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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Living Up To Society's Expectations
"The House of Mirth" by Edith Wharton is her second long novel, and was published on October 14th of 1905. Her first long novel, "The Valley of Decision", was a sweeping historical fiction, which was perhaps a bit too ambitious for her first attempt. This novel suffers none of the flaws of her first effort, and the reader is pulled into the story by its heroine, Lily...
Published on Oct. 15 2009 by Dave_42

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3.0 out of 5 stars Mirth? I think not...
Review of "The House Of Mirth"
Stephanie Grumbacher
Edith Wharton's classic, "The House of Mirth", while written well, was flawed in several ways. Wharton's over-dramatic tale of a social climbing girl who needed to grow up lacked emotion altogether. Lily Bart, who is considered a heroine in nineteenth century literature, drags on in unhappiness for 310 pages...
Published on Feb. 25 2004 by Adam Gerry


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For patient, meticulous readers, March 25 2013
By 
Sverre Svendsen "Uni" (Canada) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
I was almost ready to stop reading this book when I reached its halfway point. I found little of substance in the trivial and pretentious frivolities represented by Wharton’s collection of turn of the century New York socialites. The heroine, Lily Bart, seemed as shallow as the rest of them. The only glimmer of sensibility was represented by the lawyer Lawrence Selden, a bachelor with a free spirit and more than a modicum of conscience and sensibility. I found Wharton’s erudite vocabulary and quaint turns of phrase annoying and her descriptions excessive with unnecessary details. However, knowing this book was one of Wharton’s most acclaimed, I was determined to finish. It was worth it.

The second half of the book went deeper into the manipulative nature of many of the relationships between Lily and her friends and the insecurities being played out. Lily is like a lamb among the wolves. Her naiveté causes her to stumble more than once, subverting her two objectives in life: being a prime confidant and participant in the activities of upper crust society, and eventually being successful in finding an affluent husband to cement her social position, providing her with the means to indulge her expensive tastes. Having grown up in an upper class environment, Lily continues to make all her judgments based on her prejudiced habituations. Her extraordinary beauty allows her to be worshipped and pampered. Gradually, in the second half of the book, the reader witnesses how Lily’s world falls apart, as she becomes victim to the schemes of an adulterous wife; the sexual innuendo and financial complicity of a married man; and the spiteful spirit of her dying aunt (who has been her guardian since her childhood). These result in her expulsion from her usual circle of friends, her introduction to a penurious existence and her increasing desperation in finding a husband. By the time the end of the book has come to an emotional we have met the real Lily and her profound despair.

On the whole I must admit that The House of Mirth deserves the accolades but it is only for patient, meticulous readers, lovers of the English language. It was first published in 1905, at the beginning of Wharton’s writing career. She was a participant in the American high society, the nouveau riche, that she describes. Her novel provides quite an accurate picture of the idle rich and the plight of women who lacked financial means of support. I did find it rather odd that the subjects of politics, religion, black culture and immigrant influences (especially the Irish and Jewish) were completely absent from the book. The book is therefore a poor representation of describing New York City society for that tumultuous time period. Its narrative exclusively represents a very small slice of life in a complex multifaceted fabric of humanity.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Living Up To Society's Expectations, Oct. 15 2009
By 
Dave_42 "Dave_42" (Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The House of Mirth (Paperback)
"The House of Mirth" by Edith Wharton is her second long novel, and was published on October 14th of 1905. Her first long novel, "The Valley of Decision", was a sweeping historical fiction, which was perhaps a bit too ambitious for her first attempt. This novel suffers none of the flaws of her first effort, and the reader is pulled into the story by its heroine, Lily Bart. She is an interesting character, who is struggling to maintain her position in society. She is flawed, to be sure, but at the same time the reader wants to find out what is going to happen to her.

The story starts with Lily already in difficulty. She is living off of a small inheritance and the sporadic gifts of her strict Aunt Julia. She is also getting older, though still very beautiful and able to attract men, she is always looking for signs of age in the mirror. From the time she was young, she was brought up in affluence, and when her father was ruined financially, it had devastating effect on her mother, and on a then young Lily. She cannot bear the thought of a life without luxury though, and so she is set on marrying only if the man has money. At the same time, those men who do have money do not fill her emotional needs. The man whom she loves, Lawrence Seldon, cannot satisfy her financial needs, and yet she deliberately throws away the opportunities she has to set herself up financially for life.

An interesting aspect of Lily's character is the way she becomes morally stronger each time her position becomes a bit weaker. One suspects the Lily from early in the story would handle the challenges she faces later in the book much differently. She has opportunities to recover her position, but she will not behave in the manner necessary to accomplish it, to her credit. Her relationships with other people also become more real, and less based on superficial subject matter and conversation. This inverse relationship between morality and societal position appears in many of the other characters as well.

I found this to easily be her best novel, short or long, up to this point in her career. Her short fiction had been her stronger work prior to this, but "The House of Mirth" changes that as it is the first long work from Wharton which delivers on the promise that she showed with many of her short fiction works. I am rounding this one up to five stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where the heart of the fools is, Nov. 23 2003
This review is from: The House of Mirth: 100th Anniversary Edition (Mass Market Paperback)
It is a strange society. Everybody is being watched, every single move, words; they dress code reveals a lot: women with big hats, men with fancy suits and top hats. This is the society they are trapped into. It is very hard to get into it, and easy to be dumped out of. This is the world where Edith Wharton's characters from 'The House of Mirth' inhabit: the early XX Century New York. Actually this is the world where Wharton herself lived in.
Lily Bart is a marriageable orphan who is trying to marry a rich man. Her first victim is Percy Gryce, a very rich and insecure man, guided by his mother. When this attempt fails, her friendship with Laurence Selden almost leads to a match, but rumors of her being friends with married man, only brings her ruin and social exclusion. A series of unfortunate events --among them losing money in gambling-- and a very mean 'friend' called Bertha Dorset lead Lily to the ruin.
More than anything, 'The House of Mirth' is a study of the social condition of the New Yorker wealthy women in the early XX century. Rather than being a heroine, Lily is a human being struggling with her problems. She is neither rich nor strong enough to be independent, so that marriage is the only way of keeping a comfortable life, unlikely man. Early in the novel, Lily and Selden are discussing marriages and she says that 'a girl must, a man may if he chooses'. This states clear the difference of men and women, the lack of freedom, and the way people have to live under the social establishment if they want to succeed.
Writing as an insider --and so she was-- Wharton is able to give a faithful and acid view of that society. Inspired from a verse in the Bible, she titled the novel with a wonderful contradiction; there is neither a 'house', nor 'mirth' in the novel. They both are very abstract ideas that we get from the book.
'[Lily Bart was] so evidently the victim of the civilization which had produced here, that the links of her bracelet seemed line manacles chaining her to her fate'. I believe the writer felt this same way --maybe that's why she moved to Europe and lived there for many years. Personal connections to the book aside, Edith Wharton has written one of the best American books of the XX Century. Her prose is brilliant, and her story engaging.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good piece of classical literature, Jan. 20 2004
By 
This review is from: The House of Mirth: 100th Anniversary Edition (Mass Market Paperback)
For those individuals who complain about poorly developed characters, this is the book for you. Lily Bart, and most of the other characters in this novel, are well fleshed out. Athough Lily Bart is a classically flawed character, you understand her motivations and those of the other individuals reacting to her. The novel is quite readable and although I am not sure that it should have made the list of the top novels of the 20th century, it is certainly a worthwhile classic to read. It does not end happily; as Anna Quindlen states in the intro, you really can hear a heartbreak at the end of a novel.
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5.0 out of 5 stars From Timely to Timeless, Oct. 17 2011
By 
Stephen John Vogel (Manhattan) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The House of Mirth: 100th Anniversary Edition (Mass Market Paperback)
Reading The House of Mirth today, it's easy to overlook the obvious: that it was not written as a "period piece," but as a modern novel. Readers can get so caught up in the early 20th Century details (the Edwardian-era clothing, the carriages, both horseless and horse-drawn, the elaborate social rituals), that they tend to forget that for Wharton and her first readers this story had all the timeliness of, say, Sex and the City, a book which will probably seem just as dated as Wharton's by the 22nd Century, and less well written.

What Wharton set out to do, and did so effectively in the final analysis, was to present a picture of a then "modern woman," one endowed with beauty and intelligence, placed in a privileged yet precarious position, and to show how a tragic combination of character and circumstance could lead her from the promise of a glittering future to her ultimate degradation and destruction.

Lily Bart, the woman at the center of the novel, was modern in the sense that she was a product of both her era and her social class when the novel was published in 1905. Born and raised on the fringes of upper-class New York society before the turn of the last century, yet orphaned young without inherited wealth, she was expected and prepared to be the wife of a wealthy gentleman. Though refined in the moral as well the esthetic sense, she was prized by her society primarily as an ornament. A beautiful ornament, it's true, but so long as she remained unmarried her "mission" in life could never be considered fulfilled, despite her numerous and varied attributes.

Lily is 29 at the novel's start, and in that era dangerously close to becoming an old maid. The longer a woman in such a situation remained unwed, the more exposed she was to unfavorable or even vicious comments from those whom she most needed to ingratiate herself with in order to maintain a place in their charmed circles and to marry well. A woman in Lily's circumstances could ill afford to be considered too independent, or too careless of her reputation, as she belatedly discovered.

When, through a series of costly reversals, brought about either by accident (Wharton's novel is filled with momentous chance encounters), or due to her own proclivity to sabotage the advances of her prosperous suitors, Lily is cast out of "polite society" and ultimately forced to earn a living through manual labor, she discovers how unprepared she is for what she considers the "dingy" side of life. And not mere dinginess and toil, but the prospect of poverty and abject humiliation are what she faces as the novel nears its conclusion.

A sharp descent indeed for someone who started out so near the pinnacle of worldly success, and was so intimately received by those that had already achieved it.

When today's readers encounter Lily and her plight in Wharton's novel, there may be an urge to dismiss this story as unrelated to our modern society, where social rules are not so inflexible, and women (in most cases) are routinely expected to be able to earn their own living. But Wharton was not a reporter, she was a gifted novelist, and her tale of a character trapped in an infernal machine from which she can find no escape still has the power to move us deeply. Beyond the period details, The House of Mirth offers us a believable story in which a character struggles to survive a catastrophe partly of her own making, and partly of others'. Such a tragic tale, so skillfully narrated, is timeless.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Mirthless house, May 16 2010
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
America and Europe of the 1800s were stiff, gilded, formal place, full of "old" families, rigid customs and social transgressions. Especially for women.

And nobody chronicled them better than Edith Wharton, who spun exquisitely barbed novels out of the social clashes of the late nineteenth century. "The House of Mirth" is one of her darker stories, where scandals and lack of conformity trigger a tragic downward spiral for a vibrant woman.

Like most not-so-rich women, Lily Bart is on the prowl for a marriage to keep her in luxury and affluent circles. What's more, she has a rapid intellect and striking looks, but she is also a habitual liar who defies society's strictures (she gambles and smokes). Her only friend is Lawrence Seldon, but she is determined not to marry for love alone.

Unfortunately, her schemes and plans start to collapse -- her adoring suitors either aren't rich enough, or her independent spirit sends her off. Her desperation becomes even more intense as she finds herself in the thick of a scandal, spun up by a malicious society matron to cover up her own affair. With her reputation in ruins, Lily's life spirals down into a new life of unemployment, poverty, and the final tragedy.

Edith Wharton always paid a lot of attention to a woman's restricted life in the Gilded Age, and how scandals, unconventionality and society's hypocrisy could ruin them. But "The House of Mirth" pays more attention to this than most -- it's a bleakly realistic story, unflinchingly showing Lily's slow descent into miserable loneliness.

Despite that, Wharton's writing is pure flowering poetry with a knack for evocation ("Her small pale face seemed the mere setting of a pair of dark exaggerated eyes"), and has a sensual quality with all the descriptions of silks, plants, soft light and luxurious mansions. And she vividly portrays the upper echelons of New York society at the time -- affairs, gossip and gilded salons -- as well as the restricted lives of women

But Wharton is just as capable of describing the darker, sadder world that Lily falls into ("... blurred the gaunt roof-lines, threw a mauve veil over the discouraging perspective of the side streets"). Sedoesn't pull any punches with the tragic finale, which has a distinct air of inevitability about it -- no fairy-tale last-minute save by a Prince Charming.

Lily starts out the book as a glimmering satellite of society, who can be rather selfish and cruel, but who nevertheless gains some sympathy because she just doesn't deserve everything that happens. The cruel, glittering society of the time had no room for women who stood outside the lines, and Lily's slow downward spiral is an illustration of this -- she's driven into miserable poverty and drug addiction. Lovely.

"The House of Mirth" is anything but mirthful -- it's the study of a woman's slow downfall, and the cruel society that left her friendless and disgraced. Haunting and vivid.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Mirthless "House", June 5 2009
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The House of Mirth: 100th Anniversary Edition (Mass Market Paperback)
America and Europe of the 1800s were stiff, gilded, formal place, full of "old" families, rigid customs and social transgressions. Especially for women.

And nobody chronicled them better than Edith Wharton, who spun exquisitely barbed novels out of the social clashes of the late nineteenth century. "The House of Mirth" is one of her darker stories, where scandals and lack of conformity trigger a tragic downward spiral for a vibrant woman.

Like most not-so-rich women, Lily Bart is on the prowl for a marriage to keep her in luxury and affluent circles. What's more, she has a rapid intellect and striking looks, but she is also a habitual liar who defies society's strictures (she gambles and smokes). Her only friend is Lawrence Seldon, but she is determined not to marry for love alone.

Unfortunately, her schemes and plans start to collapse -- her adoring suitors either aren't rich enough, or her independent spirit sends her off. Her desperation becomes even more intense as she finds herself in the thick of a scandal, spun up by a malicious society matron to cover up her own affair. With her reputation in ruins, Lily's life spirals down into a new life of unemployment, poverty, and the final tragedy.

Edith Wharton always paid a lot of attention to a woman's restricted life in the Gilded Age, and how scandals, unconventionality and society's hypocrisy could ruin them. But "The House of Mirth" pays more attention to this than most -- it's a bleakly realistic story, unflinchingly showing Lily's slow descent into miserable loneliness.

Despite that, Wharton's writing is pure flowering poetry with a knack for evocation ("Her small pale face seemed the mere setting of a pair of dark exaggerated eyes"), and has a sensual quality with all the descriptions of silks, plants, soft light and luxurious mansions. And she vividly portrays the upper echelons of New York society at the time -- affairs, gossip and gilded salons -- as well as the restricted lives of women

But Wharton is just as capable of describing the darker, sadder world that Lily falls into ("... blurred the gaunt roof-lines, threw a mauve veil over the discouraging perspective of the side streets"). Sedoesn't pull any punches with the tragic finale, which has a distinct air of inevitability about it -- no fairy-tale last-minute save by a Prince Charming.

Lily starts out the book as a glimmering satellite of society, who can be rather selfish and cruel, but who nevertheless gains some sympathy for her terrible plight. The cruel, glittering society of the time had no room for women who stood outside the lines, especially if they tried to lie at all the wrong times. And so we see poor Lily, driven into miserable poverty and drug addiction.

"The House of Mirth" is anything but mirthful -- it's the study of a woman's slow downfall, and the cruel society that left her friendless and disgraced. Haunting and vivid.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating look at 19th Century New York Society, July 28 2007
By 
Misfit (Seattle, WA USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The House of Mirth: 100th Anniversary Edition (Mass Market Paperback)
"The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth" Ecclesiastes 7:4 KJV. Hence begins the story of Lily Bart, raised from birth with no other purpose in life than to be a beautiful ornament to society. Lily is left with little money of her own and must rely on family and friends until she can make an advantageous marriage. Unfortunately, she makes some poor choices in life which diminish her social status, which eventually leads her to attempts to eke out a living among the working class.

Wharton, who grew up in this same environment, pulls no punches. We see both the glamour and richness of late 19th century New York society, along with it's evil underside. Wharton's prose is glorious, but you have to pay attention and not wander or you'll end up back tracking and reading that paragraph again so as not to miss the story, you want to slow down and enjoy it like a fine red wine or a box of chocolate (or both). If you enjoy classic literature with a soap opera melodramatic tone to it (like Hardy's Tess), this should be right up your alley. So many times Lily and Seldon missed their opportunity for happiness! Have the hanky ready for the last chapters, you'll need it.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Mirth? I think not..., Feb. 25 2004
By 
Adam Gerry (Rochester, NH USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The House of Mirth: 100th Anniversary Edition (Mass Market Paperback)
Review of "The House Of Mirth"
Stephanie Grumbacher
Edith Wharton's classic, "The House of Mirth", while written well, was flawed in several ways. Wharton's over-dramatic tale of a social climbing girl who needed to grow up lacked emotion altogether. Lily Bart, who is considered a heroine in nineteenth century literature, drags on in unhappiness for 310 pages without ever stopping to think logically about her money or use of time, ending up poor and lonely. She is what women of 2004 would look down upon with disgust: fragile and weak. Yet the book pulls the reader in by trying to understand why Bart would do the things she does. The book becomes seemingly unbearable by Bart's actions, but addicting in a way that you want to see if Lily will come to her senses.
What the novel lacks in description it makes up for in its accurate portrayal of high profile society in the 1800's. Socialites like Bertha Dorset, who used their popularity and "rank" to keep her hold on people. Simon Rosedale thought that his money could get him whatever he wanted, including Lily. As for the dynamic in Lawrence Seldon and Bart's relationship, it lacked depth altogether. It seemed Lily only had one love, that being herself. "The House of Mirth", while an interesting look into the past, was overly drawn out and almost painful to read at points.
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4.0 out of 5 stars 3 and 1/2 Stars -- A brutal comedy of manners, Jan. 6 2004
By 
Bill R. Moore (New York, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The House of Mirth: 100th Anniversary Edition (Mass Market Paperback)
The House of Mirth is the book that established Edith Wharton as a major writer. As such, it is not the future Pulitzer Prize-winner's best book, though it does have its strong points. The comedy of manners, particularly around the turn of the 20th century, was effectively monopolized by British literature; this book is one of American literature's first successful books of the type. As such, it is a book distinctly of its time: its setting is certainly not universal; arguably neither is its theme. And yet, the book has been in continual publication for nearly a century for several good reasons. First of all, like her good friend Henry James, Wharton was a master prose stylist. Smart, sophisticated, and witty, her prose is perfectly-suited for a book of this type. Many of the book's features place it squarely in Victorian-era America, in the cradle of New York's upper-class -- in other words, square in the middle of the Gilded Age. The era's infamous social etiquette is on full display here: one that knows little of it will come away from the book knowing much. In the middle of this situation, then, is the book's protagonist: Lily Bart. Wharton uses the story of Bart's rapid downfall to satirize several aspects of New York's turn-of-the-century upper-class society: its selfishness, cruelty, and blindness; its preoccupation with gossip and its disdain for truth; its inhumane treatment of those it believes to be inferior; and more. The book also focuses on the situation that a young lady who was born and bred from the cradle to be rich and taught no skills other than how to woo a rich man into marriage -- a woman, in short, like Lily -- was often forced into at the time. Lily, despite being the most prized beauty of the entire scene, has a seemingly-perverse record of failing to marry rich men whom she has under her thumb. In this, we find Lily to be something of an essentially contradictory character: not a mere gold digger, but hardly a rebel, either. When she is ejected from society's upper echelons, she does not become strong and individualistic: she crumbles. It is in this aspect that the book differs so greatly from present-day culture and ideas about women. This is, by no means, a feminist book: strong-minded women reading this book today, unless they look upon it from a purely-literary viewpoint, will not only despise it, but hate Lily for her failure to stand up for herself. This is an anachronistic reading of the book, of course, but it is precisely the reason why the book's relevance to the contemporary world is questionable at best (this point is illustrated by the largely-unsuccessful recent film adaptation.) Still, the book is both a penetrating comedy of manners and a fascinating period piece. Its exquisite writing style also is quite remarkable, and this is an essential book for prose stylists. This book comes highly-recommended for fans of the works of E.M. Forster and Kate Chopin's The Awakening -- and, of course, of Wharton's other writings. For a truly great work from this author, though, read Ethan Frome.
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The House of Mirth: 100th Anniversary Edition
The House of Mirth: 100th Anniversary Edition by Edith Wharton (Mass Market Paperback - Feb. 17 2000)
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