing her options of marriage for power or a financially secure lifestyle, Lily considers them as a gambler, balancing her marriage prospects against her love for excitement and impulsive risk-taking.

In spite of knowing her livelihood, lifestyle, and her financial security are at risk, she purposely thwarts several opportunities to marry. When loss of her freedom fights with cultural expectations for marriage Lily gambles that her calculated risk to live as an independent single woman will be successful. In Lily's eyes there are no rules for her as she can charm herself out of the “bad luck” situations as they arise.

Victorian novels isolate gambling as a seductive obsession, with losses going beyond one individual to family, business, and community. Results of unhappy marriages also go beyond two individuals and Lily is willing to gamble with her prospects in the marriage marketplace because she trusts her skills and experiences in such a way that she feels she has a better than 50/50 chance of winning the outcome she wants. Down to her very last action in the book, she embodies the gambler’s willingness to throw it all away. In this book, Edith Wharton uses Lily to demonstrate, “her bleakness of vision in the face of a totalizing system she finds at once detestable and inevitable” by allowing Lily to gamble with marriage prospects, social relationships, and ultimately her life.