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The House of Mirth (Dover Thrift Editions) Paperback – August 6, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0486420493 ISBN-10: 0486420493

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Product Details

  • Series: Dover Thrift Editions
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications (August 6, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486420493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486420493
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 6.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (335 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,457 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Library Journal

Wharton's account of the ill-fated life of Lily Bart receives a perfunctory treatment in this audio program. It is New York in the early 20th century; Lily loves Lawrence Selden, but he sees her as a fortune hunter, with tragic consequences. The author excels at delineating the ways money, romance, and social standing intertwine in the society of the time. Included is a lengthy introduction by Wharton biographer R.W.B. Lewis that sets the work in the context of the writer's life and career. Casual listeners may consider the preface too long and scholarly, and those coming to the novel for the first time may be put off by learning the outcome and by hearing Lewis's uncertainty about whether it is a masterpiece. Anna Fields handles the narration adequately but strains to create masculine voices and makes most of the women too flighty. As a result, the characters seem more trivial than Wharton intended. Not recommended. Michael Adams, CUNY Graduate Ctr.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

The House of Mirth is the story of Lily Bart and her struggle for financial independence.
Sharon Michaels
It reads amazingly well for a book written at that time; you would expect convoluted, dense sentences but her writing style is clear.
H. Walden
Mirth is an excellent novel, finely crafted, beautifully written and alive with Wharton's darkly humorous outlook.
Ann W. Herendeen

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

165 of 174 people found the following review helpful By Charles Slovenski on November 30, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I stumbled upon a review of the recent film of THE HOUSE OF MIRTH in the TLS and, in order to have the novel firmly fixed in my mind (that is, before the lush, seductive images of film forever eradicated Wharton's novel from me) I dragged my copy off the shelf for a re-read. It had been 16 years since I last read of Lily Bart and her life, and I didn't realize how much I had missed her. For me, this is one of the great reading experiences, one of a handful that make reading a book the deeply moving and human exchange that it is. Despite the distance of wealth, property, time and manners, Wharton manages to make Lily's world and life palpable to anyone who will listen. The clash of money, morals, personality and circumstance is infinitely developed and played out in front of a never fading natural world. Once again, I was deeply moved by Lily Bart and at the end, felt I had lost someone myself.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Edith Wharton's "The House Of Mirth" is a sad, but brilliant commentary on the closed, repressive society of the rich, upper class, New York nobility, at the dawn of the 20th century. It is also the story of the downfall of one woman, who attempts to live by her own rules, with no sponsor and no money of her own. Her parents are dead and she lives with relatives.
Lily Bart is one of society's most eligible women, at the height of her powers, when the novel opens. Though she has little money, she has family connections, good breeding and the hope of coming into an inheritance. Beautiful and very charming, Lily has been brought up to be an ornament, as were most women of her class at that time. She is a gilded bird with a noble heart, but clearly she is not aware of the restrictions of her cage. Part of Lily's tragedy is that she does have character, spirit, and a conscience. However, she does not know how to align these attributes, with her ornamental avocation, and her ambitions to marry a wealthy man of good birth.
As expected, Lily is popular with both bachelors and married men. Most of the bachelors propose marriage at on time or another. The only man she has real affection for is her dear friend, Lawrence Seldon, a barrister, whose lack of income makes him entirely unsuitable as a husband. Lily had developed a gambling habit to support her lifestyle, and supplement her allowance. An unfortunate losing streak has put her into debt. In her naivete, she forms an unsavory business alliance with a married man. Later, she is unjustly accused of having an affair with him and their business arrangement also come to light.
Her family cuts her off without a penny.
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Format: Paperback
Published in 1905, The House of Mirth offers a blistering social commentary on the lifestyles and behavior of super-rich society. Having grown up in this society, Wharton evaluates it here as an insider, and her trenchant observations give this early novel a liveliness and verisimilitude not characteristic of "aristocratic" novels written by outsiders. Set at a time in which the old, moneyed aristocracy was being forced to admit newcomers who had made their recent fortunes through industry, the novel shows moneyed society in flux, the old guard ensuring their exclusivity against parvenus who are not the "right type," at the same time that their sons and daughters were often securing large fortunes through marriage into some of these new families.

Lily Bart, a beautiful young woman of good family whose father lost everything when she was only nineteen, is left dependent on wealthy relatives in this society until she can charm a financially secure suitor into marriage. At age twenty-nine, she is no longer a debutante, and the pressure is mounting for her to marry, though she lacks the unlimited financial resources of social rivals. Still, her wit and charm make her a delightful companion, and she is never at a loss for suitors. Intelligent enough to want a real marriage and not just a merger between families, she has resisted making a commitment to date, though the clock is ticking.

As Lily tries to negotiate a good marriage and future for herself, she is aware that the competition is fierce. Women "friends" pounce on the latest gossip and spread rumors to discredit rivals, and Lily's reputation is tainted with hints of impropriety. Her opportunities for a good marriage begin to dwindle, and when her aunt, Mrs.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
I have read this book many times and it is still one of my favorites. I read the reviews, of which some people have no "pity" for Lily - she doesn't want it! While Lily has many chances to take care of herself financially, she is unwilling to let go of her moral character. Quite a position for one who requires (or so she believes) the approval and financial support of society! Obviously those who pan this book as "that was the way it was then" are not old enough to realize that to some degree, that is the way it is now. You are still judged socially by your occupation, home, financial wealth, etc. Lily is a wonderful heroine. Although you want to talk to her and explain to her the other choices, knowing Lily as you come to, you understand her choice. Very wonderful book. I will not see the movie, because I have my own mental images of Lily, Selden and the gang, which I do not want disturbed.
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