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The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth (1905)

by Edith Wharton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7,526163689 (4.04)664
  1. 110
    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (SandSing7)
    SandSing7: Wharton is as American as Austen is British. Read both works for a comparitive "across the pond" view on the novel of manners.
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Lily Bart is the most genuine character that I have had the pleasure of encountering in a long, long time. She is a product of her world and imprisoned by it. When I started the novel, I had flashbacks to Anna Karenina. Society lures these women into their situations and then condemns them for their inability to survive the gauntlet they are set.

Wharton obviously intimately understands the “old money” society of New York city and all the nuances that exist between those who are securely engrained in the upper echelon and those who are just trying to either remain there or climb to those heights. One cannot help wonder why anyone would want to be a part of such a narrow-minded, snobbish set; but at the same time one understands that having tasted that world a girl would have little idea of how to survive outside it. The dichotomy between what is true and the appearances that are merely kept at the surface make up the substance of the world that Lily must hang on to or perish.

In the midst of all this disingenuousness, Lily tries to keep a hold on her moral compass. While she is expected to marry for money, she can barely make herself fulfill that odious requirement. She has genuine feelings for Seldon and knows he has the same for her, but she is unable to put aside her need for wealth and accept his offered love. She is really and truly trapped by her station in society and therefore at the mercy of catty, unethical, frightened and jealous women, wealthy men who think they should be able to purchase any woman with their wealth, and uncaring relatives who are judgmental and capricious. Only two persons of her acquaintance actually make an effort to know who Lily IS, the rest just see who Lily ought to be or appears to be.

This is a sad and cynical story, but it reads with truth. Lily is a complicated character...not perfect, not saintly, but certainly mistreated and victimized. I loved that Lily accepted her own role in her fall and that, even in her desperation, refused to sink into the immorality of blackmail or trading her body for money. I very much wanted this tale to end differently, while at the same time knowing that it was unlikely Lily could regain her position without compromising her soul.

I remember reading Ethan Frome when I was much younger and not being overly impressed with it. I recently read a book of Wharton’s short stories and felt quite the opposite about them. This novel is remarkable and ranks high on my list of must-read classics. I will certainly read The Age of Innocence now and I am sure I need to revisit Frome, I obviously missed something essential the first time around. ( )
1 vote phantomswife | Jul 6, 2018 |
My first Wharton, and I can see why so many people love her. The writing is excellent, the social commentary is strong, and the female characters especially in this book feel authentic. I found myself equal parts annoyed by and enamored of Lily. Her movements within ‘society’ as an independent woman, and her fall from that society, make for a compelling story. Lily Bart will stay with me for a long time. So many feels. ( )
1 vote sprainedbrain | May 12, 2018 |
The House of Mirth is my first Edith Wharton book so I really knew nothing about her writing style. I spent most of the book completely torn. Do I feel bad for Miss Lily Bart? She gets herself into many of the same situations girls are plagued with today. Lily was raised in high society. She was taught no different. Then I wonder if she should just grow up, wake up, and see what's happening around her. She does see it. She knows what it takes to truly be happy. Ingrained habits must be hard to break.

Overall, this story led me to ponder on women's roles in society. There is more diversity now; more education, however the "games" between man and woman will never change. ( )
1 vote Bibliodiction | Apr 28, 2018 |
This book was wonderful in so many ways. I would recommend it as a perfect bridge book to any classics fan, especially those enamoured of Austen or the Brontës, as a great segue into reading more 20th century literature. Lily Bart's plight is exacerbated by the times in which she lives, but modern enough to still be relevant to today's readers. People too often walk away from nineteenth century literature thinking "how awful to be a woman in that time where you were not allowed to have any occupation other than serving a husband and family or sitting around all day waiting to get married off. Things are so much different now." The perils that distress Lily Bart, in spite of her wealth, are not that much different now, and many millennial feminists will see resonance in her crises. The writing style also strikes a lovely balance between the traditional and the new--not too experimental, but not as inaccessible as some older writing can be. The ambiguity in the ending is perfect and would open up great possibilities for book club conversations.

If you do read this book, however, I do not recommend the Barnes and Noble edition, or else recommend that you ignore most of the ancillary material included in it. Jeffrey Meyers' introduction manages to spoil every significant detail of the plot, including the ending, along with the endings of three other major books. His assessment of the film version of the book is snobbishly dismissive, and his annotated bibliography is just arrogant and tacky. I've never read an annotated bibliography before that described works as boring or not worth a reader's time. In a review this would be fine, but in a scholarly text it seems unprofessional. Just describe what the additional material is about and let readers decide what they are interested in seeking out. ( )
1 vote quaintlittlehead | Apr 15, 2018 |
Finally read an Edith Wharton. Excellent book, great writing. Enjoyed the insight into life in 1905. ( )
  carolfoisset | Mar 27, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (45 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
Pirè, LucianaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wenzell, A. B.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Selden paused in surprise.
Edith Wharton is the grande dame of American literature. (Introduction)
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:03 -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)

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140187294, 0141199024

Library of America Paperback Classics

An edition of this book was published by Library of America Paperback Classics.

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Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

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Urban Romantics

2 editions of this book were published by Urban Romantics.

Editions: 1909438804, 1909438812

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