Monday, April 12, 2010
Review: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
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.