|This month's review comes from the same file as would that of the work of the great Henry James, and is exquisite in its mockery of late 19th Century High Life. Read on, dear patron, and enjoy.
The House of Mirth
The House of Mirth was the first of Edith Wharton's novels to come into my possession, and though some years later, I had greatly enjoyed the cinematic version of Ms. Wharton's novel The Age of Innocence, I had never quite gotten around to reading either title. Feeling a pull towards her work, after reading an article on her home in the Berkshires--the Mount--I found her story irresistable and finally decided to give her fiction a shot, and retrieved The House of Mirth from the to-be-read pile.
In The House of Mirth we meet Lily Bart, who, we learn, was born to a mother who adored wealth. The fact that she--Lily's mother--was born to a poor family never sat well with the elder Ms. Bart, and so she made sure to marry into money. But with the destitution and death of Lily's father, the two Bart ladies found themselves once again in the hands of poverty, and so Lily's mother persuaded Lily to do everything she could to escape this undesirable position. For Lily, this meant making acquaintances in affluent New York Society, in the form of Judy and Gus Trenor, and all the connections they could bring her.
As she finds herself involved in the unending stream of Judy's Bridge parties, weekends with the Trenors away from the city, in the currently fashionable vacation spots, Lily finds she isn't particularly fond of any of these endeavors, and her opinion of her companions dances dangerously close to the same precipice.
Her goal, however, is clear: she must, at all costs, snare any one of the Trenors' rich male friends, into marriage; the thought of remaining in a life of poverty, is just too sickening. She will not be like her friend Gerty Farish, poor, living in an Old Maid's flat, and spending her days working for a living and donating her time to caring for those even less fortunate than herself. No, no. That's not for Lily at all.
So, will it be Percy Gryce? Or will she cave in and marry the infuriating, detestable Rosedale? Or become the mistress of Gus Trenor? He did, after all, help her make a pretty penny, as her stock advisor.
Lily's obsession with wealth leaves her a bit shortsighted; she seems to have no idea that happiness is right under her nose, in the form of her very good friend, Lawrence Selden. Lawrence isn't so blinded by riches; a fine young lawyer with an eye to the Existential, he does everything he can in an attempt to convince Lily that money won't buy her happiness--everything, that is, but succeed in changing her views of the New York Upperclass.
Nor does he convince himself of their collective true happiness in their own union, but will he seriously confess this desire to Lily? Will she ever do anything but chase wealth, at the expense of her own heart, and peace of mind?
This is the question Edith Wharton lays before the reader: where is the place for the soul inside the relentless machine of society? It is a question artists and philosophers continue to ask. The House of Mirth presents all this in a well-written, satirical, and sad prose, and makes of itself somewhat of a modern Fairy Tale. Give The House of Mirth a try; I am sure you will find it an endearing and enjoyable read.
For more information on Edith Wharton, see the Edith Wharton Society
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