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The House of Mirth (1905)

by Edith Wharton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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8,952189747 (4.03)1 / 765
The tragic story of a beautiful young woman caught up in the shallow and corrupt world of New York society at the turn of the century, where wealth and social status are everything.
  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.
  2. 71
    The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (carlym)
  3. 11
    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (kara.shamy)
  4. 22
    The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (kara.shamy)
  5. 22
    Middlemarch by George Eliot (kara.shamy)
  6. 01
    Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (Lapsus_Linguae)
    Lapsus_Linguae: Both novels depict an attractive young woman who becomes an outcast because of society's sexual mores.
  7. 01
    Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (kara.shamy)
Modernism (107)
Read (94)

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English (181)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (1)  Hungarian (1)  Piratical (1)  French (1)  All languages (188)
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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. ( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
Depressing and sad for any woman to read ( )
  vdt_melbourne | Jul 20, 2022 |
⚠️ spoilers

Ahh Lily…what am I to do with you?!lol She is both exasperating and tragic, but I didn’t fully get the “tragic” component the first time I read this book. I reread “The House of Mirth” because I panicked!lol Yepp…I looked at my TBR list and couldn’t figure out what to read, so I grabbed this one at random from my "read" shelves.

The first time I met Lily I just didn’t “get” her and she annoyed the crap out of me, I was too irritated to “think deep” and critically about her character. This time? She still exasperated the crap out of me (😂🙄), but I have sympathy for her and can better understand why she is the way she is.

Lily is not only a product of the high class NY society of the time, but also the trappings and emotional and psychological demands of her mother, who was never satisfied, squandered their wealth, and foisted all of her hopes of “returning” to their proper place on the “marketable” beauty of her daughter (as a hook to catch a wealthy suitor).

Her mother also foisted all of her despondency and dissatisfaction when things did not work out on Lily. What a horrible burden for a child…a young woman…to grow up thinking that all of her worth and value as a human being is tied up on her pretty face. Her mother also did Lily a disservice by raising her to think she was better than others (even the “rich” relatives she came to depend upon), so there is that constant thread of dissatisfaction and superiority in her dealings with others.

Lily needed to secure her financial security through an advantageous marriage and did everything she could to make it happen. She was beautiful and knew this was her “ticket” to secure a wealthy husband. Yet, whether consciously or not, she would self-sabotage at every turn. Like she said “Younger and plainer girls had been married off by dozens, and she was nine-and-twenty, and still Miss Bart.” This is the infuriating part about Lily. She “wants” money (“she knew 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.”) and knows it will take work (and her beauty) but refuses suitors, makes mistakes, poor alliances, etc., which take her further away from her goals. Why? Is it that at heart, she does not want to be part of it? That she is trying to please her dead mother by becoming what she is expected to be? Does her emotionally distant father, who only served as an inadequate provider in her mother’s mind, failed her and she does not trust?
🖋These things are not fleshed out, which is what makes the writing so good and the reason I missed so much the first time around.

We get glimpses of her insight as to her unsuitability to be part of her “society.” There’s a section in the beginning where her relative, who is trying to “secure” Mr. Selden for Lily (or at least help Lily secure him) by keeping another woman (Bertha) away says: “Every one knows you’re a thousand times handsomer and cleverer than Bertha; but then you’re not nasty. And for always getting what she wants in the long run, commend me to a nasty woman.” This pretty much encapsulates Lily’s inability to “swim” in the toxic and competitive miasma of her high class world. She is unable to “sink” those around her, even to save herself and this is the tragic part. She could have ensured her own existence in that world, but she burned the letters. She could have married Selden but he was not rich enough. Never mind she kept digging a bigger hole with debts and decidedly stupid (I use this word sparingly but she should have seen the writing on the wall, hence my opinion as to self-sabotage) alliances resulting in ruination and getting further away from the “world” she craved.
This “money hunger,” insecurities, sense of superiority and her own inability to lower expectations combined with her lack of deviousness and meanness leads to an unsurprising end and the belated sad realizations by Selden. Lily may be contrary, entitled, and exasperating, but she was not “nasty” enough for her world. I missed that the first time I met her.😢 ( )
  Eosch1 | Jan 2, 2022 |
"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."

Lily Barton lives among the rich of New York City, the creme de la creme, yet she is not rich herself. She comes from a good family, has some rich relatives, yet she must rely on the good will of her friends, as well as her beautiful face, her charm, her wit, her ability to always do and say the "right" thing. Her mission in life is to find a rich man to marry, and her ability to do so is unquestioned. Yet she has somehow arrived at the age of 29 and is still unmarried. It seems that at the last minute before sealing the deal something always causes Lily to question whether marriage to a rich man is what she really wants. Then through a series of misteps Lily finds herself on the wrong side of society's arbiters, an outcast.
I first read this as a teenager, and remember loving it, but had no actual memory of the story. Wharton writes beautifully--I've always thought she was deserving of the Nobel in literature. Wharton was a member of the class that destroyed Lily, and she presents them to us warts and all.
This is one of her earliest books, and it is the book that established her literary reputation, as well as being one of the three or four most read/most famous of her works. Some of the themes of her earlier works are fully developed here. It is an exquisite book and it deserves a place in the literary canon. This is one of the rare books I think everyone should read.

Highly recommended
5 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Dec 30, 2021 |
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» Add other authors (129 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
Carabine, KeithEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Caruso, BarbaraNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cheshire, GerardContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fields, AnnaNarratorsecondary 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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The tragic story of a beautiful young woman caught up in the shallow and corrupt world of New York society at the turn of the century, where wealth and social status are everything.

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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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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

Recorded Books

An edition of this book was published by Recorded Books.

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