The House of Mirth: A Review

house of mirthThe House of Mirth by Edith Wharton is novel 69 on the Modern Library’s Top 100 Novels of All Time list. What a bittersweet read! It started off slow, but really picked up midway through the novel.

We meet Lily Bart on her scandalous first visit to single Lawrence Selden’s apartment. Despite her strong feelings for Lawrence, Lily refuses to allow herself to become attached to a man with so small a fortune. She finds herself torn between her love of luxuries and her desire to be truly happy in marriage. She seems to destroy her own chances when she ignores Percy Gryce, an eligible millionaire looking to marry the beautiful Miss Bart.

Once Percy Gryce marries another young lady in their social set, Lily finds herself in need of money to keep living her extravagant lifestyle. She turns to Gus, the husband of her best friend, Judy Trenor, for advice on stocks. Gus lies and tells Lily that her stocks have risen and gives her a thousand dollars. When it is released to her social group that Gus gave her a thousand dollars from his own pocket, Lily’s relationships with her friends suffer greatly. Having turned down her true love – Lawrence Selden – due to his lack of funds, Lily finds herself in debt and miserable.

This story is not uplifting. It’s mostly just sad. I wanted Lily to realize that her true feelings for Lawrence were more important than all the things she could ever buy, but she didn’t until the novels end… when it was much too late for reconciliation. Sad, but interesting. It’s not in my top 20 or even top 50, but an alright period piece for New York society circa 1890.

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