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The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
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The House of Mirth (original 1905; edition 2004)

by Edith Wharton, Jeffrey Meyers (Introduction)

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5,993None694 (4.02)478
Member:alynnk
Title:The House of Mirth
Authors:Edith Wharton
Other authors:Jeffrey Meyers (Introduction)
Info:Barnes & Noble Classics (2004), Paperback, 400 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:@own: to be read

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The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905)

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This was another book from my 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, & I can see WHY it became such a sensation in it's day, & why it endures as a classic tale today. Lily is an example of the upper echelon of the class system in early New York. She was trained to do absolutely nothing but be decorative & was brought up to do nothing but marry well. Lily has a few character flaws, which prevent her from doing the thing she was brought up to do, especially since she was raised by a relatively stingy rich aunt after her parents died when she was young. As her life reaches 29, then 30, she falls out of favor with the high society crowd, & is invariably pushed down a rung in the ladder each time till she hits rock bottom after her aunt's death & she was disinherited in favor of another cousin. Lily is at heart not a bad person, she just makes bad choices. If she had married Selden when she had the opportunity, her life would have been richer in SO many more ways than simply financially.....sad ending, but not altogether unexpected.. ( )
  Lisa.Johnson.James | Apr 10, 2014 |
Fabulous novel. Feminist-lit before it was possible for a woman to really write fem-lit. Lily Bart is such an intricate, tragic character. You can't help from being completely swept away by her.

Read it. ( )
  steadfastreader | Mar 18, 2014 |
I *heart* this...even though it makes my heart hurt. Wow.

Portrayal of a young woman, Lily Bart, navigating high society New York circa 1903 without the benefit of a supportive family to guide her or the financial means to support the lifestyle. When you are raised only to be decoration and you realize your own uselessness and inability to establish means to independent living, what do you do when you've waived all the options that have come your way? ( )
  AddictedToMorphemes | Feb 19, 2014 |
2000, Blackstone Audiobooks, Read by Anna Fields

Lily Bart, bred to be ornamental, has known only comfort and luxury. When her family is ruined, she is keenly aware that she must marry money in order to maintain her position in 1890s New York’s elite society: “The only way to not think about money is to have a great deal of it." (Bk 1, Ch 6) And there are no shortage of suitors: Lawrence Selden, Percy Gryce, Simon Rosedale. But she dithers, seemingly wanting the impossible: Selden, whom she loves, is not wealthy enough; and while Gryce and Rosedale are plenty wealthy, she cares not a thing for either of them. Indeed, what might life be like married to Percy Gryce, that droning millionaire and “portentous little ass”:

“She had been bored all the afternoon by Percy Gryce … but she could not ignore him on the morrow, she must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be ready with fresh compliances and adaptabilities, and all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honour of boring her for life.” (Bk 1, Ch 3)

Lily’s hesitation, coupled with a series of other social missteps and foolish decisions, sets in motion her descent of the social ladder. But it is Bertha Dorset, the novel’s antagonist, who ensures Lily’s expulsion from society. A nasty, manipulative woman, Bertha invites Lily on a Mediterranean cruise; but her motives are despicable. An unsuspecting Lily walks right into her deception, and Bertha uses her money and influence to bar Lily permanently from society. Wharton’s protagonist pathetically becomes one “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.” (Bk 1, Ch 1)

The House of Mirth is highly recommended. While I did not enjoy it as much as The Age of Innocence, I love to read about late 1800s New York Society, particularly as written about by Wharton – elite, ostentatious, frivolous, narrow-minded, vicious – and fascinating. Expectedly, prose and characterization are brilliant. And Anna Fields did a lovely job of narration in this audiobook edition. ( )
4 vote lit_chick | Feb 1, 2014 |
"Talk of love making people jealous and suspicious--it's nothing to social ambition!"

I was completely captivated by this portrait of New York Society (capitalization intentional) in the 1890s. Lily Bart was born to flit through the parties and cruises of this glittering world, yet her father lost his fortune and died, leaving her accustomed to wealth, but possessing none of her own. She deplores shabbiness of every kind, and determines that she must marry to maintain her lifestyle and social standing. Her beauty is such that she should be able to marry well. Indeed, at the beginning of the book she is placing herself in a position to captivate a man she does not love or even like, but whose fortune will suit her needs. "She had been bored all the afternoon by Percy Gryce--the mere thought seemed to waken an echo of his droning voice--but she could not ignore him on the morrow, she must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be ready with fresh compliances and adaptabilities, and all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honour of boring her for life." She is distracted from Mr. Gryce by a Mr. Selden, for whom Lily has feelings, but whose wealth is not sufficient for Lily to consider marrying. Her attentions to Mr. Selden are noted by Bertha Dorset, a sometime lover of Mr. Selden, and a vicious queen bee if ever there was one. Bertha spends the rest of the book slowly and insidiously scheming against Lily, who helps her own ruin along by a series of both missteps and checks of moral conscience. Lily is such a fascinating heroine, one who inspired frustration, admiration, and pity in this reader, and her decline is deeply tragic. This is a masterpiece by an giant of American letters, and the narration by Barbara Caruso matched the brilliance of the story.
  AMQS | Dec 8, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (50 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wharton, Edithprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bawden, NinaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Beer, JanetEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bron, EleanorNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brookner, AnitaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Caruso, BarbaraNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fields, AnnaReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lewis, R. W. B.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McCaddon, WandaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Book description
Set in the opulent houses and glittering resorts of New York's fashionable society, this is the story of Lily Bart, beautiful, witty and sophisticated, accepted by "old money", courted by the growing tribe of nouveaux riches. But, as she nears thirty, her foothold becomes precarious: she needs a husband to preserve her social and financial standing, to maintain her in the luxury she craves. Many men have sought her, but something - fastidiousness, an uncomfortable intelligence or some deep-seated integrity - prevents her from making a "suitable" match. Watched by the admiring but impoverished Lawrence Selden, she struggles courageously with the difficulties caused by the growing threat of poverty and her contempt for hypocrisy - a contempt which compromises her position as an unmarried woman among "the ultra-fashionable dancing people". This novel, originally published in 1905, shocked the society it chronicles, portraying the moral, social and economic constraints on a spriited woman.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0486420493, Paperback)

"The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth," warns Ecclesiastes 7:4, and so does the novel by Edith Wharton that takes its title from this call to heed. New York at the turn of the century was a time of opulence and frivolity for those who could afford it. But for those who couldn't and yet wanted desperately to keep up with the whirlwind, like Wharton's charming Lily Bart, it was something else altogether: a gilded cage rather than the Gilded Age.

One of Wharton's earliest descriptions of her heroine, in the library of her bachelor friend and sometime suitor Lawrence Selden, indicates that she appears "as though she were a captured dryad subdued to the conventions of the drawing room." Indeed, herein lies Lily's problem. She has, we're told, "been brought up to be ornamental," and yet her spirit is larger than what this ancillary role requires. By today's standards she would be nothing more than a mild rebel, but in the era into which Wharton drops her unmercifully, this tiny spark of character, combined with numerous assaults by vicious society women and bad luck, ultimately renders Lily persona non grata. Her own ambivalence about her position serves to open the door to disaster: several times she is on the verge of "good" marriage and squanders it at the last moment, unwilling to play by the rules of a society that produces, as she calls them, "poor, miserable, marriageable girls.

Lily's rather violent tumble down the social ladder provides a thumbnail sketch of the general injustices of the upper classes (which, incidentally, Wharton never quite manages to condemn entirely, clearly believing that such life is cruel but without alternative). From her start as a beautiful woman at the height of her powers to her sad finale as a recently fired milliner's assistant addicted to sleeping drugs, Lily Bart is heroic, not least for her final admission of her own role in her downfall. "Once--twice--you gave me the chance to escape from my life and I refused it: refused it because I was a coward," she tells Selden as the book draws to a close. All manner of hideous socialite beasts--some of whose treatment by Wharton, such as the token social-climbing Jew, Simon Rosedale, date the book unfortunately--wander through the novel while Lily plummets. As her tale winds down to nothing more than the remnants of social grace and cold hard cash, it's hard not to agree with Lily's own assessment of herself: "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 I called life, and when I dropped out of it I found I was of no use anywhere else." Nevertheless, it's even harder not to believe that she deserved better, which is why The House of Mirth remains so timely and so vital in spite of its crushing end and its unflattering portrait of what life offers up. --Melanie Rehak

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:54 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Lily Bart, beautiful, witty and sophisticated is accepted by 'old money' and courted by the growing tribe of nouveaux riches. But as she nears thirty, her foothold becomes precarious; a poor girl with expensive tastes, she needs a husband to preserve her social standing and to maintain her in the luxury she has come to expect. Whilst many have sought her, something - fastidiousness or integrity- prevents her from making a 'suitable' match.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 14 descriptions

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Editions: 0140187294, 0141199024

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