House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Let’s say you combined the television shows “Girls”, “Sex and the City” and the cartoon, “Cathy” into a turn of the 20th century novel.  You would have House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. I love it when I pick up a classic and it is so accessible and so current and so clever.

Lily Bart is beautiful, single and admittedly shallow. She needs to marry money and lots of it. She has expensive tastes. She needs to be assertive, coy and subtle. She plays games—literally and figuratively because the raucous game of bridge (yes, that suburban card game ) in addition to her expensive tastes has left her nearly broke. Lily moves around a lot. Sponging off of her rich friends who not only can afford life’s luxuries, they can also afford to be judgmental snobs.

What?! This sounds like a horrible book full of horrible people.

No! This is a beautifully written book filled with acerbic and astute observations about gender and class from an outsider who wants in but faces obstacles over and over. Here are a couple of quotes to prove my point :

“She had been bored all afternoon by Percy Gryce… but she could not ignore him on the morrow, she must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be ready with fresh compliances and adaptibilities, and all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honour of boring her for life.”

“The only way to not think about money is to have a great deal of it.”

These quotes make my heart race! And there are more at every turn of the page.

Despite her addiction to the material world and her over the top pride, I think the reader roots for Lily and probably that is the only thing keeping the reader going, the hope that Lily will be a success, what ever that means to her. She tries really hard and she makes some naive choices. She is used by those who can afford it, leaving her to pay the ultimate price.

So check out House of Mirth by Edith Wharton and remember: hate the game not the player.

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2 Responses to “House of Mirth by Edith Wharton”

  1. Katy Says:

    A brilliant novel. I love Wharton’s take on the Gilded Age, as someone who lived during that period. She had a shrewd eye for drama! A great teen series that takes place in the same time period is the Luxe series by Anna Godberson. A good “gateway” for teens to the more classic literature!

  2. Jackie Cangro Says:

    What a coincidence that I’m reading this novel now — just as your review was posted. I haven’t even finished the book and I’m already recommending it to all my friends.

    And I marked both of those passages that you quoted. Brilliant!

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