- Series: Dover Thrift Editions
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: Dover Publications; unknown edition (August 6, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0486420493
- ISBN-13: 978-0486420493
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.7 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 528 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #328,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The House of Mirth (Dover Thrift Editions) unknown Edition
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From the Back Cover
A bestseller when it was originally published nearly a century ago, Wharton's first literary success was set amid the previously unexplored territory of fashionable, turn-of-the-century New York society, an area with which she was intimately familiar.
The tragic love story reveals the destructive effects of wealth and social hypocrisy on Lily Bart, a ravishing beauty. Impoverished but well-born, Lily realizes a secure future depends on her acquiring a wealthy husband. Her downfall begins with a romantic indiscretion, intensifies with an accumulation of gambling debts, and climaxes in a maelstrom of social disasters.
More a tale of social exclusion than of failed love, The House of Mirth reveals Wharton's compelling gifts as a storyteller and her clear-eyed observations of the savagery beneath the well-bred surface of high society. As with The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome, this novel was also made into a successful motion picture.
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But Lily, deep underneath, is larger than her role as a desirable bauble. Selden, a well bred attorney with no fortune, perceives this and is, at varying times in the novel, tempted to open his heart to her. But fate always seems to take a hand. Lily casts away her opportunities to make the ‘right’ match carelessly. Some inner voice seems to be telling her that she would be sacrificing something important, although she seems unable to put her finger on it. She is, when suddenly in temporary clover, given to good works and she senses that she might somehow find some meaning to her life. She is repulsed when it turns out that a very wealthy husband of one of her ‘sponsors’ (she doesn’t really have friends, except the plain, relatively penurious Gerty who tries to save her but fails) expects more than thanks for his assistance to her in business affairs. Her ethical sense compels her to pay him back every sense in spite of the fact that this means financial disaster. It is, in fact, her attempt to at first obtain the money from her aunt that leads to her ultimate downfall.
But her true trial comes when she purchases from a destitute charwoman very incriminating letters from one of her female sponsors to Selden, which reveal her adulterous behavior. She has a moment of moral crises when it is pointed out to her that use of these letters would restore her to her position of society’s favorite, but she, in the end, cannot bring herself to do it.
In a way, you might say that the genesis of Lily’s fatal flaw, her inability to live and act as crassly as does the hoi polloi she swims with, is traceable to Selden who, in a moment of frankness, opens her eyes to the vacuous nature of high society’s pursuits. He might as well have shot her dead. Although a number of people do Lily harm, Selden is the real villain of the piece. Presented with a last chance to save her, he is unable to cast aside his self centered aloofness and realizes only too late what a fool he has been.
The novel is well written, full of spot on characterizations of the Gilded Age. Only the somewhat maudlin finish prevents me from giving the novel a 5. (As an aside, I kept on hoping that somehow Lily would be saved, but given the endings of the 2 other novels by Wharton I have read, Ethan Frome and Age of Innocence, I should have known better)
Edith Wharton is definitely the master story-teller about society in old New York at the end of the 19 Century, coinciding with the French "Belle Epoque." Lily Bart is striving to maintain social status with limited funds, relying on her beauty, charms and the charity of friends and family. For Downton fans, she's a contemporary of Lady Cora and would share her society before Lady Cora married the Earl of Grantham. Lily Bart has the same goal in mind; to marry well, preferably a man with a title. It's a worthwhile read for the look into the social norms of the late 19th Century and the double standards women endured. A word of caution, the treatment of one particular character would not be appreciated today. It's subtly anti-Semitic and would not be considered politically correct.