Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Thomas Koenigs

Reader 2

Aaron Matz

Rights Information

© 2021 Madison E. Yardumian


“I have had my vision,” Lily Briscoe declares in the triumphant culminating line of To the Lighthouse, indicating the fulfillment of her artistic vision on a project over ten years in the making. In her success, Lily Briscoe disproves those who have told her “women can’t write, women can’t paint” and actualizes her ability to create, all the while rejecting gendered and heteronormative expectations which prioritize heterosexual marriage over her artistic pursuits (Woolf, TL 86). Strikingly, this language of vision also recurs throughout The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, a text published 22 years after To the Lighthouse, across the Atlantic in America, to describe a moment where Lily Bart and Selden transcend the confines of “the actual” and reach “a forbidden height from which they discover a new world” (Wharton, HM 73). In both of these texts, this idea of the “vision” allows for the text’s protagonist to escape from marriage—and in this, to escape from the gendered expectations and heteronormativity such a union connotates. Due to this deviance from normativity, I employ Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology and Sedgwick’s definition of queerness in Tendencies to theorize that both Lily Bart and Lily Briscoe occupy a queer positionality within their respective text, a positionality marked by outsiderness and marginality. Such a positionality empowers their moments of vision to be “queer visions”—ones which transcend the norms of their time and offer the queer visionary a sense of clarity and a glimpse of a world outside of gendered and heteronormative confines.

This paper’s aim is threefold: (1) to put these two authors, who are often not studied together, in conversation with one another. This will allow me to make a case for Wharton’s potential influence on Woolf. This will also enable me to queer Lily Bart, performing a reading of The House of Mirth which may not be quite as apparent if the text were read in isolation and allowing us to enter into the burgeoning conversation of queer Wharton scholarship in new ways. (2) To establish a queer reading of both Lily Bart and Lily Briscoe and illuminate vision-making as a queer action in both of these texts, in how it helps both characters escape from gendered and heteronormative expectations. (3) To consider the drastically different endings to these two texts, comparing the emptiness of Lily Bart’s vision with the fulfillment of Lily Briscoe’s and consider why these two texts end so differently.