Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Review: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Title: The House of Mirth
Author: Edith Wharton
Pages: 320
Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge Product Description:

The House of Mirth tells the story of Lily Bart, aged 29, beautiful, impoverished and in need of a rich husband to safeguard her place in the social elite, and to support her expensive habits - her clothes, her charities and her gambling. Unwilling to marry without both love and money, Lily becomes vulnerable to the kind of gossip and slander which attach to a girl who has been on the marriage market for too long. Wharton charts the course of Lily's life, providing, along the way, a wider picture of a society in transition, a rapidly changing New York where the old certainties of manners, morals and family have disappeared and the individual has become an expendable commodity.

My Two Cents:

Although I love Classics and read them more often then contemporary fiction, I'm not usually one for American fiction. I'm not quite sure why, perhaps it's just the latent Anglophile in me, but I've never much liked many American authors (Although I have found favorite authors in F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath and, now, Edith Wharton), so I always approach an American Classic with a bit of trepidation.

This book, however, drew me in right away.

I instantly liked Lily Bart, even when she seemed a bit shallow and dense. She's like America's version of Mrs. Dalloway -- A woman you don't think much about in passing because you think you know her just by looking at her, but there's something much more complex lurking beneath the surface.

Lily is one of those rare women in the late 19th century -- unmarried and in her late 20s. She begins the book planning to marry the puritanical Percy Gryce, a wealthy man with a large collection of Americana books handed down to him by his uncle -- but her penchant for gambling at bridge scares him off. In an attempt to earn more money (Lily's parents are both dead and neither was ever rich, but they taught her to live as if she was rich), Lily becomes embroiled with a "friend" who ultimately causes her downfall.

Wharton's writing just jumps off the page. I was able to see Lily and the others at every step of the way, right down to the last stitch of clothing. She also has the ability to make you feel sorry for Lily while, at the exact same time, mildly condemning her for her actions.

I'm not going to give away the ending here, but I will say that, even as surprising as it may seem, you will realize it was there, hiding beneath all the baubles and bridge games all along.

My rating: 9/10


Alyce said...

What a glowing review! I haven't read anything by Edith Wharton, but I guess I know where to start if/when I do.

Michelle said...

I was surprised by how much I liked this book, as I've said I have kind of a prejudice against American authors.

However, it is America's first novel of manners, so it's in the tradition of Jane Austen, and I love Jane Austen! :)

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