Monday, April 12, 2010

Review: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Lily Bart was always destined for great things in The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. Born to affluence in New York City at the turn of the 20th century, Lily possessed the kind of beauty and grace that caused passersby to stop dead in their tracks. From the beginning, her mother pinned all her hopes on Lily's unearthly beauty and taught her to disdain dinginess and adore glamor and frivolity. Lily learned her lesson well, and as a result became one of the most powerful players on the game board of courtship. However, the fact that she repeatedly lets prized catches slip through her grasp calls into question whether her heart's really in it, or if it already belongs to someone else.

Unfortunately, Lily's world is pulled out from under her in the wake of her father's ruin, an event that ultimately leads to the death of both him and his wife, Lily's mother. In this pitiable state, Lily is taken in by her aunt and continues to live in the limelight on the coattails of her independent friends, because it's the only life she's ever known. However,under her new circumstances, the stakes are much greater in her search for a rich and malleable husband. Lily manages to get several prime candidates within her grasp, but each time her carefully planned strategy is derailed by the sudden appearance of Lawrence Selden, an old friend who is on the fringes of high society by virtue of his lack of wealth but surfeit of intelligence. This human-form Achilles' heel of Lily's repeatedly diverts her path, and forces her to contrive new methods of financial support - some of which are of a shady nature and have the potential to lead to her ultimate downfall.

In The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton paints a vivid portrait of the Gilded Age of New York, full of elaborate metaphors and quirky characters. The novel is full of clear social commentary, carefully constructed around an eclectic cast of characters. Most of the characters in this novel are rounded and fully shaded, making each one distinctly memorable, despite the homogeneous milieu within which they're placed. True to life, there are no archetypal villains or heroes, everyone has a mix of dark and light residing within their soul and the suspense of the plot is which side will ultimately take control. Lily is by no means an entirely virtuous heroine, and readers are likely to love her all the more for it. Her complex character, highlighted by her constant internal struggle between her conflicting desires, is fascinating to follow regardless of whether one is shaking their head in exasperation or cheering her on when it seems as though she might manage to make the right choice for once. Selden is equally as enchanting as Lily, even down to the frustratingly realistic vacillations of mind. Their twisted love story will capture readers' hearts and their final fate will leave readers' heads spinning. Wharton unfolds her plot with pure ingenuity, and though probably surprising, the novel's conclusion is poignant brilliance.


Click here to purchase The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.


Anonymous said...

What a lovely review! Thanks so much.

Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Nice. Thanks.

Bill ;-)

Hope you'll check out my book giveaway:

blueicegal said...

sounds great, and thanks for following im following you also :)

blueicegal said...

sounds interesting good review gal :)

Misty said...

I absolutely ADORE this book. Love Wharton.

The Bookish Type said...

Thank you all!

@Bill - I did check it out! And commented! =) Thanks!

@blueicegal - Thanks for following =) I'm glad you enjoyed the review!

@Misty - It was amazing!! It was the first Wharton I'd read - but I'm definitely going to read the rest of her novels. I've heard great things about Age of Innocence =)

Violet said...

The House of Mirth is one of my all-time favorites! Thanks for sharing your review. :)

T.J. said...

I haven't read this book in years but I will go back and re-read it, paying special attention to the social commentary and character development.

Christopher said...

Excellent review of "The House of Mirth"! Wharton is probably my favorite American author (maybe a tie with Willa Cather). If you haven't discovered them already, do give Wharton's short stories a look-see. She is a master of the short story and was quite prolific. She is known for her ghost stories and some that are just plain macabre. I have several collections of her short fiction and they're all terrific.

Anyway, I just stopped by to say that I really like what you are doing with your blog, and am impressed with the quality of your reviews and what you are reading. Keep up the good work! Cheers! Chris

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