The House of Mirth: Authoritative Text Backgrounds and Contexts Criticism / Edition 1by Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Ammons
Pub. Date: 01/28/1990
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
This Norton Critical Edition of Edith Wharton's quintessential novel of the Gilded Age reprints the Scribner's magazine text of 1905, including the eight original illustrations.The text has been introduced and thoroughly annotated by the editor for student readers. Backgrounds and Contexts includes selections from Edith Wharton's letters; articles from the period about etiquette, vocations for women, factory life, and Working Girls' Clubs; excerpts from the work of contemporary social thinkers including Thorstein Veblen, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Olive Schreiner; and a consideration of anti-Semitism at the turn of the century by historian John Higham. Also included are Charles Dana Gibson's precautionary piece "Marrying for Money" (including four Gibson drawings) and a tableau vivant of "The Dying Gladiator."Criticism reprints six central contemporary reviews of the novel and six biographical and interpretive modern essays by Millicent Bell, Louis Auchincloss, Cynthia Griffin Wolff, R. W. B. Lewis, Elaine Showalter, and Elizabeth Ammons.A Chronology and Selected Bibliography are also included.
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What a brilliantly beautiful, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, soul-crushing book! Poor Lily Bart. Everyone admired her, revered her, envied her, even adored her, but not one person loved her. Not even Lawrence Selden. Despite his protestations and her belief that he could save her. He could not save her; he adored her, but he did not truly love her. Two scenes were salient to me: Lily's tableau at the Brys' and her final encounter with Selden. The first occurred at an opulent, society-impressing party. What was so striking about this scene was that all the other tableaux featured multiple women. Lily's alone was alone. And last. And all the tableaux featured the women grandly makeup and dressed, essentially themselves behind the characters they were portraying. Lily worm a plain white draping robe, a robe that did not conceal her true inner and outer nature, but revealed it. Selden responded to this transparency (he sent her a note asking to meet), but instead of meeting Lily, got caught up in the popular, malicious and envious gossip, and fled. The second scene came toward the close of the book. Her road to degradation and poverty has been well-documented by Wharton and further discussed by the characters in the book. Lily. as if by instinct, turned one last time to Selden. She gave him one last chance to love her and to save her. Again, in this scene, she was completely transparent, her mask of composure removed. And again, Selden turned away. Instead of seeing her, he recalls the gossip. He does not love her. Not truly. And he cannot save her. She, instead, saves him. At the end of the book, Selden declares that at least he had loved (past tense) her. But even here, his actions betray him. When he finds the unsealed enveloped addressed to Gus Trenor, he does not look to see what the envelope contains. Instead, he again believes the worst. Not one of the men in the book could have saved Lily Bart, and, unfortunately, she was not brought up to know how to save herself.
I read this book with my book club and loved it. It is well-written, the story is interesting and it provokes wonderful conversation. In addition, it provides an excellent depiction of the times.