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The House of Mirth: Edith Wharton's Tale of Elite New York Society (Timeless Classic Books)

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Considered to be Edith Wharton's most important work of fiction, The House of Mirth was published with great success in 1905 - adding to Miss Wharton's already substantial fortune. Set against the back drop of the 1890's New York ruling class, Wharton places her tragic heroine, Lily Bart, in a society that she describes as a " 'hot-house of traditions and conventions.' " T Considered to be Edith Wharton's most important work of fiction, The House of Mirth was published with great success in 1905 - adding to Miss Wharton's already substantial fortune. Set against the back drop of the 1890's New York ruling class, Wharton places her tragic heroine, Lily Bart, in a society that she describes as a " 'hot-house of traditions and conventions.' " The traditions and conventions of society indifferently press upon her as she loses her wealth and social standing and fails to support herself through labor. Lily herself at one point notes, it is important to remain visible in her social circle, otherwise her already dwindling prospects for marriage would be further depleted. Despite her financially reduced circumstances, Lily lives in a society that places a premium on displays of wealth and fashion. In order to remain in good social standing, and to foster marriage prospects, she resorts to borrowing money for dresses, bridge, and any other number of goods that are commonly consumed among her friends and which without, she would be cast out as poor and shabby. The House of Mirth found instant acclaim and sold over 140,000 copies in the first two months.


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Considered to be Edith Wharton's most important work of fiction, The House of Mirth was published with great success in 1905 - adding to Miss Wharton's already substantial fortune. Set against the back drop of the 1890's New York ruling class, Wharton places her tragic heroine, Lily Bart, in a society that she describes as a " 'hot-house of traditions and conventions.' " T Considered to be Edith Wharton's most important work of fiction, The House of Mirth was published with great success in 1905 - adding to Miss Wharton's already substantial fortune. Set against the back drop of the 1890's New York ruling class, Wharton places her tragic heroine, Lily Bart, in a society that she describes as a " 'hot-house of traditions and conventions.' " The traditions and conventions of society indifferently press upon her as she loses her wealth and social standing and fails to support herself through labor. Lily herself at one point notes, it is important to remain visible in her social circle, otherwise her already dwindling prospects for marriage would be further depleted. Despite her financially reduced circumstances, Lily lives in a society that places a premium on displays of wealth and fashion. In order to remain in good social standing, and to foster marriage prospects, she resorts to borrowing money for dresses, bridge, and any other number of goods that are commonly consumed among her friends and which without, she would be cast out as poor and shabby. The House of Mirth found instant acclaim and sold over 140,000 copies in the first two months.

30 review for The House of Mirth: Edith Wharton's Tale of Elite New York Society (Timeless Classic Books)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Glenn Sumi

    Poor, lovely Lily Bart Her tragic story will break your heart She runs in the best circles Wears the right clothes And flirts with rich men But everyone knows That she needs to marry Someone – and fast! At 29 her looks won’t last She’s ringing up debts Borrowing from men And displeasing their wives Not to mention her friend Lawrence Selden, a lawyer (but not very rich) It’s Gilded Age New York And life’s a bitch If you’re not “old money” Like the Trenors, Dorsets And that odd Percy Gryce The most you can do is p Poor, lovely Lily Bart Her tragic story will break your heart She runs in the best circles Wears the right clothes And flirts with rich men But everyone knows That she needs to marry Someone – and fast! At 29 her looks won’t last She’s ringing up debts Borrowing from men And displeasing their wives Not to mention her friend Lawrence Selden, a lawyer (but not very rich) It’s Gilded Age New York And life’s a bitch If you’re not “old money” Like the Trenors, Dorsets And that odd Percy Gryce The most you can do is play very nice (Like Sam Rosedale, the Brys The Gormers and such) Try to buy your way in (i.e., never go dutch) Just remember: this clique Who summer in Newport and vacate in France Can shut you out Of the social dance Which brings me back to Lily Bart Who’s clearly not as smart As she seems Stepping right into a terrible scheme And refusing to clear her name Or go along with the game Even though, in the end, it causes her shame Does she have a choice? A tragic flaw? Or is her inaction the point of it all? Is her refusal to play her hand A critique of women’s roles In a world ruled by Man? And what of that ending that seems out of place I won't give a spoiler That'd be a disgrace But melodrama and tears crop up near the end When Lily appears To want for a friend Her author, Ms. Wharton, knew this world well It looked like heaven But was nasty as hell She's fashioned a fine portrait Of Old New York But please don’t forget another great work An even better one, written Some 16 years hence Full of wisdom, passion, sensibility and sense The title? You guessed it: The Age Of Innocence

  2. 4 out of 5

    Samadrita

    On occasions like this, I rue the absence of a 'tragedy' shelf or some variation of the same because mere 'melancholia' seems too modest, too equivocal a word to convey the kind of heartbreak Lily Bart's story inflicted on me. It is, perhaps, apposite that I came to this with my mind still fresh from Anita Desai's stirring homage to a resolutely single, unsung fictional heroine who holds together a disintegrating family, unacknowledged, misunderstood, left behind and forgotten (Clear Light of Day On occasions like this, I rue the absence of a 'tragedy' shelf or some variation of the same because mere 'melancholia' seems too modest, too equivocal a word to convey the kind of heartbreak Lily Bart's story inflicted on me. It is, perhaps, apposite that I came to this with my mind still fresh from Anita Desai's stirring homage to a resolutely single, unsung fictional heroine who holds together a disintegrating family, unacknowledged, misunderstood, left behind and forgotten (Clear Light of Day). Because Desai's Bim and Wharton's Lily are both flawed figures who manage to stand erect, weathering storms of hostile circumstances that whittle down their will to live and sense of self worth. Even when the vicissitudes of fate leave them psychologically battered and dying inside, they manage to maintain their slippery grip on ideals that cost them dearly. And how many tragedies can we think of, in which the female protagonist's tragic status is not a mere matter of simple victimization at the hands of patriarchal figures of authority but is, instead, locked in a complex configuration of missed chances, reluctance to surrender self-esteem in exchange for societal approval and an unsympathetic social milieu? She was realizing for the first time that a woman's dignity may cost more to keep up than her carriage; and that the maintenance of a moral attribute should be dependent on dollars and cents, made the world appear a more sordid place than she had conceived it. Lily Barton's ill-fated fall from grace is not just the tragedy of a woman of insufficient means restricted to using her beauty as currency. It is representative of a greater human predicament. Unlike Desai's ornately crafted family drama taking place amidst the squalor of an Old Delhi neighborhood, Lily's tale comes swathed in layers of exquisite riches. The shimmer of expensive china, the buzz of vacuous conversations conducted in affected accents, the ring of self-assured laughter spilling forth from the made up faces of social butterflies and the dispassionate flirtations between social aspirants and calculating husband-hunters provide a glittering backdrop to her spiralling descent into the realms of penury and obscurity. But this outward show of grandeur and exuberance stands in stark contrast to the bleakness of Lily's inner world - the site of a perennial conflict between necessity and moral rectitude - which Wharton limns with stunning precision and empathy. Lily's bitter ending hits home not because she is a woman forced to choose between a marriage of convenience and complete annihilation but because that tragedy is one of her own making, a fatal repercussion of her last defiant refusal to play by the rules of society. If she slipped she recovered her footing, and it was only afterward that she was aware of having recovered it each time on a slightly lower level. Why Edith Wharton does not share the same pedestal of authorial eminence with figures like Fitzgerald, I don't understand. Both The Great Gatsby and 'The House of Mirth' indict the soulless heart of a blindly hedonistic social order and yet Wharton seems to be often viewed simply as a woman's writer. As if to write from the female perspective and use female bondings and rivalry as tools of social critique automatically qualify as criteria for exclusion of a work from greater recognition. She had fallen, she had "gone under," and true to the ideal of their race, they were awed only by success-by the gross tangible image of material achievement. To hell with the canon then. Gatsby's tragedy transpires as a result of his naivete and callow optimism. Lily's ultimate end is an act of conscious self abnegation and implicit resistance to the value judgment systems which govern the world she inhabits. It should be obvious which story's razor-sharpness cut me to the bone.

  3. 3 out of 5

    Jason

    Lily Bart, the protagonist of Edith Wharton's stunning first novel, is introduced to the reader as a young woman traveling within high society. While her blood and wealth may place her on the fringe of that society, her "pale" beauty (as it is continuously characterized throughout the novel) elevates her within its ranks. Lily is marriage material. And within Manhattan's high society at the turn of the century, women are meant to marry; and in order to marry women are meant to maintain a reputat Lily Bart, the protagonist of Edith Wharton's stunning first novel, is introduced to the reader as a young woman traveling within high society. While her blood and wealth may place her on the fringe of that society, her "pale" beauty (as it is continuously characterized throughout the novel) elevates her within its ranks. Lily is marriage material. And within Manhattan's high society at the turn of the century, women are meant to marry; and in order to marry women are meant to maintain a reputation of "pale" innocence (indeed, they must). Lily hesitates to question these two fundamental rules that bind her, save on rare occasion in conversation with Lawrence Selden, the man it seems she would marry if the choice were hers, and who stands far enough outside Lily's circle to critique that circle from an apparent distance. Selden, however, presents Lily with several problems. First, Selden himself is hardly able to separate himself from the rules of Manhattan society, even if he so desired to or so imagined the independence of his perspective. Second, Selden serves as preacher, counselor, and sounding post to Lily with respect to the pitfalls of high society, but while Selden's efforts to take high society off its pedestal strike a chord with Lily, and indeed echo many of her own thoughts, Selden never presents Lily with a viable alternative to the only circle (and the only set of rules) she knows. The final problem that first emerges from the relationship between Lily Bart and Lawrence Selden is the crux of the novel and the launching point for several shrewd insights Wharton compellingly places within the American cultural dialog, as extant within the novel. Lily couldn't marry Selden if the choice were hers. (And, perhaps ironically, she likely would not, in any case, as Selden lacks the most essential thing men in high society bring to a marriage -- money.) Like any fully painted character in a great work of fiction, Lily Bart is a woman of substantial intellectual and emotional force. Indeed, given the degree the reader is aware of the goings on inside Lily Bart's head, it can be surprising to step back and remember the novel's narrated in the third person. Lily, viewed in isolation, is more than situated to grab control of her life if that control were hers to grab. But because she does not live in isolation, control is not hers. Her will is usurped at almost every turn by the societal forces around her; which among other things make her will all but moot. While an argument could be made that Lily has a knack for making choices that reflect upon her poorly, she is defined nonetheless, and far more, by the perceptions of those around her than by any sense of self she seeks to, or by happenstance does, affirmatively present to the world. And in light of the rules that constrain her, her reputation -- never in her hands -- spirals downward as the novel progresses, most often, again, via external rather than internal forces. Absent her reputation intact, that Lily is meant to marry becomes meaningless. Her purpose and place within Manhattan's high society slip from her hands as, trying at least to retain her dignity, she chooses not to act on her own behalf when the opportunities are before her and otherwise, and perhaps always, lacks the choice to act on her own behalf as a byproduct of her social milieu. The House of Mirth is remarkably tragic. At times, it feels as though too much is going wrong for Lily Bart a little too often. But the totality of the narrative, and Wharton's prose, combat what may be the novel's single shortcoming. Wharton's novel surfaces from many contexts. Two are telling, or at least were to me upon reading The House of Mirth. First, Lily Bart retains her outer beauty throughout the greater part of the novel, despite her internal struggle to maintain a grip in the face of near free fall. Her inner world, as she feels it, and as others perceive it, becomes dark as her "pale" beauty persists. Sadly, her inner life is all but wholly divorced from her outer reality. Thus, in Lily Bart's unfortunate transformation within the novel the saliency of maintaining superficial appearances is brought to the thematic forefront. A theme present in both The House of Mirth and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray -- cast differently, but not without similarities. Second, The House of Mirth shines a bright light of reality upon Transcendentalism. At minimum, Wharton illustrates that self-determination and self-reliance are one thing when you're living in a cabin in the woods, growing beans, and contemplating existence during solitary sojourns around Walden Pond, but quite another in the company of others -- particularly a circle of others fixated upon a set of mores or, more strictly, rules. Reaching further, perhaps, Wharton exposes a stark line between the wherewithal of men and women in American society to "go Thoreau". In other words, The House of Mirth may temper Transcendentalism by portraying the profound influence of the company one keeps on reaching into oneself and, beneath that, the harsh reality of being a woman within that company. The House of Mirth is one of the greatest American novels of the 20th century.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Henry Avila

    Lily Bart, born poor but from a blue blood family, grew up privileged, well her mother pretended they had wealth, always telling her hard working husband, she will not live like a pig! He succumbs to an early grave, broke, at the turn of the century (20th), that is, the mother spends money, they haven't got, going to Europe, buying expensive clothes, jewelry, furniture, all for the sake of appearances, their friends, in High Society are very well - to- do. Since childhood, Lily is told one thing Lily Bart, born poor but from a blue blood family, grew up privileged, well her mother pretended they had wealth, always telling her hard working husband, she will not live like a pig! He succumbs to an early grave, broke, at the turn of the century (20th), that is, the mother spends money, they haven't got, going to Europe, buying expensive clothes, jewelry, furniture, all for the sake of appearances, their friends, in High Society are very well - to- do. Since childhood, Lily is told one thing, never trained for anything else, her object in life, marry a rich man, restore the family honor, love doesn't matter, the only important concern, Gold... When her mother dies too, in poverty, discouraged, Lily is alone at the age of 19. Aunt Peniston, affluent, widowed sister, of Lily's father, surprisingly takes her in, she keeps mostly to herself, aloof, will not help Miss Bart, pay bills, ( Lily has a meager income), and her niece continues in New York society, with her friends, buying extravagant dresses, gambling at cards, bridge, a maid employed, visiting the houses of people, who live lavishly, in their own little world. Mrs.Trenor, her best friend is always inviting her to stay and enjoy the good life, with the snobs, at her mansion. Lily is glad to get out of her Aunt Julia's, boring, dowdy home. Her bills go unpaid, Lily must marry soon, but is too fastidious, for her own good, meeting the very shy millionaire Percy Gryce, dull, tongue tied, his only interest in life , collecting old books! That is when his pulse beats faster... But Lily loves Lawrence Selden, a fascinating man, they have interesting conversations together, she feels good being able to speak honestly, but he is just another struggling lawyer, a working man, who travels in high places and lives in a modest apartment. His cousin Gerty Farish, is one of the few real friends, Lily has, and she also loves Lawrence, helping the poor, becomes her life's work. And Gerty even takes, Miss Bart to see them and she gives some precious money, to their welfare, Lily feels happy, doing so. The skittish, straight- laced Mr. Gryce, gets cold feet, hearing about Miss Bart's gambling debts, what would mother think? Selden is also uncomfortable with Lily's reputation, undeserved, the crowd likes to gossip. She has another even less desirable candidate, Simon Rosedale, on the way to becoming the richest man in town, trying to enter the exclusive group, rather uncouth but is improving. He wants to marry the gorgeous woman, what a prize to show off to his new friends...Lily Bart, doesn't like him and needs to find someone quickly, at 29, her days of floating around the honeycomb are rapidly ending, she has to taste the honey and become the Queen... But Lily is asked to go on a Mediterranean yacht cruise, by Mrs.Dorset, months of pleasure, no worries, everything free, forget all her troubles, what will she do ?

  5. 3 out of 5

    Dolors

    Edith Wharton sets the New York social stage of the early twentieth century for a succession of short scenes that glitter with glossy superficiality. Lightning, backdrops and lush costumes are put on display to create a natural effect in this tableaux vivant of a novel, where Lily Bart stands out as the most stunning living painting ever. She is the leading actress of this theatrical narrative, a delicate flower bred for exhibition and ornament whose beauty shines with the precise effortless gra Edith Wharton sets the New York social stage of the early twentieth century for a succession of short scenes that glitter with glossy superficiality. Lightning, backdrops and lush costumes are put on display to create a natural effect in this tableaux vivant of a novel, where Lily Bart stands out as the most stunning living painting ever. She is the leading actress of this theatrical narrative, a delicate flower bred for exhibition and ornament whose beauty shines with the precise effortless grace and charm that will enable her to achieve her goals. Being an orphaned, single woman of twenty-nine with frugal tastes Lily knows that in the gilded cage in which she blossoms and withers the only path to success is to become a saleable commodity that some wealthy gentleman will buy into marriage. It’s easy to find fault in Lily’s dignified composure. Wharton treats her tragic heroine harshly. She is vain, snobbish, selfish and as shallow as the stage of artificiality where she acts. She covets money and social position above gentleness and compassion, her ruthless anti-sentimentalism is reflected in the hard glaze of her chiselled, porcelain mask of complacency that in turn conceals her contempt for the parasitic life in which she has imprisoned herself. But how much does the financial imperatives of this society in which wealth and not morality determines status influence in the making of stereotyped females grown up for mere decoration? “She was so evidently the victim of the civilization which had produced her, that the links of her bracelet seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate.”(p.8)” I keep asking myself. Is Lily a helpless victim or a hypocrite culprit? Guilty of presumptuousness or driven by desperation? The boundaries dividing the discrepant selves that coexist in Lily are as blurry as the thin line that separates fact from magic illusion. I keep asking myself. Who am I to judge Lily when I feel my life to be an ongoing sequence of scenarios where I play the roles my varied audience expects from me? She is as trapped as I am. Lily’s broken wings don’t allow her to escape from the social jungle that made her what she is, yet she craves for “freedom” and “happiness” while she keeps missing golden opportunities that present themselves in the form of eligible bachelors and running under obligations of generous cheques that are spent mindlessly on the card table. And below the glittering surface of Lily’s existence, a terrible sense of waste festers into growing despair. She loves, but denies herself. She smiles, but bleeds inwardly. She wants to be saved, but sticks stubbornly to her idea of success. Mr. Selden offers Lily a place in his “republic" where “freedom and success” are both possible: “ ‘Freedom? Freedom from worries?’ ‘From everything – from money, from poverty, from easy and anxiety, from all material accidents. To keep a kind of republic of spirit – that’s what I call success.' ” (p.78) But Lily has no spiritual or actual home of her own, like Woolf urged women to some years later, and she clings feebly to the surface of her existence where she is swirled around by the turbulences of the social corset that asphyxiates her. Loneliness, poverty and isolation are the true protagonists of Lily’s desired House where there is no Mirth. Lily’s frivolity is in fact a result of a deluded childishness that splits her troubled being in two halves, the false one in perpetual display on the perfidious stage of society and the real one that radiates with emotional expressiveness in the last chapters of the novel when the mask of appearances is finally dropped and the bright, tragic realism filters through the cracks of Wharton’s cardboard language. I don’t judge. I sympathize. I grieve. But I can’t help but wonder how much of Lily’s story reflects Wharton’s professional career and the inherent conflict between her eagerness for popularity and the necessity to exorcize her own frustrations as a female writer in a sparkling scenario as facetious as her characters. Hence my four stars saving the lacking one to pay homage to the fallen star in this House, which is ironically full of Mourning.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sidharth Vardhan

    “Her whole being dilated in an atmosphere of luxury. It was the background she required, the only climate she could breathe in.” Veblen in his 'Theory of Leisure Class' (written six years before this book) argues that one of the way leisure class show their wealth is by maintaining people who will sit idly for them. The chief example is of wives, where richest men do not want their wives to be doing paid jobs - do and own charities - yes, art exhibitions -yes, partying - yes, just not doing an “Her whole being dilated in an atmosphere of luxury. It was the background she required, the only climate she could breathe in.” Veblen in his 'Theory of Leisure Class' (written six years before this book) argues that one of the way leisure class show their wealth is by maintaining people who will sit idly for them. The chief example is of wives, where richest men do not want their wives to be doing paid jobs - do and own charities - yes, art exhibitions -yes, partying - yes, just not doing any sort of job. The tendency becomes less visible as we go down the ladder of social class, In India, one can still observe the trend. If they are rich enough, many men would rather have housewives and many women would prefer to be housewives. And if they are wealthier still, they would have servants so that their wives won't have to work. Among such people, a woman earning her living is scorned at and is liable to be cast away by society. Besides wives, the super rich might also maintain a class of 'friends' to keep company. Lily Bart is such a 'friend' and has been raised to be such a wife of a rich man. The only thing she knows well and is good at is 'manners' of leisure class - and these manners won't earn her any money. Higher standards of living are addictive and she is addicted, but she doesn't have any wealth of her own. And since she can't earn, marrying a rich man is her only option - which seems difficult as she is aging (it is a society where an unmarried women nearing thirties is likely to attract suspicions and prejudice attached to the phrase 'old maiden', another thing still visible in India) and, moreover, she also wants to marry for love. To her misfortune, she happened to be a character in Wharton's realistic novel, instead of being a character in one of Austen's happily-ever-after tales. “She was so evidently the victim of the civilization which had produced her, that the links of her bracelet seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate.” One must bow low in respect to Wharton's craft. I mean there are lots of writers who have better stories or things to tell and writers who have awesome literary techniques at their disposal but, very few can beat her,IMO, when it comes to perfection of telling a realistic story in traditional manner (you know no stream-of-consciousness, no magical realism, no Gothic castles etc) And her cynicism (cynics are always sexy), and the way she brings out the helplessness of her character whether it is Lily Bart, Newland Archer or Ethan Frome. She also kept a dog in her lap when she wrote, if her new Goodreads avatar is to be believed.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joe Valdez

    Reading Edith Wharton's second novel The House of Mirth was like being kidnapped by Barbary pirates and held for ransom for ten fortnights; not a comfort, but an adventure. Published in 1905, this tale of Miss Lily Bart -- a young woman held prisoner by New York high society for her grace and beauty until her dependence on wealthy patrons makes her vulnerable to their whims -- carried me off against my will and held me with jeweled prose, breathless detail to character and droll wit. Wharton's m Reading Edith Wharton's second novel The House of Mirth was like being kidnapped by Barbary pirates and held for ransom for ten fortnights; not a comfort, but an adventure. Published in 1905, this tale of Miss Lily Bart -- a young woman held prisoner by New York high society for her grace and beauty until her dependence on wealthy patrons makes her vulnerable to their whims -- carried me off against my will and held me with jeweled prose, breathless detail to character and droll wit. Wharton's milieu was alien to me and her writing often so intricate that I wanted to run home to John Steinbeck, but now that the experience is over, find myself changed by it. Book I begins in a nation with places to go and people to see, or Grand Central Station to be exact. Bachelor attorney Lawrence Selden returns to New York from the country and spots twenty-nine year old socialite Lily Bart at the station, waiting alone. Thrilled to find herself unattended no more, Lily makes the impulsive decision to join Selden for tea in his apartment on Madison Avenue. Lily is orphaned and lives with her wealthy aunt Mrs. Peniston. Though she is expected to inherit a great deal of money from her aunt, Lily is not paid an allowance, which places her at the service of whichever patron of high society offers to sponsor her. While marriage would present her with financial security, Lily bonds with Selden over a shared antipathy toward a life of routine. She finds ways to sabotage her social encounters with eligible bachelors. Unlike Selden, Lily has no vocation which to support her independent whims. Exiting Selden's building, Lily has a chance encounter with Simon Rosedale, a social climber who makes it his business to know everything about everyone. Lily is repulsed by the man and thinks up a quick lie to explain her presence in the neighborhood alone, but immediately regrets her decision to rebuff Rosedale's offer to accompany her to her train. Why must a girl pay so dearly for her least escape from routine? Why could one never do a natural thing without having to screen it behind a structure of artifice? She had yielded to a passing impulse in going to Lawrence Selden's rooms, and it was so seldom that she could allow herself the luxury of an impulse! This one, at any rate, was going to cost her rather more than she could afford. She was vexed to see that, in spite of so many years of vigilance, she had blundered twice within five minutes. That stupid story about her dressmaker was bad enough--it would have been so simple to tell Rosedale that she had been taking tea with Selden! The mere statement of the fact would have rendered it innocuous. Lily arrives at Bellomont, where Mrs. Judy Trenor has invited Lily to spend a weekend among high society over bridge games that drag into the night. Mrs. Trenor offers to help the girl secure an engagement to Percy Bryce, a bachelor whom Lily is bored by the moment she catches him in her web. She finds herself elated by the arrival of Selden and incurs the wrath of Bertha Dorset, a married woman who has designs on the bachelor. Over a long Sunday walk and respite in a meadow, Selden expresses his willingness to marry Lily, while offering his distaste for her crass materialism. Bertha Dorset sinks Lily's chances with her backup Percy Bryce by spreading rumors of a gambling problem. Dispatched to pick up Mrs. Trenor's husband from the train station, Lily finds herself obsessed upon by Gus Trenor, who offers to invest money for Lily in the stock market at no risk. Trenor earns Lily ten thousand dollars, which she discovers was actually a gift from the married man. Lily spends Trenor's money and ignores his overtures for greater intimacy. Lily's carefree ways make enemies with her own sex as well. Her cousin Grace Stepney retaliates against Lily for being excluded from their aunt's dinner party list by whispering to Mrs. Peniston that the heir to her fortune has been gambling, living extravagantly and carrying on as the kept woman of Gus Trenor. Lily finds new benefactors in Mr. and Mrs. Wellington Bry, nouveau riche socialites who sponsor an exhibit of fashionable young women modeling historic dress. Lily's costume wags tongues, including Selden's. He reveals his feelings for Lily but is rebuffed for his unwillingness to offer anything but love. Lily is lured to the Trenors' apartment, where Gus Trenor corners Lily and demands that she reciprocate his financial generosity with affection. Seeking to settle her debts and recapture her independence, Lily struggles with opaque feelings for Selden against cash on the table: a marriage proposal from Simon Rosedale. Even through the dark tumult of her thoughts, the clink of Mr. Rosedale's millions had a faintly seductive note. Oh, for enough of them to cancel her one miserable debt! But the man behind them grew increasingly repugnant in the light of Selden's expected coming. The contrast was too grotesque; she could scarcely suppress the smile it provoked. She decided that directness would be best. Lily's plans to snare a husband hit a snag with she learns through the society pages that Selden has sailed overseas on business. Book II picks up in Monte Carlo three months later, where Lily has joined the Dorsets for a cruise of the Mediterranean. Invited by Judy Dorset to distract her husband George while Mrs. Dorset dallies with a would-be poet named Ned Silverton, Lily again crosses Judy Dorset by refusing to cover for Judy's hanky panky with Ned. George Dorset has reached the end of his tether with his wife and summons an American attorney in Nice to explore options for a divorce. This reunites Lily with Selden just as Judy Dorset sets out to destroy Lily once and for all. Though unexpressed in her novel, Wikipedia told me that Wharton's title is taken from the Old Testament and the Book of Ecclesiastes. “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Wharton's ability to craft jeweled sentences and draw scenes like a cartographer designing a treasure map is peerless. In particular, her chapters are adorned with gorgeous first sentences. Book I--Chapter I: 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. Book I--Chapter III: Bridge at Bellomont usually lasted till the small hours; and when Lily went to bed that night she had played too long for her own good. Book I--Chapter XV: When Lily woke she had the bed to herself, and the winter light was in the room. At other times, the turn of the century prose was so beautiful that it lured me into maze and the longer it went on, lost me. A chill of fear passed over Miss Bart: a sense of remembered treachery that was like the gleam of a knife in the dusk, But compassion, in a moment, got the better of her instinctive recoil. What was this outpouring of senseless bitterness but the tracked creature's attempt to cloud the medium through which it was fleeing? It was on Lily's lips to exclaim: "You poor soul, don't double and turn--come straight back to me, and we'll find a way out!" But the words died under the impenetrable insolence of Bertha's smile. Lily sat silent, taking the brunt of it quietly, letting it spend itself on her to the last drop of its accumulated falseness; then, without a word, she rose and went down to her cabin. Wait, what? Throughout The House of Mirth I found my eyes glancing over paragraphs like this and having to circle back to them again, like Craftsman homes on a dark, unfamiliar lane without the benefit of well lit street numbers. I was often as lost. Wharton also tells the reader what her characters are thinking and why they're thinking what they're thinking. Social mechanization doesn't reveal itself very well in action or dialogue, only inner monologue. That's why it's a mechanization! Without careful attention though, the progression of the story is often obscured in a fog of politics and social manners. In spite of its obtuseness, The House of Mirth builds in power by illustrating the corner a single woman like Miss Lily Bart paints herself into, ill-equipped to earn her keep as anything more than an ornament to high society. The straits that the main character finds herself in during a market readjustment to her worth is as harrowing as that encountered by the Joads in The Grapes of Wrath. In addition to Wharton's opulent wordcraft, which at its best is like death by chocolate, her climax is quietly powerful and has haunted me since I reached the finish line of this magnum opus.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Fabian

    “The House of Mirth” just might be to “The Age of Innocence” what “Tom Sawyer” is to “Huck Finn”: that is, only but a stepping-stone towards a more profound greatness (although why I used that Twain analogy is a mystery even to me—I find that brand of American Lit a wee bit overrated). “Age of Innocence” is stupendous—utterly amazing. On the other hand, “The House of Mirth” describes the downward spiral of one, Miss Lily Bart, misunderstood by her social “set,” her particular New York niche. Her “The House of Mirth” just might be to “The Age of Innocence” what “Tom Sawyer” is to “Huck Finn”: that is, only but a stepping-stone towards a more profound greatness (although why I used that Twain analogy is a mystery even to me—I find that brand of American Lit a wee bit overrated). “Age of Innocence” is stupendous—utterly amazing. On the other hand, “The House of Mirth” describes the downward spiral of one, Miss Lily Bart, misunderstood by her social “set,” her particular New York niche. Her story is a tragedy as deep as Jude (the Obscure)’s—her plight is both melancholic & devastating—New York has always been a perfect place in which to achieve some sort of victimhood. Another attribute: the story is severely over-written. I say attribute because that is precisely Mrs. Wharton’s style: you read beautiful sentences, many, to realize that all she really wanted to portray was a character sitting down on his ass, or she tries to show particular psyches without the more-modern, less-roundabout, most efficient manner of, say, Virginia Woolf (alas, if Mrs. Wharton had continued to write well into the 30's we may have seen a different, more radical literary style). The novel is trapped between novelty (modernity) & antiquity (a European America). Sure, this is an amazing study of turn-of-the-century American society, invaluable, one which seems as foreign as it seems familiar; I was not as impressed with this one as her Pulitzer darling (man, I LOVE "Age of Innocence"!!), where the mood is less frigid & less tragic, but the theme pretty much stays the same: mainly, that society is very unforgiving, that “half the trouble in life is caused by pretending there isn’t any.”

  9. 5 out of 5

    Duane

    I have read almost all of Edith Wharton's writing. I have the highest regard for her work. She was overshadowed by Fitzgerald and Hemingway in her day but even so she won the Pulitzer prize in 1921 for her novel The Age of Innocence. The House of Mirth was one of her early novels and my favorite, although I like all of her novels. Lily Bart, the protagonist in The House of Mirth, is such a captivating and tragic figure that she has stayed in my mind for years. Of course, creating great characters I have read almost all of Edith Wharton's writing. I have the highest regard for her work. She was overshadowed by Fitzgerald and Hemingway in her day but even so she won the Pulitzer prize in 1921 for her novel The Age of Innocence. The House of Mirth was one of her early novels and my favorite, although I like all of her novels. Lily Bart, the protagonist in The House of Mirth, is such a captivating and tragic figure that she has stayed in my mind for years. Of course, creating great characters was one of Wharton's wonderful gifts. For those readers that have not discovered Edith Wharton, give her a try. The House of Mirth would be perfect to start with.

  10. 3 out of 5

    l a i n e y

    “She had no tolerance for scenes which were not of her own making.” Edith Wharton had a particular way of writing which was a bit difficult to tune into at first but once I got the hang of it, it was real beautiful. Which was why I am saddened to give this such low rating. Just saddened. From the very start I really liked Lily Bart... until the second half of the book, then, I couldn't stop myself getting annoyed with her everytime: her indecision, her actions and mostly just.... HER. Rating: ★★ “She had no tolerance for scenes which were not of her own making.” Edith Wharton had a particular way of writing which was a bit difficult to tune into at first but once I got the hang of it, it was real beautiful. Which was why I am saddened to give this such low rating. Just saddened. From the very start I really liked Lily Bart... until the second half of the book, then, I couldn't stop myself getting annoyed with her everytime: her indecision, her actions and mostly just.... HER. Rating: ★★½

  11. 4 out of 5

    kohey

    I know many authors who can write beautiful scenes beautifully,but there are few who can also write sad scenes as beautifully as Wharton.Yes,she is a real pro at love tragedies.When reading,sometimes I cynically wonder if each description and character gangs together to dig nasty holes here and there,even though the heroine tries every possible effort to get herself out of them.The story line is simple and easily predictable,which leaves it to your imagination why each character thinks and acts I know many authors who can write beautiful scenes beautifully,but there are few who can also write sad scenes as beautifully as Wharton.Yes,she is a real pro at love tragedies.When reading,sometimes I cynically wonder if each description and character gangs together to dig nasty holes here and there,even though the heroine tries every possible effort to get herself out of them.The story line is simple and easily predictable,which leaves it to your imagination why each character thinks and acts in this way or that. This is the beauty of this gem and her outstanding writing makes it possible.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alasse

    This book reminded me of when I used to tutor a particular 15-year-old boy. I'd arrive and he'd be snacking and watching this dreadful MTV reality show called “My Super Sweet Sixteen”. I used to spend a lot of time over there, so I caught enough bits and pieces of it to feel thoroughly revolted. Those of you in the USA have probably seen it – it follows over-privileged kids as they organize and throw their lavish 16th birthday parties. But what I find scary about it aren't the 6-figure cars these This book reminded me of when I used to tutor a particular 15-year-old boy. I'd arrive and he'd be snacking and watching this dreadful MTV reality show called “My Super Sweet Sixteen”. I used to spend a lot of time over there, so I caught enough bits and pieces of it to feel thoroughly revolted. Those of you in the USA have probably seen it – it follows over-privileged kids as they organize and throw their lavish 16th birthday parties. But what I find scary about it aren't the 6-figure cars these kids get, but the sense of entitlement floating in the air. These children think that if they want something they will automatically get it – what's more, they think if they want something bad enough, that means they deserve it. I remember standing there one day, waiting for my pupil to rinse his glass, and being overcome by a crushing feeling of pity. Because I really wanted to slap the kid on the TV, but at the same time I knew, with an overwhelming certainty, that this girl was never going to be truly happy, ever. Even if their parents could keep this up, this sort of entitled, shallow upbringing can only lead to frustration, one way or the other. What a waste of a perfectly good life. I thought a lot about this moment while reading The House of Mirth. I felt sorry for Lily Bart, while hating her at the same time. I wanted to slap her, while knowing it wasn't her fault that she was the way she was. I wanted her to make up her mind, and at the same time dreaded every one of the options she had. For make no mistakes – she does have options. A few of us at Bookish were discussing whether this was feminist literature or not. If feminist literature aims to portray women's lack of possibilities as constraining the female character, then this is not your average feminist book (I know, I know, but bear with me for a minute). Lily Bart does in fact have a few options to choose from, even though they would all entail some measure of dependence from other people. But none of these ever crystallize into anything tangible, because she won't make up her mind. Wharton tries to imply that she's secretly an idealist, and she may be subconsciously sabotaging her own attempts at marrying money. But in fact, for most of the book she doesn't openly defy the system – mostly, she's just angry that she can't find a rich man to support her (she wants one, so she should have one, right?). Her moral scruples only show up when she's already put herself in a compromising position and she needs to save what little self-respect she has left. She is not an idealist, not in practice – she wants to work within the system. Yet the very system of which she is a result has no place for her. She's a highly specialized product, an ornamental object, the Gilded Age in its most extreme expression - and as such, she's so profoundly dysfunctional she can't bring herself to make a choice for her future, because none of her options are even remotely acceptable. This world is so messed up, its own product can't function within it. Watching Lily (view spoiler)[shy away from at least 4 potential husbands, a few socialite patrons and even an opportunity for blackmail (hide spoiler)] can get annoying after a while (“will you make up your mind already? I have stuff to do, you know?!”). But it also brings me back to my thoughts that day, watching “My Super Sweet Sixteen”. I vaguely thought that this world was f'd up if it was capable of creating such a monstrous thing as that over-entitled 16-year-old. This kid was the product of an environment that was condemning her, by effect of her upbringing, to be chronically dissatisfied for the rest of her life. The world that Ms. Wharton portrays in her book is just as monstrous. And if it did this to people, and those people were mostly women, then by the FSM, this book serves its purpose, and it definitely is a feminist book.

  13. 3 out of 5

    Shannon

    This book has inspired my next tattoo. That is some fine literature. (And I am sure that if Edith Wharton were alive today, she would appreciate the tribute.) I have this theory that the mark of great literature is that no matter how many times you read it, you can always plausibly hope, as a reader, that things might turn out differently in the end. Not that the actual ending is wrong; it's just that the character of Lily Bart is so alive for me, I seriously believe she might make a different ch This book has inspired my next tattoo. That is some fine literature. (And I am sure that if Edith Wharton were alive today, she would appreciate the tribute.) I have this theory that the mark of great literature is that no matter how many times you read it, you can always plausibly hope, as a reader, that things might turn out differently in the end. Not that the actual ending is wrong; it's just that the character of Lily Bart is so alive for me, I seriously believe she might make a different choice and pull things out in the end. Also, it has a really good moral, which is: make your own damn money. Um, not that I am judging Lily Bart or anything. Different times and all! Note to self: Should not review great works of literature after so much beer.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Madeline

    The House of Mirth is the third Wharton novel I've finished so far, and while reading it, I was able to figure out why I love her books so much. Edith Wharton is witty, and her writing is beautiful, but more importantly, she is honest and realistic. She portrays rich, spoiled society exactly as it is - full of people who hide their own misery behind lavish homes and strict manners - and condemns it, but even as her characters realize how toxic this environment is, they are still driven by an ins The House of Mirth is the third Wharton novel I've finished so far, and while reading it, I was able to figure out why I love her books so much. Edith Wharton is witty, and her writing is beautiful, but more importantly, she is honest and realistic. She portrays rich, spoiled society exactly as it is - full of people who hide their own misery behind lavish homes and strict manners - and condemns it, but even as her characters realize how toxic this environment is, they are still driven by an insatiable need to belong to and be accepted by society. Basically what I'm saying is that Edith Wharton understood human nature better than almost any author I've ever read, and if she were alive today Mean Girls would totally be her favorite movie. The House of Mirth follows Lily Bart, a young woman who grew up wealthy but lost everything when she was a teenager, and has been clawing and fighting to keep her place in society ever since. Lily Bart is clever and charming, but after spending years living independently, she finds herself approaching spinsterhood with dwindling prospects. The book follows her increasingly-desperate attempts to secure her future while retaining her independence and her place in society. If you've read even one other Wharton novel, you know that these desires are not compatible for women in this world. As always, Wharton's depiction of the tiny battles that occur every day in polite society is fascinating - it's amazing to watch Lily navigate her life with careful planning and strategy, so simple conversations become as complicated and dangerous as naval battles. She has to be constantly on the alert, hyper-aware that she's always one mistake away from total failure and ruin. Only two things frustrated me about this book - one wasn't Wharton's fault, but the second one totally was. It's not Wharton's fault, I realize, that Lily Bart can't get a Hollywood happy ending and marry Lawrence Selden, who is so obviously perfect for her that it was all I could do not to scream at the pages "kiss her kiss her KISS HER" every time they had a scene together. The couple is headed for a typically Wharton-style ending, but at least that means we get lots of great scenes where the characters are just drowning in sexual tension, and it's like crack to me. Edith Wharton could write a straight-up sex scene, and it still wouldn't be as hot as two characters taking a walk together while resisting the urge to make out. Like I said, the ending is very, very Wharton, and unfortunately it's also very clearly telegraphed. (view spoiler)[As soon as the narration mentioned that Lily was taking medication to help her sleep, I thought, "well, now I know how she's going to die. (hide spoiler)] But somehow the fact that I could see the ending a mile away made the book even more tragic and dramatic. But seriously, Seldon - nut up and marry her, for Christ's sake. Lily Bart is the quintessential Wharton heroine. She is independent, headstrong, whip-smart, and charismatic. Another author would have allowed her heroine to strike out on her own, say to hell with these rich snobs and let Lily go off on adventures to Africa or something, but Wharton knows better. The world of the wealthy, spoiled New Yorker is the only one Lily has ever known, and like Newland Archer and Annabel St. George before her, she will sacrifice her own happiness in exchange for social acceptance and security. This is what drives Wharton's protagonists: a deep need to belong, and a fear of the unknown. They can never win, but it's fascinating to watch them try.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    Mrs. Lloyd by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1775) In our imperfectly organized society there is no provision as yet for the young woman who claims the privileges of marriage without assuming its obligations. Oh, how I delighted in this book. How I bathed in the world Edith Wharton created, this world belonging to beautiful Lily Bart, as she navigates through the temptations and perils of society of the early twentieth century. I was charmed, transported and moved as she tries desperately to cling to the Mrs. Lloyd by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1775) In our imperfectly organized society there is no provision as yet for the young woman who claims the privileges of marriage without assuming its obligations. Oh, how I delighted in this book. How I bathed in the world Edith Wharton created, this world belonging to beautiful Lily Bart, as she navigates through the temptations and perils of society of the early twentieth century. I was charmed, transported and moved as she tries desperately to cling to the luxurious life she desires. The fascinating part is that she is never quite willing to do what it takes to get it - settle in a marriage of convenience. Lily Bart is a beauty with ambitions to live in luxury and care. She abhors "dinginess" and knows exactly the game to play in order to succeed in the cutthroat world of high New York society. She is charming, elegant and poised. She wants a wealthy life more than anything, appearing quite shallow at times. But when it comes to it, this woman at thirty continually throws away opportunities to land in a life of ease, unable to sell herself short just for money. She has moments of clarity when she sees the wealthy people around her for what they are: How different (her friends) had seemed to her a few hours ago! Then they had symbolized what she was gaining, now they stood for what she was giving up. That very afternoon they had seemed full of brilliant qualities; now she saw that they were merely dull in a loud way. Under the glitter of their opportunities she saw the poverty of their achievement. How I reveled, telling myself "Wharton is like the American Jane Austen! She is the champion of women and matchmaking!" I was so wrong. It has been far too long since I read The Age of Innocence, so I forgot that the brilliant Edith Wharton's works are written with the heavier hand of reality. And this is what separates her from Jane Austen. Wharton's stories do not tie up nicely with a bow, with everyone getting their just deserts. What Wharton does show us is the true plight of her flawed heroine: the tragedy of the trappings of wealth. She also depicts a woman's (limited) choices at this time in history, still heavily reliant on men and oh-so-delicate social footing amongst the who's who. She also calls forth immense beauty, in particular the unforgettable scene of Lily as tableau vivant, a living version of the Reynolds painting (featured above), inspiring a moment of passion so delicious, stirring her reader's hunger for more of the same with every page. But can life truly imitate art? I think it is the other way around. In the long moment before the curtain fell, he had time to feel the whole tragedy of her life. It was as though her beauty, thus detached from all that cheapened and vulgarized it, had held out suppliant hands to him from the world in which he and she had once met for a moment, and where he felt an overmastering longing to be with her again. I was wrong about Wharton, but I'm so glad to be wrong in this case. This book is stunning, a true masterpiece.

  16. 3 out of 5

    Diane

    What a beautiful and tragic novel this is! As frustrating as Lily Bart could be — she kept making small errors that damaged her reputation — I also pitied her for how she was mistreated by society. Lily was unable to marry the man she loved because he wasn't rich enough, but she also couldn't tolerate the dull, wealthy men who were interested in her. Lily wanted to do the right thing, but somehow things kept going wrong for her until she ended up broke, sick and without hope. I decided to reread What a beautiful and tragic novel this is! As frustrating as Lily Bart could be — she kept making small errors that damaged her reputation — I also pitied her for how she was mistreated by society. Lily was unable to marry the man she loved because he wasn't rich enough, but she also couldn't tolerate the dull, wealthy men who were interested in her. Lily wanted to do the right thing, but somehow things kept going wrong for her until she ended up broke, sick and without hope. I decided to reread this novel after seeing a thought-provoking article on The Awl called "Men Like Him," about how damaging the Lawrence Seldens of the worlds can be. "The House of Mirth" is definitely a novel that shows how destructive and cruel the patriarchy has been for women. To quote from The Awl, "Lawrence Selden ... kills Lily Bart as surely as if he held a gun to her head." Between "House of Mirth" and "The Age of Innocence," Edith Wharton is one of my favorite American writers, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of her works. Highly recommended. Favorite Quotes "She was so evidently the victim of the civilization which had produced her, that the links of her bracelet seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate." "Half the trouble in life is caused by pretending there isn't any." "I have tried hard — but life is difficult, and I am a very useless person. I can hardly be said to have an independent existence. I was just a screw or a cog in the great machine called life, and when I dropped out of it I found I was no use anywhere else. What can one do when one finds out that one only fits into one hole? One must go back to it or be thrown out into the rubbish heap - and you don't know what it's like in the rubbish heap!" "Why do we call all our generous ideas illusions, and the mean ones truths?" "One of the surprises of her unoccupied state was the discovery that time, when it is left to itself and no definite demands are made on it, cannot be trusted to move at any recognized pace."

  17. 4 out of 5

    David

    Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth made me think about a lot of 'stuff'—so if you're one of those self-righteous hall monitor types who scolds reviewers on Goodreads for not being relevant enough, then be on your way. There's nothing for you to see here except for some navel-gazing. Proceed at your own peril. The House of Mirth centers on a privileged white female named Lily Bart who's navigating the precarious social landscape of New York City and its environs at the tail-end of the nineteenth c Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth made me think about a lot of 'stuff'—so if you're one of those self-righteous hall monitor types who scolds reviewers on Goodreads for not being relevant enough, then be on your way. There's nothing for you to see here except for some navel-gazing. Proceed at your own peril. The House of Mirth centers on a privileged white female named Lily Bart who's navigating the precarious social landscape of New York City and its environs at the tail-end of the nineteenth century. Although Lily is a woman—and this qualifies her for special consideration as a class of the variously marginalized of the period (i.e., she wasn't a wealthy white male)—I have a feeling (and it's only a feeling) that many modern readers will be put off by being placed in the position of sympathizing with this poor little rich girl. The liberal intelligentsia—of which I'd like to consider myself a constituent, however damning that admission might be—has become so preposterously righteous and (yes, at times) patronizing that it has somehow become unseemly to offer anything but snarky derision to the 'plight' of the white, wealthy, and otherwise advantaged. You may think you see where this is going, but it's not that bad. Really. It's not as if I'm some white upper-middle class male who is 'standing up' for my own kind against the perceived persecution of political correctness. Quite the contrary, it's understandable (and perhaps morally healthy) for well-off white people to feel some guilt because of our surfeits—and not only material surfeits—in light of the history that has preceded us and the injustices which continue today. I'm not one of those nutjobs who offers up #alllivesmatter in response to #blacklivesmatters—because only a dunce would fail to understand the importance of white lives is already the underlying premise and vouchsafing principle of our society. I'm getting away from myself a little here. As regards Lily Bart—our unfortunate protagonist in The House of Mirth—I can imagine countless readers' sighs greeting her predicaments—e.g., how to keep up appearances; how to marry well; how to insinuate herself, profitably, into the lives of the highest echelon of fashionable society... In other words, not only do Lily's problems scarcely deserve the name by modern standards, but the particulars are also pretty well estranged from our experience of the world today. Lily Bart hasn't been prepared or instructed in any other course except to marry well. If that isn't clear enough, I'll be more blunt: in order to preserve her standard of living, she can only hope to marry a wealthy, socially well-positioned man, irrespective of romantic feelings or even basic affection. Her parents and her aunt hadn't conceived of any other alternatives for her, and if they had been more generous with possibilities, let's remember that nineteenth century society was not any more accommodating with other opportunities for women. It's hard to manage sometimes, but as readers we have to guard against imposing our values on persons of another era. While we often idealize self-sufficiency and self-determination as the greatest of social values, we must also remember that the prevailing attitudes and social infrastructure didn't always make these ideals attainable. Toward the beginning of The House of Mirth, I was bothered a little by the novel's starchiness and wondered what Wharton wanted me to make of Lily (as if the author's intentions necessarily have anything to do with a reader's reactions). She seemed spoiled and flighty and less snobby than most of her social peers perhaps, but still jarringly snobby at times. But as the novel progressed, I realized that Wharton was showing me the differences (and strain) between Lily's outward social behavior and her ideas and values. Despite the fact that she knew what was required of her, it wasn't really what she wanted. It reminds me of my job, in a way. I've worked in this office for more years than I'd care to admit to because it's what I know how to do and someone will pay me a reasonable amount to do it... but does it reflect my taste or values? Only to extent that I'm lazy and unmotivated and willing to 'settle' for the things that are easily put in my way. Of course, I'm in a much different position from Lily Bart. If I wanted to, if I were motivated, I could leave this job and adapt myself to some other, more preferable life. I'm not sure the Lily Bart of this rarefied social milieu had so many options, and if she did, it would have required much more bravery to have pursued them. What I'm getting at is that even though Lily's position is peculiar to most readers today, it's still forcefully human and relatable. I think the last fifty pages of this book were some of the saddest and most affecting I've ever encountered in a novel. Once we get past all the particular trappings of Lily's life, her story speaks of something universal and essential to being human. None of us are gods who create our fates entirely from scratch. Conservative types love to beatify the poor immigrant who worked hard against all adversity to become a success in the New World, but it's not as easy as that. Who taught the immigrant the value of work hard? Who instilled him with his values and ambitions? Didn't luck or happenstance help him along the way? Did his race or gender open any doors for him that would have been closed to others? The self-made man is a myth—because we only bother to notice the parts of the story that reinforce the message that we've decided on ahead of time. Likewise, Lily Bart's failings weren't only her own; they were society's at the time too. Lily Barts don't materialize into the world, pre-formed, with limitless agency to optimize themselves. Society hems them in in certain ways, not only materially, but ideologically. That's why The House of Mirth is a tragedy that admits itself to all readers who can see beyond the instance and recognize the shadow of limitation that darkens everyone's life to some extent.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer (aka EM)

    This will end up being a review of The House of Mirth, sort of. “Wasn’t she too beautiful, Lawrence? Don’t you like her best in that simple dress? It makes her look like the real Lily – the Lily I know.” p.142 Let’s begin with rich, beautiful people. I am neither, and I come from a long line of neithers. I come from hardy, working-class stock – Scots-English, mostly. Lots of ‘em orphaned or abandoned and left to fend for themselves as a result of various kinds of neglect, addictions or just plain This will end up being a review of The House of Mirth, sort of. “Wasn’t she too beautiful, Lawrence? Don’t you like her best in that simple dress? It makes her look like the real Lily – the Lily I know.” p.142 Let’s begin with rich, beautiful people. I am neither, and I come from a long line of neithers. I come from hardy, working-class stock – Scots-English, mostly. Lots of ‘em orphaned or abandoned and left to fend for themselves as a result of various kinds of neglect, addictions or just plain bad luck. The women were tough mama bears who put their heads down and did what they had to do to put food on the table. On my dad’s side, his mother - Grandma Flora - left Dundee, Scotland sometime in the late teens/early 20s when she was the same age; roughly the time Wharton was writing. From what I can piece together, Grandma Flora had been working as a domestic, with few prospects for anything but a life of slavery and grinding poverty. “Dingy” is the word Lily would use – but probably for a lifestyle about six rungs up the ladder that Grandma Flora was barely clinging to. It was the strangest part of Lily’s strange experience, the hearing of these names, the seeing the fragmentary and distorted image of the world she had lived in reflected in the mirror of the working-girls’ minds. She had never before suspected the mixture of insatiable curiosity and contemptuous freedom with which she and her kind were discussed in this underworld of toilers who lived on their vanity and self-indulgence. p.302 Young Flora’s choices were to stay and toil for the rest of her life or take her chances on a new life in Canada. I think she may have had some distant relatives here, but really, she was on her own. She somehow ended up in Timmins, in the deep woods of northern Ontario near the Quebec border, and married a man from Leeds – a Bernardo orphan, we believe - who subsequently drank the money they were making from the fledgling bakery they had established together. When it went under, he moved her to Toronto on the likely assumption that he could find work there, then in 1932 in the depths of the Depression, he left her (never to be seen or heard from again) with children aged five, two and six months with no income and no prospects for a life other than one of, again, ongoing grinding poverty. There are stories about how Grandma Flora, my two uncles and my father (the middle child) survived in a time when there was no welfare, no social programs to speak of, that would rip your heart out. She worked for many years capping bottles on an assembly line at Crown Cork & Seal. The children somehow must have fended for themselves. At the age of two, the youngest came down with tuberculosis and was sent to a sanitorium in the west end of the city. He was there for more than a year – longer than his recovery likely took, but the hospital (founded as The Toronto Free Hospital for the Consumptive Poor, but known as the Weston Sanitorium) served as a quasi-orphanage for children whose parents were so impoverished they simply couldn’t look after them. Grandma Flora. I now picture her gripping the hands of her other two, barely past toddlers themselves, and tugging them along Queen Street. They walked (on rare days, they could probably afford the streetcar for part of the trip) a round-trip of 40 km each Saturday to visit him. He was her baby, her bonnie lad. They all were. She held on tight. Uncle Stan, the oldest–who never married while she was alive and lived with her until she died–left school at grade 6. The family needed the income. My father did a little better, making it to grade 10 and finding a spot in a coveted mechanical apprenticeship program and later into a permanent job on the railway. On my mother’s side, it’s a similar story. Her father lasted with them a while longer, until one day he came home from work, lay down on the sofa, and his heart exploded. Mom was 12; her younger brother 10. This was a little later – 1948 – so times were not so desperate, and there was some kind of insurance that kept them going, at least for a little while. Still, mom had to leave school at age 16 with a high school equivalency diploma, and get herself an office job downtown. “Why, what on earth are you doing?” “Learning to be a milliner—at least, trying to learn,” she hastily qualified the statement. Rosedale suppressed a low whistle of surprise. “Come off; you ain’t serious, are you?” “Perfectly serious. I’m obliged to work for my living.” p.307 You worked. As soon as you could and at whatever you could. You didn’t choose a 'career.' You didn’t 'marry up.' It was, literally, unthinkable. “Out of work-out of work! What a way for you to talk! The idea of your having to work; it’s preposterous.” … “I don’t know why I should regard myself as an exception—” she began. “Because you are; that’s why; and your being in a place like this is a damnable outrage. I can’t talk of it calmly.” p.316 ---------------- I remember visiting Grandma Flora in her one-bedroom apartment in Scarborough, in a – yes – dingy white brick building, surrounded by others just like it. It had horrible smelling hallways and a terrifying elevator, which you took – even though you only needed to get to the second floor – because the stairwell was not an option. Even then at the age of about 10 (and thanks to what I now recognize was my parents’ incredible luck, hard work, steadfast determination to rise out of the poverty they were raised in), I was condescending toward and frightened of the poverty Grandma Flora still lived in. Although, in her mind, she was in the Taj Mahal compared to where she had been. But once inside, Grandma Flora would serve tea (always in pretty china cups – that was the ‘proper’ thing to do and probably the single luxury she had or had ever had) and empire biscuits that she had baked herself; the aroma enveloped you and provided relief and dramatic contrast to what was outside. I would often bring her drawings that I had done and she would exclaim and marvel over them in a most uncharacteristic way (she was a taciturn Scot, after all). The next visit, they would be in cheap, black plastic frames from Woolworth’s, hung prominently in the one room that was kitchen-living room-bedroom. It was warm in the kitchen, which, when Nettie Struther’s match had made a flame leap from the gas-jet above the table, revealed itself to Lily as extraordinarily small and almost miraculously clean. “We’ve got a parlour too,” she explained with pardonable pride …” p.333 Grandma Flora taught me how to cook Scotch eggs and, on crossed broomsticks there in that kitchen nook, the rudiments of highland dance. Don’t mistake me: she was not the apron-wearing, rosy-cheeked Grandma, all smiles, hugs, love and gingerbread. She was a tough, practical, judgmental, tee-totalling survivor of god knows what for god knows how long. Such a vision of the solidarity of life had never before come to Lily. She had had a premonition of it in the blind motions of her mating instinct, but they had been checked by the disintegrating influences of the life about her. All the men and women she knew were like atoms whirling away from each other in some wild centrifugal dance; her first glimpse of the continuity of life had come to her that evening in Nettie Struther’s kitchen. p.339 ---------------- I became the family’s historian at about age 12, the result of a school assignment. Grandma Flora helped me sketch out the family tree, as much as we could anyway. It ended up looking like a maple after a particularly gusty October day, denuded by bad memory and so much unknown history. So many bare branches, disappearing into the foggy newsprint of my sketchbook. I was more interested in names and places – quantity, clarity – as I thought that was where the marks were. And still a little young to be asking what I wish I had asked her: what were you thinking, what were you feeling, from where did you draw your courage? Did you, when you trudged along Queen Street or over the Bloor Street bridge, ever think of throwing yourself over? By the time those questions became of interest to me, it was too late to ask them. Grandma Flora hardened into a silent, angry knot and I was insolent and arrogant, clutching my B.A. (the first in my family to get one; the diploma professionally matted and framed, and hung proudly in my parents’ den next to my graduation picture). I had been raised to aspire to more. My parents had already climbed all the way up to what I suppose would be called lower middle-class; and my brother and I were to put as many more rungs as possible between ourselves and our family’s impoverished past. In my parents’ eyes, those rungs were made of education and hard work. Work, as long as you can work, you can survive. Talent was good – but secondary. It gave you something to build on, but mine were seen more as options for recreation and, at best, avocation; not tangible enough to provide a living. I could write and draw and play a little piano (my inherent lack of grace and athleticism made highland or any other kind of dance pretty much a dead-end), but none of these looked promising as a route to providing social and financial security – which, to them, meant having a nice house and a car and some savings in the bank, maybe a good pension plan. That was about as far ‘up’ as Mom and Dad could see – and in fact as far as they would get. Since she had been brought up to be ornamental, she could hardly blame herself for failing to serve any practical purpose; but the discovery put an end to her consoling sense of universal efficiency. p.315 I know they spent many a sleepless night as I weighed my choices for university: was it to be art school or the more traditional route studying English lit? In the end, art school didn’t offer me a scholarship, so I went with the money (it would have been profligate not to), and English lit it was. They would have supported me either way, but their pride was couched in obvious relief knowing that the route I chose could lead to teaching (it didn’t, but it could have). Nursing, typing and teaching: these were the skills that, in my parents’ still-constrained minds (the feminist revolution hadn’t reached them), and for a young woman in my position, paid. They were worthwhile, acceptable and attainable goals. Dreams like Lily’s were not only out-of-reach, they weren’t even dreams. That kind of money – real money; the one percent in today's handy vernacular – you were born or married into. And it dirtied you. It called into question your moral fibre (the consoling rationalization of the poor). She had learned by experience that she had neither the aptitude nor the moral constancy to remake her life on new lines, to become a worker among workers and let the world of luxury and pleasure sweep by her unregarded. … Inherited tendencies had combined with early training to make her the highly specialized product she was: an organism as helpless out of its narrow range as the sea-anemone torn from the rock. She had been fashioned to adorn and delight; to what other end does nature round the rose leaf and paint the humming-bird’s breast? And was it her fault that the purely decorative mission is less easily and harmoniously fulfilled among social beings than in the world of nature? That it is apt to be hampered by material necessities or complicated by moral scruples? p.319 ---------------- So, we are more alike than we seem, you and me, Lily Bart. Across time and place and class, we are more alike than we might seem. And there, my sympathy and empathy were engaged. There, Wharton spoke to me through Lily and touched my heart with her tragedy, which is Grandma Flora’s and mine and ours. “What can one do when one finds that one only fits into one hole? One must get back to it or be thrown out into the rubbish heap—and you don’t know what it’s like in the rubbish heap!” p.327 Yes, it was happiness she still wanted, and the glimpse she had caught of it made everything else of no account. One by one she had detached herself from the baser possibilities, and she saw that nothing now remained to her but the emptiness of renunciation. … She felt an intense longing to prolong, to perpetuate, the momentary exaltation of her spirit. If only life could end now—end on this tragic yet sweet vision of lost possibilities, which gave her a sense of kinship with all the loving and foregoing in the world. p.340 __________________ Aug 8/12: Maybe, just maybe, the best book I've read all year. Who are you Edith Wharton, and where have you been all my life? Why has it taken me so long to find you? Can't remember the last time I've been so engaged with characters and the world they inhabit. Or been provoked, moved, stirred to pity, disgust, anger, sadness to the point where my only recourse was to scrawl margin notes in capital letters followed by much punctuation: what a BITCH!!!!! FINALLY - she realizes that????!! OMG - what a simpering fop!!! IT'S A TRAP, IT'S A TRAP! noooooo LILY - too late, too late!!! :-( and finally, :-( :-( :-( :-( more of a review later, once I compose it - and myself.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    Dear Ms. Wharton, I recently finished your book, The House of Mirth and am once again left disappointed. I so very much want to love your books. Your style of writing is beautiful and real, but the characters, oh the characters! I feel like I get to know them so well, and feel such hope for them, only to be crushed down at the end! Let us not start with Lily Bart as that would be jumping in rather hastily. First, let's discuss the handsome Lawrence Selden, that book-loving, philosophical lawyer wh Dear Ms. Wharton, I recently finished your book, The House of Mirth and am once again left disappointed. I so very much want to love your books. Your style of writing is beautiful and real, but the characters, oh the characters! I feel like I get to know them so well, and feel such hope for them, only to be crushed down at the end! Let us not start with Lily Bart as that would be jumping in rather hastily. First, let's discuss the handsome Lawrence Selden, that book-loving, philosophical lawyer who sees Lily for the woman she is, not the creature society created. From the early stages, I had hopes that LS would be the slightly impoverished hero, who saves Lily from herself and damns society in the process. But, no! How quickly he is turned away, and falls out of love (or so he thinks) just because he sees something and jumps to a rash conclusion. If ol' Larry were half the man I thought he was, he would have believed more in Lily, and denied the rumors thrown at him. When she needed him most, he turned away. At the end, he still doesn't come through in time, and I think it's appropriate that he will live with this regret in his future. "Society" - how dull, gossipy, boring, and spiteful they all seem! Is that the point you are trying to make? I can't help but wonder if you were once shunned by society in a similar fashion and have determined to exact your revenge through your writing. If that is the case, then can you have just one woman who doesn't care about whether or not she is society's darling, and one gentleman who is actually looking for a monogamous, committed relationship instead of all those spineless dolts who want a mistress and who don't have the hutzpah to stand up their own wives? Now, Lily. Poor, expensive toy named Lily. Was she just a symbol for the potential in all woman to deny marriages of convenience and hope for actual love. Was she meant to come across as so indecisive and shallow? It seemed that every time things got rough, she went off on a luxury vacation that her friends, whom she often disliked, paid for. She seemed like a bit of a high-priced, if virginal, prostitute, unfortunately. I had such hopes for her but they were ultimately dashed. There was one remarkable character, however; Gerty Farrish. She was smart, charitable, independent, strong, caring, and good. Of course, since she had neither money nor looks, she was relegated to the role of unmarryable old maid, subject to have her "friend" cry out her miseries while she actually tried to do good in the world. Now, I know this may all seem a bit harsh, and I may be missing the point, but this is my third book by you, and I have yet to come to a full appreciation of your novels that a writer of your stature deserves. That is not to say I am giving up, merely that I'm watching, very carefully, for that hidden gem, that little bit that makes a reader think of an author with a heightened sense of awe. I think you may have it, and I shall continue looking. Til then, requiat in pace, Ms. Wharton, until we meet again. Your devoted, yet skeptical reader, Paula P.S. Where was the mirth?

  20. 3 out of 5

    Alice Poon

    I have taken much longer than usual to finish this novel. I blame it on two reasons. First, the subject matter of vacuous and decadent high society life in 20th century America is not of particular interest to me, and second, the writing is verbose and convoluted to the point of vapid. I had read The Age of Innocence by the same author, and had enjoyed that novel much more. The story is slow-paced but effectively constructed, reaching the climax in the last fifth of the novel. It tells how one gl I have taken much longer than usual to finish this novel. I blame it on two reasons. First, the subject matter of vacuous and decadent high society life in 20th century America is not of particular interest to me, and second, the writing is verbose and convoluted to the point of vapid. I had read The Age of Innocence by the same author, and had enjoyed that novel much more. The story is slow-paced but effectively constructed, reaching the climax in the last fifth of the novel. It tells how one glamorous socialite Lily Bart endeavors to climb the New York social ladder at the turn of the last century, but meanwhile falls for an intelligent lawyer who can see right through her and tells her that is not the life she really wants. Then she finds herself trapped at every turn between her innate morality and the sweet illusion of being accepted into the upper-class milieu. After a couple of botched attempts to win over marriage prospects, she begins to question her own motive, but is too proud to accept help from the man she loves. Eventually, a few incidents lead her to realize the corruption and callousness of high society. Sadly, regret comes too late as she is betrayed time and again, and she begins to descend into penury. I have to give the author credit for presenting the privileged class of her times in an honest and scathing manner. But I don’t feel an affinity to the protagonist, or to any of the other characters. I feel that Lily Bart was always free to make her own choices. I’m giving this novel 3.4 stars, rounded down.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Margitte

    I am trying to figure out the building blocks behind this novel: the history of society which lead up to an upper class woman confronting the mores and values of the time by writing this book and rocking the boat from within. Published in 1905, Edith Wharton obviously knew her 'customers' since this book was aimed at the very class she was born into, and not written for the 'plebs' roaming the universities in the hope of improving their chances to join the selected few. Neither did she use a lan I am trying to figure out the building blocks behind this novel: the history of society which lead up to an upper class woman confronting the mores and values of the time by writing this book and rocking the boat from within. Published in 1905, Edith Wharton obviously knew her 'customers' since this book was aimed at the very class she was born into, and not written for the 'plebs' roaming the universities in the hope of improving their chances to join the selected few. Neither did she use a language that would excite the less educated, lower strata of society. In fact, the text was too lexicon perfect. Well, the people who could afford to buy the book did not sweep streets or cleaned the houses of the blessed few, for sure. In another American book, published in 1900, by the V I R Publishing company, written by Mrs. Emma F. Angell Drake, M.D, titled What A Young Wife Ought To Know, the rules of marriage is spelled out in no uncertain terms over 290 pages in small print. It is one of my most treasured possessions, with an interesting story behind this gift. Nevertheless, in this book the selection of marriage partners in the upper echelons of American society is explained. The difference between a mistress and a wife is clearly defined. A wife is chosen to carry forward the bloodline of the man. She is selected from the same social circles as the bridegroom, has an impressive inheritance of her own, is well educated for her role to raise the successors to the throne. The wife is compensated by way of property, jewelry, and monetary benefits for her important role as hostess, manager of the estate and home, as well as her role as mother. She has no other sexual obligations to her husband, other than producing the off-springs, securing the continuation of the bloodline. The selection of the wife includes a careful investigation into her family's medical history, and is chosen for her biological and physical attributes (or contribution to the bloodline). Money can buy excellence in everything. For any other 'physical' needs, the bridegroom has a mistress to take care of that. She is provided with a home and financial support, on the condition that she will not produce children or be socially acknowledged by the wife. On breaching the agreement, the mistress will forfeit all privileges and be ousted from society. Gobsmacking, yes. I was blown away when I read this book almost a century later. Whether it was meant as a secret guideline to the selected few, is uncertain. What it did was explain the social conduct of the wealthy that was incomprehensible or probably unknown as well, to the lower classes. It became the source of thousands of novels to this day. It is from this angle, that I read Edith Wharton's tale of Lily Bart in The House Of Mirth. The young Lily had everything going for her to be accepted as a wife to the rich and fortunate. She had money, the 'right' education(and it wasn't academic in nature), beauty and acres and acres of background to be the most sought-after bride in waiting. But Lily, going against her mother's teachings, decided to not only choose money, but also love in the same sentence. Like Princess Diana, many decades later, Lily rejected the status quo and paid a dear price for her rebellion. The rules for both woman were the same. The consequences as brutal and tragic as the ancient, unchanged blueprint dictated. The difference between the two young women was however that Lily lost everything when her father died and his irresponsible financial dealings came to light (her mother's social ambitions played a big role in his financial demise). Without the impressive financial portfolio to back her up, as well as her mother passing away shortly after her father, Lily became a social outcast. Lost in her own ambitious delusions of grandeur, she battled on, hoping to reach her personal goals and prove her own theory right. Love and money simply should be a symbiotic truth, she believed. One cannot function without the other. But upper society brutally rejected this possibility and taught her a lesson she refused to face. This is the gist of the book, dragged out over a long, often tedious, yet fascinating tale. Based on the reality of the time, the author did not try to create a romantic environment and write a fairy tale for love-sick Romance aficionados. She was actively confronting a cruel existing establishment who were committing perfect murders of souls and minds safely locked up behind opulent grandeur and greed. Edith Wharton exposed this hidden world for what it truly was and did so in graphic detail in this book. Despite her efforts, nothing really changed. It is still out there, secured by high walls, electric fences, bodyguards and highly trained guard dogs. All defined as status symbols, so by the way. By writing this 'novel', since the protagonists was a fictitious character, Edith Wharton announced her own liberation from this privileged life to become an independent thinker and women in her own right, without the constricting social rules of this part of society. Edith Wharton became one of several women of the time, who paved the way for other women born into this social class, to reconsider their options and liberate their enslavement to this system, if they so desired. Reading many biographies of privileged women who did just that, it is obvious that something happened in their lives to make it happen. The rules of the game did not change, and many aspiring young women from lower classes still work hard at it to get into this kind of life today, since it represents the ultimate definition of true happiness. Money, social standing and privileges spread all around. Let them be. Some of the women born into it at the turn of the twentieth century, had a different perspective on that life. Edith Wharton painted a complete picture. She highlighted both sides of the coin and scratched away the fake gold covering up the even lesser metals below the surface. An excellent historical document, confirming, to me, the rules spelled out to young married women in 1900 in this other book I did not want to believe until many years later, when my world was broadened by more reading and life experiences. And yes, much more research. The book could have been a cold academic assessment of social conditions within a particular income group, but instead the information was presented in the form of a novel to make it more entertaining reading. And it is a good one: picturesque, atmospheric, a strong story line, multiple characters, and a deeper message covering the saga. The author was a truly talented storyteller and writer. Disguised as fiction, truth has a way of capturing and entertaining a much wider audience who can act upon it. Magic. This is why I loved this novel. It gets five stars for the purpose it served and the thought that went into it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Perry

    A quiet scholar came home one night, From a social gathering, large and polite. Asked how he'd liked it, the scholar said: 'If they were books, I'd leave them unread.' Goethe, East-West Divan [Note: Republication with new intro quote, after accidentally deleting book and review when removing it from one shelf when I thought it was on another. My apologies.] A superb, timeless novel that went to my top 50 because it was a real kick in the a$$ to NYC upper class society in the early 20th Century. So, A quiet scholar came home one night, From a social gathering, large and polite. Asked how he'd liked it, the scholar said: 'If they were books, I'd leave them unread.' Goethe, East-West Divan [Note: Republication with new intro quote, after accidentally deleting book and review when removing it from one shelf when I thought it was on another. My apologies.] A superb, timeless novel that went to my top 50 because it was a real kick in the a$$ to NYC upper class society in the early 20th Century. So, why haven't we had these societal mirrors nearly as often or recent as we should? >>>>>>>> An utter beauty* of modest means, orphaned at a young age and raised to be a perfect wife of wealth and privilege, + her desire for love and wealth and status yet with a streak of independence, her moral compass and a touch of folly, + a depraved, hostile, covetous and capricious upper class society in Gilded Age New York City, = This timeless classic tragedy arising from innocent Lily Bart's struggle against society and its expectations. She felt a stealing sense of fatigue as she walked; the sparkle had died out of her, and the taste of life was stale on her lips. She hardly knew what she had been seeking, or why the failure to find it had so blotted the light from her sky: she was only aware of a vague sense of failure, of an inner isolation deeper than the loneliness about her. The eponymous verse from the King James Bible: "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth." Ecclesiastes 7:4, KJV** _________________________________ *"Everything about her was warm and soft and scented; even the stains of her grief became her as raindrops do the beaten rose." Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth **Wharton's alternative title was "A Moment's Ornament," from one of her favorite poems, "She was a Phantom of Delight," first stanza (1804) " She was a Phantom of delight When first she gleam'd upon my sight; A lovely Apparition, sent To be a moment's ornament:.... Wm. Wordsworth, "She was a Phantom of Delight," first stanza (1804)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Malia

    If you have read anything by Wharton, you will know that mirth is rarely to be found in her work;-) That being said, her style of storytelling, for me at least, is so compelling and really draws you in. I liked this even more than The Age of Innocence, which was a surprisingly engaging novel, once you get past the fact that it's rather depressing. The House of Mirth is the story of Lily Bart, a beautiful young woman, who gets into money-related trouble, which haunts her for many years to come. Wh If you have read anything by Wharton, you will know that mirth is rarely to be found in her work;-) That being said, her style of storytelling, for me at least, is so compelling and really draws you in. I liked this even more than The Age of Innocence, which was a surprisingly engaging novel, once you get past the fact that it's rather depressing. The House of Mirth is the story of Lily Bart, a beautiful young woman, who gets into money-related trouble, which haunts her for many years to come. What I found so fascinating about this book was not so much the story, but the character of Lily Bart, who stays with you long after you close the book. I am the kind of reader who can love a mediocre book if its characters are memorable, and Wharton just does really intriguing characters. Lily was not always likable; arrogant or proud at times, but those flaws were balanced with kindness and self-awareness, that made her multi-dimensional. In years to come, I will probably forget many of the story's details, but I think I will still remember Lily Bart. Now I have to find some of Wharton's other books, fortunately for me, she was quite prolific. Find more reviews and bookish fun at http://www.princessandpen.com

  24. 5 out of 5

    Carol ꧁꧂

    I saw the film of this book a few years ago. Gillian Anderson never looked lovelier, but both she & the film struggled to show me Lily Bart's motivations. I think the film should have started earlier than the book did, rather than from the point where Lily started to fall off the tightrope that was her careful trip through New York Society. I've always enjoyed (& had a sneaking admiration for) the Society Adventuress characters, like Becky Sharp & Amber from Forever I saw the film of this book a few years ago. Gillian Anderson never looked lovelier, but both she & the film struggled to show me Lily Bart's motivations. I think the film should have started earlier than the book did, rather than from the point where Lily started to fall off the tightrope that was her careful trip through New York Society. I've always enjoyed (& had a sneaking admiration for) the Society Adventuress characters, like Becky Sharp & Amber from Forever Amber In her circumstances, that is who Lily should be - but she is not. Even before the book's start she sabotages her own goals. I think she enjoys her own precarious freedom & it is only when she reaches the age of 29 that she realises her beauty will fade & it is time she snared a rich husband. She finds her victim prospective husband, but any time her true love Lawrence Selden enters the picture she loses her grip on this goal & this plus, her own naivety & lack of killer instinct contribute to her downfall. I loved the beautiful language Wharton uses. I never once lost interest in Lily's plight, although I was frequently exasperated with her, I always understood her. She was a fallible human being & that is a great part of this book's allure.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    I need to clarify here. Did I love it? No. Would I read it again. Probably. Would I recommend it to others? Probably. Did I recognize that it was beautifully written? Of course. The nuances of every thought, every move were so beautifully told. Do I realize the important part the book played in advancing the lives of women. Well yes. I guess I just wasn't fully engaged in the book. It didn't take me away. I just kept thinking "Oh you stupid woman." I also just may have identified with the positi I need to clarify here. Did I love it? No. Would I read it again. Probably. Would I recommend it to others? Probably. Did I recognize that it was beautifully written? Of course. The nuances of every thought, every move were so beautifully told. Do I realize the important part the book played in advancing the lives of women. Well yes. I guess I just wasn't fully engaged in the book. It didn't take me away. I just kept thinking "Oh you stupid woman." I also just may have identified with the position of a woman without a husband, and that may have been a little uncomfortable to me. So do I respect the book? Yes. Did I love it? Alas and woe is me.

  26. 4 out of 5

    William1.2

    A favorite. I've read it twice.

  27. 3 out of 5

    Chrissie

    The House of Mirth chronicles two years in the life of Lily Bart. She is twenty-nine years old. She is of the upper-crust New York society at the end of the 19th century, frequently referred to as the Gilded Age. Mark Twain penned the phrase, characterizing the period as one that glittered on the surface but was corrupt underneath. Lily has neither mother nor father and her expensive tastes mean she is running out of money. Her stunning beauty is her trump card, her ticket to marriage. Wharton t The House of Mirth chronicles two years in the life of Lily Bart. She is twenty-nine years old. She is of the upper-crust New York society at the end of the 19th century, frequently referred to as the Gilded Age. Mark Twain penned the phrase, characterizing the period as one that glittered on the surface but was corrupt underneath. Lily has neither mother nor father and her expensive tastes mean she is running out of money. Her stunning beauty is her trump card, her ticket to marriage. Wharton took the title from Ecclesiastes of the Old Testament: “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” Here lies a hint of what lies ahead. Going into this novel I had to rethink what seems obvious to me. If you are running out of money, get yourself a job. The hitch is that for the women of Lily’s class and era this was not an alternative. Marriage was the answer, but what if marriage to one you do not love is repugnant? Wharton had to make me see that given her birthright and how she had been raised, Lily was utterly incapable of joining the work force. Wharton, by the book’s end had me inside Lily’ head. I saw her world as she saw it. I came to understand how she felt and thought and why she had to do what she did. Making a reader of another age and way of thinking truly understand a different era is an accomplishment. The book describes the life of the idle rich, a life style repugnant to most of us. Money and name and retaining one’s social standing are life’s goals. How this is achieved is of little importance. The characters: Lily I came to understand thoroughly, and I liked her. She does not blame others for her misfortunes. Neither does she stoop to the immoral. That she makes mistakes, only proves that she is human. This is a love story. He who she loves is not portrayed equally well. Only one other character is drawn proficiently--Simon Rosedale. He is an aspiring Jewish businessman. His aim is to climb the social ladder. Only Lily and Simon are drawn with depth. The others merely make up the many of the class Wharton is criticizing. A few additional characters are thrown in. The writing: Many praise Wharton’s prose style. I had difficulty with it. There is a formality in her lines. She chooses academic words rather than everyday speech. Although the words chosen are explicit, this does not necessarily mean the import of a sentence is clear. I was not always sure I had understood what was to be intended. I prefer a text that is crystal clear. I prefer a text without ambiguity, unless there is a specific point to the ambiguity. I prefer a prose that is simple rather than fancy. I found the text unnecessarily wordy, not always, but too often. As the story reaches its end, I found more clarity in the lines. Perhaps the author wanted to clear up ambiguities. Perhaps she wanted to make sure readers understood exactly that which she wanted to say. The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Anna Fields, a.k.a. Kate Fleming, who tragically died in 2006. She was a fantastic narrator. Her tone is bass, clear, strong and very easy to follow. She reads at the perfect speed. She uses different intonations for different characters, each one perfectly capturing that particular individual. She intones men and women equally well. I have given the narration five stars. The audiobook begins with an introduction written by R.W.B Lewis. It is better saved to the end. ************* Summer 4 stars The House of Mirth 3 stars Xingu 3 stars (short story) The Age of Innocence 1 star Ethan Frome 1 star The Reef TBR The Marne: A Tale of the War TBR (non-fiction)

  28. 3 out of 5

    Alex

    Lily Bart is the first and greatest of Edith Wharton's trapped women. Here's the trick Wharton pulls off with her: she's not great, and Wharton makes you wish she was worse. Lily is beautiful; she looks, thinks her star-crossed friend Selden, as though "she must have cost a great deal to make, that a great many dull and ugly people must, in some mysterious way, have been sacrificed to produce her." Maybe she looks a little like this painting she mimics for a tableau vivant, which is a shitty part Lily Bart is the first and greatest of Edith Wharton's trapped women. Here's the trick Wharton pulls off with her: she's not great, and Wharton makes you wish she was worse. Lily is beautiful; she looks, thinks her star-crossed friend Selden, as though "she must have cost a great deal to make, that a great many dull and ugly people must, in some mysterious way, have been sacrificed to produce her." Maybe she looks a little like this painting she mimics for a tableau vivant, which is a shitty party game where people act out a painting because karaoke wasn't invented yet. It's halfway through the book and it's Lily's last triumph. "Mrs. Lloyd" by Joshua Reynolds, 1775-1776 Pervy old guys are like "I can see her whole legs!!!" But she's poor, orphaned by her elegant but broke parents. Her mother died of dinginess. "I am horribly poor - and very expensive," she laughs haha but not. "I must have a great deal of money." And the problem is what she'll have to sacrifice to marry it. Faced with a series of rich losers - supremely boring Percy Gryce; some old Italian Count; even, clutch your pearls, a Jew - she sabotages herself at every turn. Lily is inconsistent and unstable, but her real problem is that she must sacrifice either money or love, and she can't bring herself to make the choice. Love is Selden, who lacks money - also possibly heterosexuality, according to some, but I don't see it. (Gerty Farish, on the other hand!) The aching, almost-there scene on a hill between Selden and Lily may not be bursting with boners, but it doesn't seem gay to me either. Money is nearly everyone else, but I want to talk especially about Rosedale, because did I mention that he's a Jew? He's a Jew. And you know what Jews are like, or in case you don't, here's Edith Wharton to tell you: - "His race's accuracy in the appraisal of values" - "That mixture of artistic sensibility and business astuteness which characterizes his race" - "The instincts of his race fitted him to suffer rebuffs and put up with delays" - "Disciplined by the tradition of his blood to accept what was conceded, without undue haste to press for more" I'm not a moral relativist, and not everyone in 1905 was anti-Semitic. Edith Wharton was, and it's a problem for this book. It sucks and it also muddles the book, because Rosedale actually is the right guy for Lily to marry. He sees her, as Selden does; both of them realize the trap she's in, both realize how anguished she is about all her escape options. And he honestly, truly wants to help. "If you'd only let me," he pleads, "I'd set you up over them all! – I'd put you where you could wipe your feet on 'em!" And you're like dude, that sounds great. Do that, you great flapping idiot! She won't do it because he's a Jew, but also because there's this one little thing she has to do first. I'm going to outline some of the middle plot, so skip this paragraph if you want: she's in trouble at this point. She's accepted money from her friend Judy Trenor's husband; she thought he was managing her investments, but it turns out he thought he was paying her in advance for sex. (My initial reaction to this was, "That's ludicrous, nobody would think that!" to which the mighty El responded, "Spoken like someone who's never accepted a ride home in the rain from a dude.") So in order to get away from that mess, she goes on a cruise with the Dorsets, but it turns out Bertha Dorset is using her to distract her husband while she has an affair, and when Bertha gets herself in trouble about it she coldly sacrifices Lily, in a nasty little twist scene where she publicly accuses Lily of fucking Mr. Dorset. And the thing is that Lily has accidentally acquired proof of Bertha's infidelity; she can use it to destroy Bertha and regain her social stature. That's all Rosedale needs - he needs her slightly less scandalous - but Lily won't do it. She refuses to sink to Bertha's level. That's her in a nutshell. Describing wonderful Gerty (who, again, is gay af for her) she says, "She likes being good, and I like being happy." But that's not really the truth. Over and over she's presented with the opportunity to be happy, at the minor cost of just an insignificant sliver of goodness, and she turns away. So step by step Lily slips, and each time "she recovered her footing, and it was only afterward that she was aware of having recovered it each time on a slightly lower level." Each time she's dingier. Wharton makes us watch every slip, and it's terrible. So here we are, and here's the trick Edith Wharton has pulled off: she presents us with this essentially useless human, and by the time she's done, all we want is for her to be a little worse. Just sacrifice this tiny little piece of goodness, in order to get at least a little sliver of happiness. The thing with Edith Wharton is that she made the decision Lily Bart can't. Wharton was elegant and broke and she married the money, spending 28 long years with a rich, cheating, unstable, possibly closeted husband before finally (and somewhat scandalously) divorcing him. She wrote House of Mirth, her first hit, in the middle of all this. (Custom of the Country, which explores divorce, came at the end.) So you can sense the ambivalence running throughout this book: Wharton is unhappy, and she both envies and condemns Lily. Lily allows her to live out her escapist fantasies, and to reassure herself that they wouldn't have worked. Although, I mean, it would have worked out fine if she had just gotten with Gerty in the first place.

  29. 3 out of 5

    Laura

    So depressing I had to read two Nancy Drew mysteries afterward to cheer up. This is Edith Wharton’s other masterpiece, a Gilded Age tragedy of the beautiful and charming Lily Bart, who is trained only to be an ornamental wife — a big problem if you care who you marry and you’re dependent on relatives for money. Although essentially honorable, Lily does have her share of weaknesses and more than her share of bad luck. Assisting her inevitable downward trajectory is a society full of opportunistic So depressing I had to read two Nancy Drew mysteries afterward to cheer up. This is Edith Wharton’s other masterpiece, a Gilded Age tragedy of the beautiful and charming Lily Bart, who is trained only to be an ornamental wife — a big problem if you care who you marry and you’re dependent on relatives for money. Although essentially honorable, Lily does have her share of weaknesses and more than her share of bad luck. Assisting her inevitable downward trajectory is a society full of opportunistic hypocrites. It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Part of the problem I had with this book was that I didn’t see the need for Lily’s sacrifices — is a loveless marriage really worse than abject poverty? Is blackmail that bad when the objects are scoundrels who have ruined your life? Am I unethical and mercenary because I ask these questions?? Great novel, but problematic. Get out the hankies and Nancy Drew.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Eve

    "But those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge men into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains." –1 Tim. 6:9, 10 Over ten years ago I watched the movie adaptation of The House of Mirth. I didn't remember much of the plot going into the book excep "But those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge men into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains." –1 Tim. 6:9, 10 Over ten years ago I watched the movie adaptation of The House of Mirth. I didn't remember much of the plot going into the book except the ending, which was tragic, so it was interesting to read about Lily's descent in society. I haven't reacted so strongly to a character's bad choices in a long time. Sometimes I did need to put my book down, walk around and then come back for more. Like a train wreck, I couldn't look away from Lily and her plight. Throughout most of the book, I wasn't particularly fond of Lily. "Ah, no-she was too intelligent not to be honest with herself. She knew that she hated dinginess as much as her mother had hated it, and to her last breath she meant to fight against it, dragging herself up again and again above its flood till she gained the bright pinnacles of success which presented such a slippery surface to her clutch." Her preference for wealth, prosperity and social advancement made me sick! But the more I read, the more I was sucked into this environment that felt pretty stifling, especially for a woman, who was valued for her beauty, charm and connections instead of the person she was inside. Ugh. How sickening! To witness her again and again trying to clutch at "success" and see it slip from her grasp was so disheartening. But something about her character always rang true to me: that of someone trying to do the right thing imperfectly. It's almost as if even she didn't completely buy into the hypocrisy of New York society, even if she so desperately longed to be a part of it. Those were her redeeming qualities in my estimation. I loved how Wharton crafted this novel. Going back I was able to see so much forshadowing, and am determined to re-read this some time in the future. I'm sure I will glean even more from its pages then.

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