The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth

by Edith Wharton


$5.00 View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Thursday, October 17


A bestseller when it was published nearly a century ago, this literary classic established Edith Wharton as one of the most important American writers in the twentieth century—now with a new introduction from Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jennifer Egan.

Wharton’s first literary success—a devastatingly accurate portrait of New York’s aristocracy at the turn of the century—is considered by many to be her most important novel, and Lily Bart, her most unforgettable character. Impoverished but well-born, the beautiful and beguiling Lily realizes a secure future depends on her acquiring a wealthy husband. But with her romantic indiscretion, gambling debts, and a maelstrom of social disasters, Lily’s ill-fated attempt to rise to the heights of society ultimately leads to her downfall.

From the conventionality of old New York to the forced society of the French Riviera, Wharton weaves a brilliantly satiric yet sensitive exploration of manners and morality. The House of Mirth reveals Wharton’s unparalleled gifts as a storyteller and her clear-eyed observations of the savagery beneath the well-bred surface of high society.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486420493
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 08/06/2002
Series: Dover Thrift Editions
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 516,599
Product dimensions: 5.19(w) x 8.25(h) x (d)
Age Range: 14 Years

About the Author

Edith Wharton (1862–1937) was an American novelist—the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Age of Innocence in 1921—as well as a short story writer, playwright, designer, reporter, and poet. Born into one of New York's elite families, she drew upon her knowledge of upper class aristocracy to realistically portray the lives and morals of the Gilded Age.

Jennifer Egan is the author of six previous books of fiction: Manhattan Beach, winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellend in Fiction; A Visit from the Goon Squad, which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; The Keep; the story collection Emerald City; Look at Me, a National Book Award Finalist; and The Invisible Circus. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, Granta, McSweeney's, and The New York Times Magazine.

Date of Birth:

January 24, 1862

Date of Death:

August 11, 1937

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Place of Death:

Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt, France


Educated privately in New York and Europe

Read an Excerpt

The House of Mirth

By Edith Wharton


Copyright © 2016 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-4231-4


Selden paused in surprise. In the afternoon rush of the Grand Central Station his eyes had been refreshed by the sight of Miss Lily Bart.

It was a Monday in early September, and he was returning to his work from a hurried dip into the country; but what was Miss Bart doing in town at that season? If she had appeared to be catching a train, he might have inferred that he had come on her in the act of transition between one and another of the country-houses which disputed her presence after the close of the Newport season; but her desultory air perplexed him. She stood apart from the crowd, letting it drift by her to the platform or the street, and wearing an air of irresolution which might, as he surmised, be the mask of a very definite purpose. It struck him at once that she was waiting for some one, but he hardly knew why the idea arrested him. There was nothing new about Lily Bart, yet he could never see her without a faint movement of interest: it was characteristic of her that she always roused speculation, that her simplest acts seemed the result of far-reaching intentions.

An impulse of curiosity made him turn out of his direct line to the door, and stroll past her. He knew that if she did not wish to be seen she would contrive to elude him; and it amused him to think of putting her skill to the test.

"Mr. Selden — what good luck!"

She came forward smiling, eager almost, in her resolve to intercept him. One or two persons, in brushing past them, lingered to look; for Miss Bart was a figure to arrest even the suburban traveller rushing to his last train.

Selden had never seen her more radiant. Her vivid head, relieved against the dull tints of the crowd, made her more conspicuous than in a ball-room, and under her dark hat and veil she regained the girlish smoothness, the purity of tint, that she was beginning to lose after eleven years of late hours and indefatigable dancing. Was it really eleven years, Selden found himself wondering, and had she indeed reached the nine-and-twentieth birthday with which her rivals credited her?

"What luck!" she repeated. "How nice of you to come to my rescue!"

He responded joyfully that to do so was his mission in life, and asked what form the rescue was to take.

"Oh, almost any — even to sitting on a bench and talking to me. One sits out a cotillion — why not sit out a train? It isn't a bit hotter here than in Mrs. Van Osburgh's conservatory — and some of the women are not a bit uglier." She broke off, laughing, to explain that she had come up to town from Tuxedo, on her way to the Gus Trenors' at Bellomont, and had missed the three-fifteen train to Rhinebeck. "And there isn't another till half-past five." She consulted the little jewelled watch among her laces. "Just two hours to wait. And I don't know what to do with myself. My maid came up this morning to do some shopping for me, and was to go on to Bellomont at one o'clock, and my aunt's house is closed, and I don't know a soul in town." She glanced plaintively about the station. "It is hotter than Mrs. Van Osburgh's, after all. If you can spare the time, do take me somewhere for a breath of air."

He declared himself entirely at her disposal: the adventure struck him as diverting. As a spectator, he had always enjoyed Lily Bart; and his course lay so far out of her orbit that it amused him to be drawn for a moment into the sudden intimacy which her proposal implied.

"Shall we go over to Sherry's for a cup of tea?"

She smiled assentingly, and then made a slight grimace.

"So many people come up to town on a Monday — one is sure to meet a lot of bores. I'm as old as the hills, of course, and it ought not to make any difference; but if I'm old enough, you're not," she objected gaily. "I'm dying for tea — but isn't there a quieter place?"

He answered her smile, which rested on him vividly. Her discretions interested him almost as much as her imprudences: he was so sure that both were part of the same carefully-elaborated plan. In judging Miss Bart, he had always made use of the "argument from design."

"The resources of New York are rather meagre," he said; "but I'll find a hansom first, and then we'll invent something." He led her through the throng of returning holiday-makers, past sallow-faced girls in preposterous hats, and flat-chested women struggling with paper bundles and palm-leaf fans. Was it possible that she belonged to the same race? The dinginess, the crudity of this average section of womanhood made him feel how highly specialized she was.

A rapid shower had cooled the air, and clouds still hung refreshingly over the moist street.

"How delicious! Let us walk a little," she said as they emerged from the station.

They turned into Madison Avenue and began to stroll northward. As she moved beside him, with her long light step, Selden was conscious of taking a luxurious pleasure in her nearness: in the modelling of her little ear, the crisp upward wave of her hair — was it ever so slightly brightened by art? — and the thick planting of her straight black lashes. Everything about her was at once vigorous and exquisite, at once strong and fine. He had a confused sense that she must have cost a great deal to make, that a great many dull and ugly people must, in some mysterious way, have been sacrificed to produce her. He was aware that the qualities distinguishing her from the herd of her sex were chiefly external: as though a fine glaze of beauty and fastidiousness had been applied to vulgar clay. Yet the analogy left him unsatisfied, for a coarse texture will not take a high finish; and was it not possible that the material was fine, but that circumstance had fashioned it into a futile shape?

As he reached this point in his speculations the sun came out, and her lifted parasol cut off his enjoyment. A moment or two later she paused with a sigh.

"Oh, dear, I'm so hot and thirsty — and what a hideous place New York is!" She looked despairingly up and down the dreary thoroughfare. "Other cities put on their best clothes in summer, but New York seems to sit in its shirtsleeves." Her eyes wandered down one of the side-streets. "Someone has had the humanity to plant a few trees over there. Let us go into the shade."

"I am glad my street meets with your approval," said Selden as they turned the corner.

"Your street? Do you live here?"

She glanced with interest along the new brick and limestone house-fronts, fantastically varied in obedience to the American craving for novelty, but fresh and inviting with their awnings and flower-boxes.

"Ah, yes — to be sure: The Benedick. What a nice-looking building! I don't think I've ever seen it before." She looked across at the flat-house with its marble porch and pseudo-Georgian facade. "Which are your windows? Those with the awnings down?"

"On the top floor — yes."

"And that nice little balcony is yours? How cool it looks up there!"

He paused a moment. "Come up and see," he suggested. "I can give you a cup of tea in no time — and you won't meet any bores."

Her colour deepened — she still had the art of blushing at the right time — but she took the suggestion as lightly as it was made.

"Why not? It's too tempting — I'll take the risk," she declared.

"Oh, I'm not dangerous," he said in the same key. In truth, he had never liked her as well as at that moment. He knew she had accepted without afterthought: he could never be a factor in her calculations, and there was a surprise, a refreshment almost, in the spontaneity of her consent.

On the threshold he paused a moment, feeling for his latchkey.

"There's no one here; but I have a servant who is supposed to come in the mornings, and it's just possible he may have put out the tea-things and provided some cake."

He ushered her into a slip of a hall hung with old prints. She noticed the letters and notes heaped on the table among his gloves and sticks; then she found herself in a small library, dark but cheerful, with its walls of books, a pleasantly faded Turkey rug, a littered desk and, as he had foretold, a tea-tray on a low table near the window. A breeze had sprung up, swaying inward the muslin curtains, and bringing a fresh scent of mignonette and petunias from the flower-box on the balcony.

Lily sank with a sigh into one of the shabby leather chairs.

"How delicious to have a place like this all to one's self! What a miserable thing it is to be a woman." She leaned back in a luxury of discontent.

Selden was rummaging in a cupboard for the cake.

"Even women," he said, "have been known to enjoy the privileges of a flat."

"Oh, governesses — or widows. But not girls — not poor, miserable, marriageable girls!"

"I even know a girl who lives in a flat."

She sat up in surprise. "You do?"

"I do," he assured her, emerging from the cupboard with the sought-for cake.

"Oh, I know — you mean Gerty Farish." She smiled a little unkindly. "But I said marriageable — and besides, she has a horrid little place, and no maid, and such queer things to eat. Her cook does the washing and the food tastes of soap. I should hate that, you know."

"You shouldn't dine with her on wash-days," said Selden, cutting the cake.

They both laughed, and he knelt by the table to light the lamp under the kettle, while she measured out the tea into a little tea-pot of green glaze. As he watched her hand, polished as a bit of old ivory, with its slender pink nails, and the sapphire bracelet slipping over her wrist, he was struck with the irony of suggesting to her such a life as his cousin Gertrude Farish had chosen. She was so evidently the victim of the civilization which had produced her, that the links of her bracelet seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate.

She seemed to read his thought. "It was horrid of me to say that of Gerty," she said with charming compunction. "I forgot she was your cousin. But we're so different, you know: she likes being good, and I like being happy. And besides, she is free and I am not. If I were, I daresay I could manage to be happy even in her flat. It must be pure bliss to arrange the furniture just as one likes, and give all the horrors to the ashman. If I could only do over my aunt's drawing-room I know I should be a better woman."

"Is it so very bad?" he asked sympathetically.

She smiled at him across the tea-pot which she was holding up to be filled.

"That shows how seldom you come there. Why don't you come oftener?"

"When I do come, it's not to look at Mrs. Peniston's furniture."

"Nonsense," she said. "You don't come at all — and yet we get on so well when we meet."

"Perhaps that's the reason," he answered promptly. "I'm afraid I haven't any cream, you know — shall you mind a slice of lemon instead?"

"I shall like it better." She waited while he cut the lemon and dropped a thin disk into her cup. "But that is not the reason," she insisted.

"The reason for what?"

"For your never coming." She leaned forward with a shade of perplexity in her charming eyes. "I wish I knew — I wish I could make you out. Of course I know there are men who don't like me — one can tell that at a glance. And there are others who are afraid of me: they think I want to marry them." She smiled up at him frankly. "But I don't think you dislike me — and you can't possibly think I want to marry you."

"No — I absolve you of that," he agreed.

"Well, then —?"

He had carried his cup to the fireplace, and stood leaning against the chimney-piece and looking down on her with an air of indolent amusement. The provocation in her eyes increased his amusement — he had not supposed she would waste her powder on such small game; but perhaps she was only keeping her hand in; or perhaps a girl of her type had no conversation but of the personal kind. At any rate, she was amazingly pretty, and he had asked her to tea and must live up to his obligations.

"Well, then," he said with a plunge, "perhaps that's the reason."


"The fact that you don't want to marry me. Perhaps I don't regard it as such a strong inducement to go and see you." He felt a slight shiver down his spine as he ventured this, but her laugh reassured him.

"Dear Mr. Selden, that wasn't worthy of you. It's stupid of you to make love to me, and it isn't like you to be stupid." She leaned back, sipping her tea with an air so enchantingly judicial that, if they had been in her aunt's drawing-room, he might almost have tried to disprove her deduction.

"Don't you see," she continued, "that there are men enough to say pleasant things to me, and that what I want is a friend who won't be afraid to say disagreeable ones when I need them? Sometimes I have fancied you might be that friend — I don't know why, except that you are neither a prig nor a bounder, and that I shouldn't have to pretend with you or be on my guard against you." Her voice had dropped to a note of seriousness, and she sat gazing up at him with the troubled gravity of a child.

"You don't know how much I need such a friend," she said. "My aunt is full of copy-book axioms, but they were all meant to apply to conduct in the early fifties. I always feel that to live up to them would include wearing book-muslin with gigot sleeves. And the other women — my best friends — well, they use me or abuse me; but they don't care a straw what happens to me. I've been about too long — people are getting tired of me; they are beginning to say I ought to marry."

There was a moment's pause, during which Selden meditated one or two replies calculated to add a momentary zest to the situation; but he rejected them in favour of the simple question: "Well, why don't you?"

She coloured and laughed. "Ah, I see you are a friend after all, and that is one of the disagreeable things I was asking for."

"It wasn't meant to be disagreeable," he returned amicably. "Isn't marriage your vocation? Isn't it what you're all brought up for?" She sighed. "I suppose so. What else is there?"

"Exactly. And so why not take the plunge and have it over?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "You speak as if I ought to marry the first man who came along."

"I didn't mean to imply that you are as hard put to it as that. But there must be some one with the requisite qualifications."

She shook her head wearily. "I threw away one or two good chances when I first came out — I suppose every girl does; and you know I am horribly poor — and very expensive. I must have a great deal of money."

Selden had turned to reach for a cigarette-box on the mantelpiece.

"What's become of Dillworth?" he asked.

"Oh, his mother was frightened — she was afraid I should have all the family jewels reset. And she wanted me to promise that I wouldn't do over the drawing-room."

"The very thing you are marrying for!"

"Exactly. So she packed him off to India."

"Hard luck — but you can do better than Dillworth."

He offered the box, and she took out three or four cigarettes, putting one between her lips and slipping the others into a little gold case attached to her long pearl chain.

"Have I time? Just a whiff, then." She leaned forward, holding the tip of her cigarette to his. As she did so, he noted, with a purely impersonal enjoyment, how evenly the black lashes were set in her smooth white lids, and how the purplish shade beneath them melted into the pure pallour of the cheek.

She began to saunter about the room, examining the bookshelves between the puffs of her cigarette-smoke. Some of the volumes had the ripe tints of good tooling and old morocco, and her eyes lingered on them caressingly, not with the appreciation of the expert, but with the pleasure in agreeable tones and textures that was one of her inmost susceptibilities. Suddenly her expression changed from desultory enjoyment to active conjecture, and she turned to Selden with a question.

"You collect, don't you — you know about first editions and things?"

"As much as a man may who has no money to spend. Now and then I pick up something in the rubbish heap; and I go and look on at the big sales."

She had again addressed herself to the shelves, but her eyes now swept them inattentively, and he saw that she was preoccupied with a new idea.

"And Americana — do you collect Americana?"

Selden stared and laughed.

"No, that's rather out of my line. I'm not really a collector, you see; I simply like to have good editions of the books I am fond of."

She made a slight grimace. "And Americana are horribly dull, I suppose?"


Excerpted from The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. Copyright © 2016 Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Edith Wharton: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Text

The House of Mirth

  • Book I
    Book II

Appendix A: Edith Wharton’s Introduction to the 1936 Edition of The House of Mirth

Appendix B: From Edith Wharton’s Autobiography,
A Backward Glance (1934)

Appendix C: Edith Wharton’s Correspondence about The House of Mirth, 1905

Appendix D: Contemporary Reviews of The House of Mirth

  1. Independent (20 July 1905)
  2. Outlook (21 October 1905)
  3. Times Literary Supplement (1 December 1905)
  4. Literary Digest (December 1905)
  5. From Olivia Howard Dunbar, “A Group of Novels,” Critic (December 1905)
  6. Saturday Review (17 February 1906)

Appendix E: A Social Picture of New York and Newport

  1. From Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899)
  2. From Henry James, The American Scene (1907)
  3. From Anna Wentworth Sears, “The Correct Thing,” Harper’s Bazaar (1905)
  4. From Masquerades, Tableaux and Drills (1906)
  5. From W.C. Brownell, “Newport,” Scribner’s Magazine (August 1894)
  6. From Florence Howe Hall, “Changes in the Newport Life and Forms of Entertainment,” Harper’s Bazaar (November 1905)

Appendix F: The Lives of Women

  1. From Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Women and Economics: A Study of the Economic Relation Between Women and Men (1898)
  2. From Clara Sidney Davidge, “Working-Girls’ Clubs,” Scribner’s Magazine (May 1894)
  3. Editorial, “Our National Fault,” Harper’s Bazaar (February 1894)
  4. Editorial, “Cards in the Morning,” Harper’s Bazaar (January 1905)
  5. From Mrs. John Sherwood, Manners and Social Usages (1887)
  6. Fashion Images (1905)

Appendix G: From Edith Wharton and Ogden Codman, Jr., The Decoration of Houses (1897)

Appendix H: Edith Wharton, “The Introducers” (1905)

Select Bibliography

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Gore Vidal There are only three or four American novelists who can be thought of as "major," and Edith Wharton is one.

Reading Group Guide


The House of Mirth, published in 1905, marks Edith Wharton's emergence as one of America's greatest writers. Although Wharton had previously published two collections of stories, The Greater Inclination (1899) and Crucial Incidents (1901) and the novel The Valley of Decision (1902), her decision to write about fashionable New York, a world she "had been steeped in since infancy," brought her immediate success and recognition. As she wrote in her autobiography, A Backward Glance (1934), her goal in The House of Mirth was to uncover the true nature of society's power and to answer the question: "in what aspect could a society of irresponsible pleasure-seekers be said to have, on the 'old woe of the world,' any deeper bearing that the people composing such a society could guess?"

By 1905, the genteel milieu of Wharton's childhood was rapidly disappearing. Fashions—and economics—had changed, and Old New York society was forced to recognize the power of "new money" and even to accept the newly rich, with their tremendous wealth earned in a suspect marketplace, into their circle. It was a concession that would not only corrode their sense of style and decorum, but allow them to sacrifice the members of the "old" society who could not keep pace. Lily Bart, the heroine of The House of Mirth, is a victim of a large, unstoppable shift in the ways of the world.

Launched into society at a glorious and very expensive debutante ball, Lily sees a world of unlimited possibility before her. But her father's announcement that he is financially ruined, followed quickly by his death, leave Lily and her mother with only one "asset"—Lily's extraordinary beauty and charm. At the age of 29, now orphaned, Lily lives with an aunt who offers minimum, often grudging, hospitality and financial support. A wealthy husband could satisfy her craving for luxury and admiration, but Lily is reluctant to consummate this kind of "deal." In a chronicle that richly details the follies of shallowness, and cruelties of society as it illuminates Lily's own ambivalence about who and what she wants, Wharton traces her heroine's decline from her elite position as a much-desired guest in exclusive social events, to her role as a liaison between rich "outsiders" eager to be accepted in society but ignorant of its ways, to her piteous existence when the homes of both old and new society are firmly, finally, closed to her.

On one level a devastating satire of a world devoid of moral scruples, The House of Mirth is also a stringent critique of the particular restrictions and limitations such a world imposes on women. Lily is a woman not only of charm, but of intelligence; her outward beauty matched by a genuine, if undeveloped, appreciation of art and of nature's beauty. By succumbing to society's definition of her as a beautiful object and nothing more, however, Lily in many ways authors her own fate. Woven throughout the novel are threads of Wharton's own experience. Born in 1862, Wharton spent her childhood in the staid brownstones of New York and the elegant country houses to which the rich retired during the summer, and was intimately acquainted with the styles of entertaining, of dress, and of conspicuous consumption favored by the people who inhabited them. She married five years after her own debut, late enough to have contemplated the likely fate of an unmarried woman in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Though her husband, Edward, was well-enough off to avoid working in the despised business world, the two were fundamentally incompatible. Edward admired Edith's brilliance, but he was far from her intellectual equal and shared few of her interests. The critic Edmund Wilson speculated that Wharton turned to fiction to ease the tensions of her marriage; certainly the world she created through her writing must have been a welcome haven from the tedium and disappointments of life with Edward. But it is the very act of writing that separates Wharton from her fictional creation. Unlike Lily, Wharton took an active role in defining herself, becoming a masterful writer, and establishing that a woman need not depend on others to achieve dignity and a sense of worth. The world is much richer for it.


Edith Wharton was born Edith Newbold Jones on January 24, 1862, during the American Civil War, into a world that could hardly have been more discouraging of her desire to be a writer. Her parents, George Frederic and Lucretia Stevens Rhinelander Jones, descendants of prosperous English and Dutch businessmen, bankers, and lawyers, were pillars of the fashionable New York society Wharton would depict in many of her novels. It was a society in which the only acceptable aim for a young woman of the upper class was to enter into marriage with a gentleman of the upper class and become mistress of a household. Edith's mother, a notoriously commanding and aloof woman to whom the birth of her daughter relatively late in life was an embarrassment, was perpetually critical and disapproving of her daughter's intellectual ambitions.

But Edith demonstrated early a formidable intellect and a great love for books. Though her education—at the ends of a series of governesses—was intended only to provide her the social graces necessary for a society wife, she spoke three languages before adolescence, and read widely in the great literature of Western culture. She first attempted to write a novel at the age of eleven, but her mother criticized her first lines, effectively dissuading her from fiction writing for several more years. She did, however, begin writing poetry, and achieve her first publication at the age of thirteen when a magazine published her translations of several German poems.

Attempting to elude the negative economic repercussions of the Reconstruction, the Jones family moved to Europe for six years beginning in 1866, when Edith was five; when she returned to America, after a life-threatening battle with typhoid fever that would indelibly mark her consciousness, she found her country ugly and deeply depressing. Though the family's move to Newport, Rhode Island temporarily revived her spirits, Wharton's affinity for Europe and her ever deepening loathing for the increasing materialism of American life would lead to many return trips to the Continent. She would settle permanently in Paris in the early 1900s.

In 1885, after the death of her beloved father, when she was twenty-three and thus dangerously close to being considered a spinster, Edith married Edward "Teddy" Wharton, a gentleman from Boston of appropriate social background twelve years her senior. The first years of her marriage were spent in frequent travel and in making the proper social rounds in New York and Newport. Edith was pleased to be mistress of her own house and garden. But as her confidence grew, and she became more and more involved in and excited by her writing, her kindhearted but intellectually unimaginative husband and their stultifyingly predictable, possibly sexless married life began to drain her spirits.

In 1907, at the age of forty-five, she would begin a passionate love affair—apparently the only of her life—with the journalist Morton Fullerton. The relationship was brief, but it marked a profound emotional and sexual awakening for Wharton. Teddy, meanwhile, began to suffer from mental illness—possibly manic depression. He also took a mistress, and embezzled money from his wife to buy his mistress a house. He was institutionalized in 1912, and in 1913, Edith divorced him. She would never remarry.

Wharton published her first short story in 1891; her first story collection, The Greater Inclination, in 1899; a novella called The Touchstone in 1900; and her first novel, a historical romance called The Valley of Decision, in 1902. That same year she began a correspondence with Henry James, to whom she had been introduced by mutual friends. He judged her at the time as a gifted writer but perhaps too imitative a student of his; their friendship would grow, as would James's estimation of his friend's talents, until; James's death in 1916. The Age of Innocence, written soon afterward, is marked by several allusions to Wharton's dear friend and to his novel The Portrait of a Lady.

The book that made Wharton famous was The House of Mirth, published in 1905. Between that book and the publication of her autobiography, A Backward Glance, in 1934, she published sixteen novels and novellas, eight collections of short stories, several works of nonfiction, and two volumes of poetry as well as many articles, translations, introductions, and reviews. The novel she was working on before her death, The Buccaneers, was published posthumously in 1938. This impressive productivity was spurred on in part by the fact that many of her works, including The Age of Innocence, were contracted by magazines to appear on a serial basis, requiring her to produce a certain number of words within a limited amount of time and space. Wharton both prospered and chafed under this regime; she wrote prolifically and made a tremendous amount of money, but many critics have noted that the quality of her work, particularly after World War I, suffered under the influence of its rapid production for a mass market.

Beyond her writing, Wharton's life was also distinguished by her selfless service to France and to the European refugees who flooded Paris during World War I, work for which the French government made her—the first woman so recognized—a chevalier of the Legion d'Honneur. When she died in 1937, her coffin was attended by French war veterans on recognition of her adopted country.

Though she was a well-known public figure, Wharton was always guarded about her private life and real feelings. Her autobiography was so unrevealing that her publishers, to Wharton's fury, tried to adjust their contract to permit severe cutting of what they called long "dull" parts. Wharton had destroyed many photographs, letters and literary documents that might well have better illumined her life. Her letters to Morton Fullerton, which she had asked him to destroy, did not surface until the mid-1980s, many years after her death.

Edith Wharton's interior life is known best through her letters to many treasured friends, through their reminiscences of her, and through the miracle of her writing. As Wharton's biographer Shari Benstock noted, "Nothing in Edith Jones's background heralded her diverse creativity and abounding energy, nor was she encouraged her to develop her 'gift.'" Yet she did, through a force of character and imagination which enabled her to produce a body of work remarkable for its craft, its insight into human nature, and its depictions of the complex interactions between individuals and their limited social world, full of pitfalls and obstacles, in which they do or do not reach for meaning.


The Age of Innocence (1920)
With an Introduction by Cynthia Griffin Wolf and Explanatory Notes by Laura Dluzynski Quinn

Wharton's novel was a Pulitzer Prize-winning, critically acclaimed ("It is one of the best novels of the twentieth century . . . a permanent addition to literature." —The New York Times) bestselling success when it was released in book form in 1920. When the Countess Ellen Olenska returns from Europe, fleeing her brutish husband, her rebellious independence and passionate awareness of life stir the educated sensitivity of Newland Archer, a man already engaged to her cousin May Welland. In the story of Ellen and Newland's thwarted love, Wharton uses her sharp wit and mastery of form to explore the timeless and universal conflicts between passion and responsibility, freedom and tradition, the desire for self-actualization and the moral requirement to honor one's commitments. Wharton's sharp ironic wit and mastery of form create a picture of men and women caught in a society that denies humanity while desperately defending "civilization."


Ethan Frome (1911)
With an Introduction and Notes by Doris Grumbach

Wharton's best-known book is unique among her thirty-one novels, novellas, and collections of short stories both in substance and style. Constructed as a story-within-a-story told by an unnamed narrator, and set in a bleak, frozen rural landscape, it is the tale of the struggling farmer Ethan Frome and his difficult hypochondriacal wife Zeenie, whose marriage is threatened by the arrival in their household of Zeenie's vivacious cousin Matty. In her Introduction, Wharton claimed that the genesis of this austere, tragic book was her "uneasy sense that the New England of fiction bore little . . . resemblance to the harsh and beautiful land as I had seen it." Later, in her autobiography, she would call it the work she most enjoyed "making," and to which she "brought the greatest joy and the fullest ease."


The Reef
With an Introduction by Anita Brookner

Anna Leath, an American widow living in France, has renewed her relationship with her first love, the diplomat George Darrow. But on his way to her château, Givre, where he hopes to consolidate her marriage plans, Darrow encounters Sophy Viner, who is as vibrant and spontaneous as Anna is reserved and restrained. Months later, when Darrow finally makes his way to Givre, he learns that Anna's stepson, Owen, is engaged to the girl. And what to Darrow was a formidable interlude becomes the reef on which the lives of four people are in danger of floundering. Acutely conceived and rigorously crafted, distinguished by a compelling mood of fatality, The Reef met with negative reviews and poor sales upon its first publication. Wharton, discouraged, called it a "poor miserable lifeless lump." Henry James, however, thought it the finest thing she had yet written, a passionately poignant" drama reminiscent of ancient Greek tragedy.


The Custom of the Country(1913)
With an Introduction by Anita Brookner

Considered by many literary critics to be Wharton's best novel, The Custom of the Country is about, in the words of Anita Brookner, "the upwardly mobile and what eventually put an end to their aspirations, about the unscrupulous and the entrenched, about nearly getting what one wants and being rendered powerless by the forces of society that lie in wait for those who overreach themselves." Mr and Mrs. Spragg are hoping to forge an entrée into society and arrange a suitably ambitious match for their only daughter. As Wharton unfolds the story of Undine Spragg—a heroine who is as vain, spoiled, and selfish as she is irresistibly fascinating—she provides a detailed glimpse of what might be called the interior decor of upper-class America and its nouveau riche fringes. Her vision of social behavior is both supremely informed and both supremely disenchanted; her intricate and satisfying plot is supremely entertaining.


With an Introduction and Notes by Elizabeth Ammons

Written in six weeks while Wharton was on vacation from her home in Paris and her exhausting relief work on behalf of World War I refugees, Summer is the story of Charity Royall, who lives unhappily with her hard-drinking adoptive father in the isolated village of North Dormer, until a visiting architect awakens her sexual passion and hope for escape. Inspired in part by Wharton's own secret affair with Morton Fullerton, in part by her own passionate view of American small-mindedness, this is a tale of forbidden desire and thwarted dreams.


The Buccaneers(1938)
Completed by Marion Mainwaring

Wharton's last, uncompleted novel, published posthumously in 1938, is a romantic trale about five wealthy American girls who set sail for London where they marry lords, earls, and dukes who find their beauty charming—and their wealth useful. Now completed by Marion Mainwaring, who took her cue from Wharton's own synopsis, The Buccaneers is "brave, lively, engaging . . . a fairy-tale novel, miraculously returned to life." (The New York Times Book Review).


  • Wharton took the title for her novel from a verse in Ecclesiastics—"The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in The House of Mirth." Does Lily Bart's allegiance to the follies and superficialities of society mean that she has the "heart of a fool" or is she trapped by the dictates of her upbringing and the expectations of the times?
  • What does Wharton mean when she describes Lawrence Selden as a man with "the stoic's carelessness of material things, combined with the Epicurean's delight in them" [p.152]? Are his scorn and aloofness attitudes only a man could assume in the society Wharton depicts? How genuine are they? Does his readiness to attend certain social events and to indulge in gossip and flirtations with Lily belie his chosen role as a "spectator"?
  • The people in Lily's circle disdain the "new" millionaires who acquired their money in business rather than through inheritance, yet in many ways their social world is predicated on a business ethic. How does the language of the novel reflect this? In what ways do the social "exchanges" among the characters mimic business dealings, even when they don't involve the actual exchange of money?
  • Lily rejects both Sim Rosedale, a fabulously rich man of "unacceptable" lineage, and Selden, a man she clearly admires who cannot support her in style. Do these rejections represent an unrealistic, perhaps inflated, view of her own worth and potential? Are they purely selfish or do they reflect an underlying sense of morality on Lily's part?
  • Even early in the novel, Wharton offers hints that foreshadow Lily's public humiliation by the Trenors and the Dorsets, her abandonment by Carry Fisher, and her aunt's decision to disinherit her. What events alert you to the true nature of the other character's feelings and attitudes toward her? Is Lily too naive to grasp the significance of these events? Does she genuinely misunderstand her financial arrangement with Gus Trenor or simply choose to ignore its "obvious" implications? When she agrees to accompany the Dorsets on the cruise, is she unaware of her role as a mask for Bertha's affair with Ned Silverton?
  • What does Lily's great success in the tableaux vivants symbolize within the context of the novel? Does it reveal, as Selden believes, "the real Lily Bart"? [p. 134] Why does Lily respond to his enthusiasm and his confession of love afterwards by saying, "Ah, love me, love me—but don't tell me so"? [p. 138] What other examples are there of Lily's consciously adopting a pose, either literally or figuratively, to please an audience?
  • Both Lily's cousin, Grace Stepney, and Selden's cousin, Gerty Farish, live in genteel poverty on margins of society. How are their attitudes about their positions reflected in the way they treat Lily?
  • Lily and Selden have five intimate conversations: at his apartment in the opening chapter; at Trenors' country home, Bellomont; at the Brys after Lily's stunning performance in the tableaux vivants; in Mrs. Hatch's hotel room; and once again at Selden's apartment, on the day before Lily dies. How do the tone and contents of their conversations change as Lily's circumstances change, and what does this reveal about their feelings for one another? Are either of them really capable of loving and being loved?
  • Are all the women in the novel passive "victims," dependent on the power and money of men? Who really creates the rules in Lily's circle and how do they wield their powers? Why does Rosedale ultimately turn Lily away, despite his previous persistence in courting her and his aggressiveness in making his way into society? Is he right in believing that his money alone is not enough to rescue her reputation?
  • Is Lily's descent inevitable? What opportunities does she have to turn things around and why does she reject them? Does her decision not to use Bertha Dorset's letters to regain her social standing make sense in society that unquestioningly accepts the manipulations of Gus Trenor, Carry Fisher, and Bertha herself?
  • Edith Wharton wrote "A frivolous society can acquire dramatic significance only through what its frivolity destroys. Its tragic implications lie in its power of debasing people and ideas." Do you think The House of Mirth is primarily a portrait of the frivolous and corrupt social world of New York or is it the story of Lily Bart's personal tragedy?
  • Customer Reviews

    Most Helpful Customer Reviews

    See All Customer Reviews

    The House of Mirth 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 180 reviews.
    crismeily More than 1 year ago
    This is one of those classic books I always meant to read, but never got around to actually doing it. I finally got my hands on this weekend, and finished it within a day. The characters are sympathetic, and the plot engaging. I couldn't put it down, but then again I am one of those people who get completed engrossed in a book and have to finish it as soon as possible. Although, I was a tad disappointed. Im an avid Austen fan, and I guess I was expecting a similar turbulent love story, which ultimately will end happily, but Wharton did not deliver such story. The novel is fantastic, and if it was not for the things I put off doing while reading the book, I might have not hated the ending as much. But when a girl puts off studying for midterms, and stays until 3am reading a novel, dang it, it better end happily.
    keruichun More than 1 year ago
    I can't say enough how much I loved this book. About a no longer "young" woman who needs to marry for money in order to stay within the class she's grown accustomed to - she finds she always sabotages herself. She makes decisions that are bad for the time she's living in and ends up having to suffer the consequences. Reading it from a 21st century perspective, it all seems so unfair - if she were alive today she'd be doing just fine. But in her time, she was trapped and had to choose between the luxury she craved, but with men she didn't even like, or a life of poverty. Both were traps. It makes you appreciate the freedom we now have to live the way we please. But even though she's trapped in a way that I'll never experience, I still identified very much with her character - above all with her increasing inability to be the kind of person she wanted to be. Because in the end, we're all trying to be better people, then life gets in the way. I can't wait to read this one again!
    Nazire More than 1 year ago
    This is an excellent book to read. Edith Wharton is one of the most important female writers in American literature. Her "Age of Innocence" and "The House of Mirth" is an absolutely must read books in the list of anyone. Wharton's style is unique to her which is chided with criticism of her time, New York's socialites and the wealthy, along with the psyche of U.S. at the time. Wharton delivers much in-depth insight to her readers through the language she uses, lively and fresh descriptions and the irony she presents in this novel. The whole novel is a critique of the New York's aristocracy in the Gilded age. Lily Bart is a 29 year old single young woman who is taken care of by her aunt (who is old fashioned, and thinks she has covered every single a young lady at Lily's age might need, both financially and other wise), addicted to gambling and who has ambitious goals of marrying into the wealth and continue to stay within her social class. This is the plight and the tragedy that revolves around Lily, making her one of the most likeable and also frustrating characters in the literature that I know. Lily is probably one of the most human, fallible characters that are represented in a positive light, but due to her plights, tragically ends her life/ There are a lot of details within this book, concretely set rules of social etiquette and vivid details of the characters, settings and rules of the society. However, there are certain vagueness to the novel that at the end is open to interpretation, which makes it readily one of the most arguable novels in American literature. This is the genius of Wharton bringing the certainty and uncertainty in a harmonized light. Lily is an extremely attractive young woman who is pushing the boundaries of her marriageability firstly because of her age, (which even by today's standards is debatable), secondly by her addiction to gambling and later to the scandalous rumors about her non-existent affair with George Dorset. While Lily has had many who has proposed to her, Lily has always been unable to decide and later jeopardize those proposes by acting out of character in hopes of being with someone better. Lily's ambitions and her own self righteous attitude gets the better of her. (She could have easily pulled her out of her financial troubles by marrying any one of her eligible suitors--which makes one critically think about Lily that although she wants to have a wealthy husband who will secure her foothold in the higher elite social class, she also wants to marry for love). With all of this said and done, Lawrence Seldon is an attorney from the middle class who often hangs around the wealthy. Seldon and Lily do love each other, however Lily never takes the leap to be with Seldon due to his inferior social standing. Her inability to let go of her desire to be in the society of the elite-regardless of their cruel, unhappy, polite but back-stabbing, gossiping circle overwhelms her desire to be happy. Lily is stuck in between love and wealth--which being unable to commit to either one brings her tragic death. Lily is such an interesting antagonist, especially considering the time where women writers were barely existent and usually were not taken seriously Wharton offers a critique of not only the New York's finest, however a glimpse of the mindset of a woman who lived in between the turn of the 19th Century. Wharton delivers her characters trough an interpretive and exposing lens that serves the modern.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    The House of Mirth is a traditional novel of manners compromising a dramatic plot encircling a fatally flawed character. Lily Bart is a single socialite existing at the turn of the 20th century in upper class New York whose life ambition is to achieve inconceivable heights of social prominence through the security of a lucrative, venerable marriage. To Lily, social standing means everything it is something to be worked for and perfected no matter the cost. This selfish, single-minded desire for material wealth and social glory proves to be a constant struggle for Lily throughout the novel, as her morality comes into question through several trials, which consequently result in grave irrevocable errors. One such internal battle surfaces when Lily encounters the rare opportunity to marry for love, but ultimately banishes the possibility from her mind in favor of a more financially stable union. Another major tribulation concerns Lily¿s inclination to accumulating overwhelming debts, which force her to ask for favors from ¿friends,¿ leaving her vulnerable and free to manipulation. Unfortunately, Lily¿s purely self-interested motivations induce the opposite of the desired effect as they eventually serve to reduce her to a destitute social pariah. Through Lily¿s tragic character it is illustrated that excessive concern for material riches is detrimental to one¿s wellbeing, because it inevitably breeds moral decay and supersedes the more precious facets of life. It is through her poor decisions that Lily begins her downward spiral from her position as an esteemed lady of high society to a figure of public humiliation and defeat, a journey that takes readers along for a thrilling ride and leaves them with an impression of personal loss.
    mgoodrich718 More than 1 year ago
    The House Of Mirth By Judith Wharton 3 Stars Lily Barton is a 29 year old beautiful woman who is chaparoned by her wealthy aunt. Lily is stuck in the 1890's society, with no where to go, and no fun to be had. At least not if you want to marry well and be taken care of. Deep tradition, rules and double standards surround her. Young women who were unmarried could be taken advantage of and ruined for virtually nothing. No one would ever forget either once that happens. Lily's aunt disowns her prior to her death for one such infraction which may or may not include gambling debts and affairs with married men. Lily tries to survive using her intelligence and wit. She wants to be independent and find a man she can love for love's sake. Fate, and the cruel world are very much against her. Well written and true to the age. Wharton captures what a women such as Lily would have gone through during this time in our society. We've come a long way in some respects and others we haven't.
    catherine21 More than 1 year ago
    I read this book for a college course. From the first page I was drawn to continue reading. The book is identifiable with all sorts of people. If you're looking for a love story this is not the book for you. Lily Bart is one of the most complex and humanistic character ever written. This book is definitely recommended, even though it is full of heart break.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I really enjoyed reading this book, because of its engrossing plot and very intriguing themes. The characterization, particularly that of Lily Bart, is very realistic and extremely well written. Wharton takes a hard look at the traditions and lifestyles of the wealthy upper-class in ways that reveal the hypocrisy and cutthroat behaviors that dominate some circles of that social class. The other very interesting theme is the power of women in society, which has pertinence in today's world. For instance, Wharton addresses issues such as the value put on women by society, the meaning of customs such as marriage, the rules of behavior that women are expected to follow 'and many do not', as well as the power of women over each other, which is perhaps the most interesting concept of all that this book presents. Overall, this book is very well written, has a great ending that leaves the reader thinking, and is also a great social commentary. I would highly recommend this book.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Brilliant character development of Ms. Lily Bart. I love how Wharton gives her readers an omnipotent view of the battle between good and evil that precedes each character's words and actions. It just shows how truly discerning and insightful she is. The protagonist's heroic adherence to her morals will really make you question the strenght of your own character. The ending depressed me, but I still think it the appropriate outcome. This book is a real classic!
    soylentgreen23 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    As I read this tale of tragedy and the upper classes, I wondered who I most resembled in character: Seldon, who offers his love to Lily Bart, but is too afraid to commit to it, or Rosedale, whose love for Lily could save her but is yet unwanted. I have in mind a friend of sometimes tragic countenance who fits Miss Bart's character so perfectly that it worries me.
    dw0rd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Seeing this title as a Playaway audio book at my library finally convinced me to read(?) it. I also downloaded a print(?) version from for "backup." I kept getting frustrated with Lilly but finally realized my vexation was because she wouldn't do things my modern, middle class, socially liberated way. Then I got frustated with Edith Wharton for the "I can see it coming" cop-out ending, then realized it might have been quite stunning for her era, class, and upbringing. She further redeemed herself by making me wonder what the mystery "word" was.Angie: Ethan Fromme, Age of Innocence, and House of Mirth!
    edecklund on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Seeing this title as a Playaway audio book at my library finally convinced me to read(?) it. I also downloaded a print(?) version from for "backup." I kept getting frustrated with Lilly but finally realized my vexation was because she wouldn't do things my modern, middle class, socially liberated way. Then I got frustated with Edith Wharton for the "I can see it coming" cop-out ending, then realized it might have been quite stunning for her era, class, and upbringing. She further redeemed herself by making me wonder what the mystery "word" was.Angie: Ethan Fromme, Age of Innocence, and House of Mirth!
    turtlesleap on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Lily Bart is a vehicle for Wharton's social commentary on an era which, for women, offered very limited choices and an astonishing array of ways to go wrong. Bart falls victim to a series of seemingy trivial choices which, cumulatively, spell her ruin. As the novel begins, she is approaching the crucial age of 30 by which women of her time and society must either be married or be regarded as hopelessly unmarrigeable. She is beautiful, bright, socialy sought after and in a position, despite her age, to make a higly desireable match. Through decisions that are heart-wrenchingly understandable; often even inevitable, she systematicaly forecloses all her options. House of Mirth is eminently readable, with characters which are dimensional and sympathetically drawn and which, even in a world far different from that of Lily Bart, we can empathize.
    runaway84 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This was one of the most depressing books I have ever read. There was no bright moment in sight. Nowhere to 'rest your eyes' so to speak, from deep darkness.Lily Bart is one of the most tragic heroines in literature. There was absolutely no way of a happy ending for her. She was doomed from the start. She wanted a life that never really belonged to her. She couldn't stand the thought of 'lowering' herself to anything less than the upper class, and that led to her downfall. Bart was naive and vein and sometimes just downright stupid. She sacrificed everything instead of taking that one happy opportunity that was right in front of her face.The House of Mirth shows the cruelty of the upper class New York society at the beginning of the 20th century better than any non-fiction book could. Wharton crafted a beautifully tragic story showing that the upper class isn't what it's cracked up be. She tore off the blinds and shows us the vile and ugliness.
    technodiabla on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I really enjoyed the book and found the insights into human nature and societydepicted in a clever way-- especially if you enjoy biting cynicism.The surprising thing was how much my feelings towards Lily changed though thebook. From a disdainful "you derserve it you arrogant Bit&@" to "God, the poorwoman-- she is trying but their are no options..." Watching her change as aresult of her environment was refreshing, though ultimately tragic.
    iron_queen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    An involving and brutal look at not only American society of the 1870s, but the American tendency to value money and economic position above all else, to the detriment of common human decency. In novels such as this, usually I prefer to read the novel from the point of view of the poor, as that presents a broader view of every strata of society, but the aggressively insulated upper class was, I found, a world unto itself. I would have liked to have more psychological insight into Lily Bart as a character other than her social faux pas, though.
    athene1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Not bad, some good, powerful moments and discussions on love.
    GVLibraryDesMoines on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Here's where I'd put my anthology entry.
    bookworm12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This turn-of-the-century novel tells the story of Lily Bart, a beautiful woman caught between what her heart wants and she thinks she should want. When Lily is orphaned as a young woman, an aunt provides for her, leaving her cared for, but never wealthy. At age 29, Lily is still hoping to marry well, despite her financial problems. Yet every time she seems close to making a match, something causes her to withdraw a bit from her pursuit. I¿ve read Wharton¿s The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome and with each books I was impressed with the writing and restrained portrayals of the characters, but never more so than with this book. For me, The House of Mirth made me love Wharton, instead of just appreciating her. Wharton finds the most eloquent way to say things, but still manages to keep it simple and not overly-flowery. It¿s not like Dickens, who I do love in a different way, but the man was wordy! She¿s not writing to fit more words in each paragraph, instead it feels like things have been pared down until what¿s left is only what is necessary to tell the compelling story.I read it slowly, savoring each line instead of barreling ahead. I didn¿t want to miss anything and I found myself highlighting so many lines that I connected to. It felt like she had chosen each word so carefully and so in turn I wanted to make sure I gave each word its due as I read it. Lily Bart is a character so caught up in trying to attain what society tells her is the perfect life, that she completely denies her true feelings. She ignores what makes her happy and focuses all of her intelligence and planning into finding a wealthy husband of the right social standing. At a young age, her mother taught her that this was what was important in life and Lily never quite let go of that mindset. Lily has been raised to believe she needs a life of riches to be happy, but when she¿s put in a position where those things might not be available to her anymore she doesn¿t know what to do. She¿s desperate and believes that her only choice is to sacrifice the life she thinks she loves or her happiness. It¿s Madame Bovary without the selfish abandon in decision making.This is the quote that sums it all up for me¿¿¿sometimes I think it¿s because, at heart, she despises the things she¿s trying for. And it¿s the difficulty of deciding that makes her such an interesting study.¿ ¿Mrs. FisherThe scenes between Lily and her friend Seldon are electric. They are sprinkled throughout the book and so each time you stumble upon one it breathes new life into the story, just as it does in Lily¿s own life. Their chemistry radiates off the page. There are so many men who want Lily and yet Seldon is the only one that makes her feel alive. She refuses to acknowledge even to herself, that she feels anything for him. ¿She knew herself by heart too, and was sick of the old story. There were moments when she longed blindly for anything different, anything strange, remote and untried; but the utmost reach of her imagination did not go beyond picturing her usual life in a new setting.¿ The few moments when she is truly happy are tucked away in her memory. She never allows herself to dwell on those moments of joy. Instead she focuses on whatever problem is at hand, financial or social. She believes her problems don¿t exist if she escapes to another setting, so she¿s constantly trying to run away from them. The transition that she goes through from the beginning of the novel to the end is startling. She¿s so carefree and hopefully at the start. Her playful nature begins to drain away as her circumstances become direr. I loved the fact that despite having no idea how to achieve happiness in her life, she¿s not helpless. She plans and schemes, often at her own expense, to solve her problems. She doesn¿t wait around for someone to fix everything. She doesn¿t make excuses for herself or allow herself to wallow in self-pity. She accepts the consequences of her actions, even if they sometimes seem unf
    bexaplex on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Lily Bart descends through high society, society's fringes, the generally wealthy and finally the working class in a journey that ruins her reputation but leaves her morals intact.When I was younger I loved this book for the scope of its tragedy. In every chapter a new opportunity is presented to Lily that she chooses to pass by. She makes her choices based on her own moral compass, and, Job-like, is punished for each choice. The beginning of the book, and the loss of Percy Gryce, is smoothed over with well-bred manners. By the end of the book Lily is raw and direct and the price she is paying totally clear.What I don't remember is how much you end up hating Lawrence Selden by the end of the book. Lily has his number when she admonishes him at Bellomont for decrying society while enjoying its company. He's too bright to be an obtuse Ashley to Lily's Scarlet, and so he ends up being just plain impotent — realizing too late on every occasion that he's done exactly the wrong thing.
    lauralkeet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    She usually contrived to avoid being at home during the season of domestic renewal. ... She had so long been accustomed to pass from one country-house to another, till the close of the holidays brought her friends to town, that the unfilled gaps of time confronting her produced a sharp sense of waning popularity. It was as she had said to Selden -- people were tired of her. (p. 149)Such is the plight of Lily Bart, the tragic heroine of The House of Mirth. At twenty-nine, Lily finds herself unmarried and, upon her mother's death, left without visible means of support. She realizes a husband would provide much-needed security, not to mention the income required to maintain her lavish lifestyle. Yet Lily is so self-absorbed, she unknowingly ruins just about every marriage opportunity presented to her. Lily is terribly naive about the effects of her behavior on others. When she slights a potential suitor, she brushes it off as a matter of little consequence. She is both surprised and hurt when the gentleman abruptly leaves the party. Lily is also completely ignorant of financial matters. After losing a large sum of money at bridge, she allows a friend's husband to invest what was left of her money in the stock market. The investments are profitable, but Lily's appetite for luxury still exceeds the available funds. And, to make matters worse, the investor has definite ideas as to how Lily should "repay" him. Lily has only a couple true friends, notably a young man named Lawrence Selden. Selden's love for Lily is obvious to the reader, but not to the characters. Lily treats him more like a big brother, dismissing thoughts of marrying Selden and setting her sights on wealthier prospects.In the second half of the novel Lily's relationship and financial difficulties only get worse, and while Lily has a vague idea that things are not as they should be, she prefers to keep her head in the sand. This made for difficult reading; many times I wanted to take Lily by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. Then, about 50 pages from the end there was a juicy bit of foreshadowing. The rest of the book was like watching a horror film with partially-covered eyes. Was Wharton really going to do what I thought she'd do? Well, I won't say any more on that ... I'll just say that the ending was fitting.Edith Wharton is known for her portrayal of New York society at the turn of the 20th century. Much of her work also addresses the rights of women, and in particular the impact of divorce. In House of Mirth, Wharton echoes Virginia Woolf's message that a woman must have "a room of her own and 500 pounds." Lily lacked both, making her extremely vulnerable. And, she had virtually no ability to change her circumstances. Add to that a frivolous attitude, and you have a cautionary tale indeed.
    MsNikki on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    My friend let me this book and I fell in love.The back biting, social climbing and the struggles of a woman before her time just resonated with me.I saw the movie with Gillian Anderson and Eric Stoltz and thought they did it justice.I think everybody should read this book.
    gypsysmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    The title of this book comes from a Bible quote (Ecclesiastes 7:4) "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth." Lily Bart, the central character of The House of Mirth, is most definitely a fool. She has been brought up on the fringes of high society and her sole aim in life is to marry someone rich so that she can continue to remain in society. She has a small income of her own. I don't think it is ever explicitly said how much but it is not enough for Lily to live in the style to which she has become accustomed. She lives with her aunt but spends weeks visiting rich friends on their estates outside of New York. Her aunt has often paid her dressmaker's bills and it is supposed that Lily will inherit her aunt's fortune. Nevertheless Lily treats her aunt's home as a waystation and only spends time with her when there are no other invitations. Lily has had suitors but at the age of twenty-nine she is still unmarried and starting to worry she is losing her looks. When she manages to lose the interest of another marriage prospect she thinks she might need to see if she can make more money by speculating in the stock market. She aks the husband of a friend to invest her small capital and is soon being handed substantial cheques from this man. She finally has enough money to spend as she likes but then the man starts importuning her to spend time with him. After an unsettling encounter with him she realizes that he has given her the money in order to persuade her into his bed. Unfortunately, her late night departure from his house was witnessed by the one man who genuinely loves Lily and he pulls back. Lily's reputation suffers further when she is abroad. Then when she returns home she finds that her aunt has died and left her only (!) ten thousand dollars which is the sum of money the friend's husband has given her. Lily tries, at last, to obtain some paid work but is dismal even at that. Her foolishness finally brings her to the lowest echelon of society.I have enjoyed other books by Wharton but this book was not my cup of tea. I found Lily irritating. She could have lived within her means; she could have even found work; but instead she wastes her money and spends her days on frivolous activities. I could see doing that when she was eighteen or twenty-one but to still be carrying on that way when she was twenty-nine strikes me as extremely self-centered. Wharton can do better (or, more correctly, did do better). Ethan Frome by her was one of the most beautifully tragic books I have ever read. My book club chose this book for February 2012. It will be interesting to see what other members think of it.
    silva_44 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Although not as well-written as The Age of Innocence, Wharton does a fabulous job of filling the reader with a sort of admiration for Lily Bart, despite her selfish and self-serving attitude and ambitions. I found myself disgusted by her inability to choose happiness over comfort, but perhaps I simply don't understand enough about what it meant to her circle to achieve a position of importance. The ending was certainly tragic, but lacked the acute irony that resonated at the end of Age of Innocence. Overall, a splendid book.
    autumnesf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    A woman tries to find a husband in New York Society when the family money she is used to runs out. A good story.
    dele2451 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Beautifully written and painfully tragic. Edith Wharton is as brilliant as Lily Bart is proud. A definite recommend.