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Jeffrey Meyers, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, has published forty-three books, including biographies of Ernest Hemingway, Edmund Wilson, Robert Frost, D. H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, and George Orwell.
The House of Mirth, conventional in form but still very readable and perceptive about the social roles of modern women, appeared almost a century ago, in 1905. That year, Japan’s defeat of Russia led to the first Russian Revolution, the formation of workers’ Soviets, and the mutiny on the battleship Potemkin. In 1905 Einstein proposed his First Theory of Relativity and Freud published his Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex. There were also new currents of modernism in art, music, and literature. John Singer Sargent painted The Marlborough Family, Henri Rousseau The Hungry Lion, and Henri Matisse La Joie de vivre. Franz Léhar composed The Merry Widow, Claude Debussy La Mer, and Richard Strauss Salome. G. B. Shaw brought out Major Barbara, H. G. Wells Kipps, and E. M. Forster Where Angels Fear to Tread. There was considerable unrest in the United States as well as in Russia, and as the historian John Higham noted, "It was a time of mass strikes, widening social chasms, unstable prices, and a degree of economic hardship unfamiliar in earlier American history.
Edith Wharton was intimately acquainted with the ruling class, with people who had money and property, wealth and power. As Louis Auchincloss observed: "She knew their history and their origins, their prejudices and ideals, the source of their money and how they spent their summers.” She seemed to hate the society she belonged to, and described it with pervasive irony and sharp wit. Her philistine and hypocritical characters are spoiled and selfish, idle and self-indulgent, hedonistic and materialistic; their social hierarchy, through which Lily Bart makes her tragic descent, is as rigid as the Army or the Church. In a society rife with financial scandal and sexual intrigue, anything is allowed as long as the transgressors are wealthy and maintain a respectable façade. The "vulture” Carry Fisher, who’s twice been divorced and receives money from Gus Trenor, has powerful protectors and is invited everywhere. The fierce and vindictive Bertha Dorset has flagrantly indiscreet affairs with Selden and Silverton but, ironically protected by her victim Lily Bart, manages to maintain both her reputation and her marriage.
In her revealing introduction to the 1936 reprint of The House of Mirth, Wharton explained her choice of subject and suggested her major theme: "When I wrote The House of Mirth I held, without knowing it, two trumps in my hand. One was the fact that New York society in the nineties was a field as yet unexploited by an novelist who had grown up in that little hot-house of traditions and conventions; and the other, that as yet these traditions and conventions were unassailed, and tacitly regarded as unassailable.” She admitted that she "wrote about totally insignificant people, and 'dated’ them by an elaborate stage-setting of manners, furniture and costume.” Such people, she said, "always rest on an underpinning of wasted human possibilities,” and their sadly vulnerable victim was "the tame and blameless Lily Bart.” Ironically listing Lily’s misdemeanors, Wharton described her as "a young girl of their world who rouged, smoked, ran into debt, borrowed money, gambled and—crowning horror!—went home with a bachelor friend to take tea in his flat!”
Wharton’s caustic novel, piercing the secure stockade of convention, alarmed and disturbed the rulers of New York. In a letter of November 11, 1905, a month after the book appeared, Wharton defended her work. She said that the American upper classes lacked the sense of social responsibility, the noblesse oblige still maintained by their aristocratic counterparts in Europe: "I must protest, & emphatically, against the suggestion that I have 'stripped’ New York society. New York society is still amply clad, & the little corner of its garment that I lifted was meant to show only that little atrophied organ—the group of idle & dull people . . . [whose] sudden possession of money has come without inherited obligations, or any traditional sense of solidarity between the classes.”
Posted October 12, 2009
This is one of those classic books I always meant to read, but never got around to actually doing it. I finally got my hands on this weekend, and finished it within a day. The characters are sympathetic, and the plot engaging. I couldn't put it down, but then again I am one of those people who get completed engrossed in a book and have to finish it as soon as possible.
Although, I was a tad disappointed. Im an avid Austen fan, and I guess I was expecting a similar turbulent love story, which ultimately will end happily, but Wharton did not deliver such story.
The novel is fantastic, and if it was not for the things I put off doing while reading the book, I might have not hated the ending as much. But when a girl puts off studying for midterms, and stays until 3am reading a novel, dang it, it better end happily.
6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
I can't say enough how much I loved this book. About a no longer "young" woman who needs to marry for money in order to stay within the class she's grown accustomed to - she finds she always sabotages herself. She makes decisions that are bad for the time she's living in and ends up having to suffer the consequences. Reading it from a 21st century perspective, it all seems so unfair - if she were alive today she'd be doing just fine. But in her time, she was trapped and had to choose between the luxury she craved, but with men she didn't even like, or a life of poverty. Both were traps. It makes you appreciate the freedom we now have to live the way we please. But even though she's trapped in a way that I'll never experience, I still identified very much with her character - above all with her increasing inability to be the kind of person she wanted to be. Because in the end, we're all trying to be better people, then life gets in the way. I can't wait to read this one again!
5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 26, 2009
I Also Recommend:
My 10th-grade English teacher handed me a copy of the House of Mirth about halfway through that school year and told me she thought I'd really enjoy it and Edith Wharton. I was hesitant, but I read it because I was 15 and a teacher was suggesting it, which might have been mixed up with assigning it in my mind. But boy, am I glad I read it! Reading The House of Mirth was the start of a lifelong love affair with Edith Wharton, her books, her characters, and her stories. I have since re-read House of Mirth, seen the movie multiple times, and ventured out to Wharton's other texts, all of which I love for her detail, her honest writing, her fully realized characters, and the tragic lives they all lead. I will continue to say that The House of Mirth is my all-time favorite book for as long as I'm reading, because I doubt I will ever find something that I connect with as much as this one.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 7, 2006
The House of Mirth is a traditional novel of manners compromising a dramatic plot encircling a fatally flawed character. Lily Bart is a single socialite existing at the turn of the 20th century in upper class New York whose life ambition is to achieve inconceivable heights of social prominence through the security of a lucrative, venerable marriage. To Lily, social standing means everything it is something to be worked for and perfected no matter the cost. This selfish, single-minded desire for material wealth and social glory proves to be a constant struggle for Lily throughout the novel, as her morality comes into question through several trials, which consequently result in grave irrevocable errors. One such internal battle surfaces when Lily encounters the rare opportunity to marry for love, but ultimately banishes the possibility from her mind in favor of a more financially stable union. Another major tribulation concerns Lily¿s inclination to accumulating overwhelming debts, which force her to ask for favors from ¿friends,¿ leaving her vulnerable and free to manipulation. Unfortunately, Lily¿s purely self-interested motivations induce the opposite of the desired effect as they eventually serve to reduce her to a destitute social pariah. Through Lily¿s tragic character it is illustrated that excessive concern for material riches is detrimental to one¿s wellbeing, because it inevitably breeds moral decay and supersedes the more precious facets of life. It is through her poor decisions that Lily begins her downward spiral from her position as an esteemed lady of high society to a figure of public humiliation and defeat, a journey that takes readers along for a thrilling ride and leaves them with an impression of personal loss.
4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 2, 2012
This is an excellent book to read. Edith Wharton is one of the most important female writers in American literature. Her "Age of Innocence" and "The House of Mirth" is an absolutely must read books in the list of anyone. Wharton's style is unique to her which is chided with criticism of her time, New York's socialites and the wealthy, along with the psyche of U.S. at the time. Wharton delivers much in-depth insight to her readers through the language she uses, lively and fresh descriptions and the irony she presents in this novel.
The whole novel is a critique of the New York's aristocracy in the Gilded age. Lily Bart is a 29 year old single young woman who is taken care of by her aunt (who is old fashioned, and thinks she has covered every single a young lady at Lily's age might need, both financially and other wise), addicted to gambling and who has ambitious goals of marrying into the wealth and continue to stay within her social class. This is the plight and the tragedy that revolves around Lily, making her one of the most likeable and also frustrating characters in the literature that I know.
Lily is probably one of the most human, fallible characters that are represented in a positive light, but due to her plights, tragically ends her life/ There are a lot of details within this book, concretely set rules of social etiquette and vivid details of the characters, settings and rules of the society. However, there are certain vagueness to the novel that at the end is open to interpretation, which makes it readily one of the most arguable novels in American literature. This is the genius of Wharton bringing the certainty and uncertainty in a harmonized light.
Lily is an extremely attractive young woman who is pushing the boundaries of her marriageability firstly because of her age, (which even by today's standards is debatable), secondly by her addiction to gambling and later to the scandalous rumors about her non-existent affair with George Dorset. While Lily has had many who has proposed to her, Lily has always been unable to decide and later jeopardize those proposes by acting out of character in hopes of being with someone better. Lily's ambitions and her own self righteous attitude gets the better of her. (She could have easily pulled her out of her financial troubles by marrying any one of her eligible suitors--which makes one critically think about Lily that although she wants to have a wealthy husband who will secure her foothold in the higher elite social class, she also wants to marry for love).
With all of this said and done, Lawrence Seldon is an attorney from the middle class who often hangs around the wealthy. Seldon and Lily do love each other, however Lily never takes the leap to be with Seldon due to his inferior social standing. Her inability to let go of her desire to be in the society of the elite-regardless of their cruel, unhappy, polite but back-stabbing, gossiping circle overwhelms her desire to be happy. Lily is stuck in between love and wealth--which being unable to commit to either one brings her tragic death.
Lily is such an interesting antagonist, especially considering the time where women writers were barely existent and usually were not taken seriously Wharton offers a critique of not only the New York's finest, however a glimpse of the mindset of a woman who lived in between the turn of the 19th Century. Wharton delivers her characters trough an interpretive and exposing lens that serves the modern.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 8, 2007
I really enjoyed reading this book, because of its engrossing plot and very intriguing themes. The characterization, particularly that of Lily Bart, is very realistic and extremely well written. Wharton takes a hard look at the traditions and lifestyles of the wealthy upper-class in ways that reveal the hypocrisy and cutthroat behaviors that dominate some circles of that social class. The other very interesting theme is the power of women in society, which has pertinence in today's world. For instance, Wharton addresses issues such as the value put on women by society, the meaning of customs such as marriage, the rules of behavior that women are expected to follow 'and many do not', as well as the power of women over each other, which is perhaps the most interesting concept of all that this book presents. Overall, this book is very well written, has a great ending that leaves the reader thinking, and is also a great social commentary. I would highly recommend this book.
2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 8, 2010
Posted July 16, 2006
Brilliant character development of Ms. Lily Bart. I love how Wharton gives her readers an omnipotent view of the battle between good and evil that precedes each character's words and actions. It just shows how truly discerning and insightful she is. The protagonist's heroic adherence to her morals will really make you question the strenght of your own character. The ending depressed me, but I still think it the appropriate outcome. This book is a real classic!
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 27, 2013
Posted May 11, 2013
Posted April 26, 2013
The House Of Mirth By Judith Wharton
Lily Barton is a 29 year old beautiful woman who is chaparoned by her wealthy aunt. Lily is stuck in the 1890's society, with no where to go, and no fun to be had. At least not if you want to marry well and be taken care of. Deep tradition, rules and double standards surround her. Young women who were unmarried could be taken advantage of and ruined for virtually nothing. No one would ever forget either once that happens.
Lily's aunt disowns her prior to her death for one such infraction which may or may not include gambling debts and affairs with married men. Lily tries to survive using her intelligence and wit. She wants to be independent and find a man she can love for love's sake. Fate, and the cruel world are very much against her.
Well written and true to the age. Wharton captures what a women such as Lily would have gone through during this time in our society. We've come a long way in some respects and others we haven't.
Posted January 20, 2013
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Posted October 2, 2011
I read this book for a college course. From the first page I was drawn to continue reading. The book is identifiable with all sorts of people. If you're looking for a love story this is not the book for you. Lily Bart is one of the most complex and humanistic character ever written. This book is definitely recommended, even though it is full of heart break.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 19, 2011
I always think of this novel in conjunction with "The Great Gatsby" as the best American novels about money, envy, and doomed romance. It gets better every time I read it, but I've often wondered about one of the characters Wharton presents ambivalently: Simon Rosedale, the Jewish financier. To my delight, there's now a novel which answer my questions about that very enigmatic man: Lev Raphael's "Rosedale in Love." After you read Wharton, download his book for a whole new take on the story of Lily Bart and her Gilded Age New York. Raphael's portrait of excess in 1905 New York absolutely blew my mind and his novel reads as if it were written by a contemporary of Wharton's. It moved me almost as deeply as "The House of Mirth," and that's very high praise.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 5, 2011
Sometimes, there were paragraph breaks in the middle of words at the end of lines, or closing quotes would be moved to the beginning of the next paragraph. Readable, but annoying. I figure I paid for superior editing, and this didn't measure up.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 29, 2011
This book has garbled words throughout. It is illegible and should not be offered even as a free e-book. Doesn't someone proof read these books? I spent a great deal of time with nook technicians via the phone and then at a Barnes and Noble Store trying to determine if it was the Nook or the book! I learned it was the book, and that you may especially get these illegible books when they are free. I only gave it one star because it would not be submitted without a rating. I really shouldn't give it any stars because I couldn't read it! Not nice!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 4, 2011
The House of Mirth is a brilliantly constructed novel, with emotional tugs that will stick with you. Although some might find it a little dated in subject matter (social mores in the very early 20th century in New York), it does impart a fascinating picture of that place and time among the rich (and wealthy want to bes). Thoroughly readable and enjoyable.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.