Original Language: English
Publication Date: 1905
"The House of Mirth" is better reviewed after it is digested, because there are many angles to explore... but I'm chomping at the bit to review it right away so here we go. The novel was a bit of a struggle because the main character, Lily Bart frustrated the hell out of me. A few of the characters in the novel will sympathize with me.
Let's start off by saying that the novel is based on Wharton's own experiences, growing up in New York City in the late 1800's. It's a typical materialistic society, completely based on money and status within society where the rich rarely worked (or didn't need to work), the poor were poor, and the middle-class strive to live like the rich. The main character, Lily Bart was in the latter category.
Lily Bart was extremely beautiful, which lead all the men to fall in love with her (with negative results) and most of the women to feel envious of her beauty and a desire to break her down with the power they held in society. Lily Bart's central flaw was her inability to be happy with an existence in her own income (and consequently status) bracket. She tried to keep up with the Jones' (points for whomever can tell me where this term originates) to the point where she had spent everything she had. Because she didn't want to live a 'dingy' life and was poor, she had to scheme to get money. In this society, the way to elevate your position in society was to marry rich and Lily Bart tried to play this game but struggled with the acceptance of her lot.
The only likable characters in the book were Lawrence Seldon, and he lost some of his lustre as time wore on and he was bandied about by Lily, and Gerty (Lily's cousin) who was a sweet girl who was happy with her lower status in society. She was never loved, but she loved many people and contributed to charity and was always striving to aid her friends when in need. As a reader, this book was a struggle because everyone was phony and obsessed with money which was probably a true account of NYC at the time.
By this account, and the popular though on the subject, is that the people of high society were fools and those wanting to join this group in their 'mirth' were also fools. I agree with this, but my brain wants to take this to another level. The 'house of mourning', which I believe is akin the struggle of existence that high society does not have to face, is in fact a real house in this novel. I believe it's the house of Nettie Crane (Nettie Strathen). For those who have read this work, what do you think?
Overall, I will say that the struggle through most of the middle of the novel was worth it for the ending, but be prepared for a depressing read. I would recommend the work, but it's definitely not anywhere near the top of my list.
"She closed her eyes an instant, and the vacuous routine of the life she had chosen stretched before her like a long white road without dip or turning: it was true she was to roll over it in a carriage instead of trudging it on foot, but sometimes the pedestrian enjoys the diversion of a short cut which is denied to those on wheels." 55-56
"The real alchemy consists in being able to turn gold back again into something else; and that's the secret that most of your friends have lost." 70
"To a torn heart uncomforted by human nearness a room may open almost human arms, and the being to whom no four walls mean more than any others, is, at such hours, expatriate everywhere." 148