Edith Wharton was awarded a Pulitzer prize for a reason. Her writing is exquisite and her portrayals of 19th century American “high” society is meticulous and realistic (well, as much as I can tell living over 100 years later). “The House of Mirth” is no exception.
This is a story of Lily Bart – a young woman born and raised in luxury and sophistication who at the age of 19 finds herself penniless and depending on patronage of her wealthy relatives. Lily is an ambiguous figure. On one hand, she is spoiled and has an air of entitlement about her. She is determined to marry a rich man, she sometimes enters into questionable deals to improve her situation, she takes advantage of people around her. On the other hand, Lily unwittingly craves love, understanding, and closeness and thus sabotages numerous advantageous matches. She is manipulative, but unable to commit any serious moral sins, even to safe her own reputation and future prospects. As Lily’s story progresses, after several errors in judgment, she finds herself disinherited and ostracized by people who just several months before fought for her attention. She gradually meets her downfall.
“The House of Mirth” is definitely the most tragic and my favorite of Wharton’s novels. This book is filled with a feeling of impending doom and leaves you with a lasting impression. Highly recommended to all fans of classical literature.