Published by: Penguin Classics
Published on: November 24, 2010 (reprint)
Page Count: 352
My Reading Format: Penguin Classics RED edition bought from Ram’s Head Books
Available Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, and Audiobook
Lily Bart is a beautiful, vivacious single New York socialite. She, nearing 30, is fast approaching the point where her youth will soon begin to fade. As she is an orphan living off a modest income and the good will of an elderly aunt, it is imperative that Lily marry to maintain her social status and the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed. While she is attracted to Lawrence Seldon, he does not have the financial prospects she expects in a husband. Wealth alone does not capture her affections. She avoids Mr. Rosedale as much as possible. He has a great deal of money, but he has no social standing and Lily has no desire to be his ticket into society. If only the men who seemed a perfect match to her ambitions weren’t so powerfully dull. Lily’s future is also complicated by the designs and goals of other women in her set. Without a suitable mother figure or female advisor, Lily is left to her own devices in the bruising waves of New York society.
The House of Mirth is my first Edith Wharton novel and I was instantly drawn to her beautiful writing. I reread the first chapter several times before moving forward because I love the way that she wrote it. Within the introductions she gave to Lily Bart and Lawrence Seldon, Wharton gave the reader a true sense of who they have been and where they are going. As the novel progressed, Wharton’s prose and turns of phrase continued to please.
Lily Bart was a frustrating character. While she felt the urgent need to marry in order to secure he financial future, she was only able to keep her eyes on the prize so to speak when she was heavily in debt or at least worried about the money she owed. So long as the bills were foremost in her mind she acted as was to be expected for a marriageable woman in her social circle. When she was flush or able to conquer her fears of poverty, she mismanaged her social life the way she did her finances. There were countless times I wanted to shake her and point her back at her ledger. While her actions seemed to ebb and flow along with her bank account, she was loyal to those she cared about to the point of letting the one invaluable non-monetary piece of leverage she go to waste. As much as I wanted her to make use of this weapon, I ultimately admired her for acting out in love in the only way she knew.
While I couldn’t have known the details beforehand, I saw little but tragedy heading Lily’s way from the first pages. There wasn’t a single lighthearted moment to be found within The House of Mirth. Lily’s headlong tumbles from one bad decision to the next made the book hard to read in long sittings. As beautiful as the writing was throughout, I found it necessary to walk away at regular intervals. There was never a question of finishing, however. This world that Wharton created was as real as the pages underneath my fingertips. In many ways Lily felt like wayward family member. She continually tested my patience and boundaries but I could never give up hope that she would find her way.
I first chose to read The House of Mirth after Candace from Beth Fish Reads announced the categories for her annual What’s in a Name reading challenge. While I was bouncing off ideas on Twitter, Tanya from dog eared copy and I formed plans to read several of Edith Wharton novels in 2013. Thus our own personal #Edith2013 challenge was born. The House of Mirth proved a thought provoking beginning for both challenges. Wharton’s writing is timeless and her themes are still very much relevant. I would highly recommend The House of Mirth to all readers.
Next up for #Edith2013 ~ The Age of Innocence
A note on the film version of The House of Mirth ~ As Tanya and I are want to do, we scheduled a Twitter viewing party to watch the 2001 version starring Gillian Anderson and Eric Stoltz. From the very first moments, I knew this movie was a bust for me. Everything about it screamed “I am uncomfortable!” It was disappointing. Read the book my friends. Read the book.