Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth
Title: The House of Mirth
Author: Edith Wharton
Publication Date: 6/12/1905
Pages: 351
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 1/11/16

Summary: Socialiate Lily Bart seems to be flourishing among the American elite. When she fails to secure a husband and, instead, unwittingly finds herself in deep debt and accused of moral failings, she descends the social strata with alarming rapidity. 

What I Thought: I cannot believe it has been over two years since I read The Age of Innocence, Wharton's other 100 Best Novels classic. Back then, I was not far into the challenge and was in the midst of a great run of quality picks. I had hope I would love everything on the list that much. Looking back now, I recognize Wharton's work as one of the really excellent finds to come from this challenge. To think it took me so long to read her work makes me a bit sad. 

I remember wanting to pick up The House of Mirth as soon as I finished its compatriot. Instead, I made myself wait for some time in the future, wanting to spread out my newly found Wharton goodness. What a good call, Past Me; Present Me thanks you immensely for that glimmer of wisdom.

The House of Mirth is so different than Innocence in so many ways and yet so like it in others. They are delightful siblings, each bringing different qualities and quirks to the family. Where Innocence centers around Newland Archer, prince of the social sphere desperate to break some rules and break free, Mirth gives us Lily Bart, naivité embodied in a young woman who wants to fit into her proper place more than anything but just cannot seem to make the pieces fit. While both are mournful in their own way, Mirth feels more focused on Lily's downward slide rather than the decadence of the upper class. The scenic descriptions I so loved in Innocence are not nearly as prevalent in Mirth, though the writing is just as beautiful and transfixing. 

I really enjoy literature from and about this time period. The world before the World Wars does truly have an air of innocence and glamour to it. Social rules, however ridiculous, governed a culture of propriety and prestige. It was far, far from perfect, but it's easy to romanticize. Wharton, of course, turns that romanticism on its head in Mirth, revealing how the beauty of that upper class lifestyle can be exactly what crushes those beneath it. Still, I find everything about the Gilded Age fascinating. It's so appropriately named, after all; something gilded has a veneer of gold, but could be any ordinary material on the inside.

The ending of this novel reminded me a lot of Sister Carrie, for rather obvious reasons. It's tragic conclusion makes the reader only feel more pained for Lily Bart and wonder at what her life could have been. Wharton does such a beautiful job of creating her characters and casting them into realistic, yet transformational circumstances. I have certainly come away from this challenge a Wharton fan and will look to read more of her work in the future. 

Quote I Loved: "Don't you ever mind...not being rich enough to buy all the books you want?" 
*Why, yes. Yes I do mind, thankyouverymuch.*

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Yes, I think I will
Other Books By Edith Wharton: The Age of Innocence

A Reduced Review: Wharton's classic novel drips with decadence and tragedy, as well as simply beautiful writing. 

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