Synopses & Reviews
First published in 1905, The House of Mirth shocked the New York society it so deftly chronicles, portraying the moral, social, and economic restraints on a woman who dared to claim the privileges of marriage without assuming the responsibilities. Lily Bart, beautiful, witty, and sophisticated, is accepted by "old money" and courted by the growing tribe of nouveaux riches. But as she nears 30, her foothold becomes precarious; a poor girl with expensive tastes, she needs a husband to preserve her social standing and to maintain her life in the luxury she has come to expect. While many have sought her, somethingfastidiousness or integrityprevents her from making a "suitable" match.
In charting the course of Lily's life and downfall, Edith Wharton also provides a wider picture of a society in transition, a world in which old certainties, manners, and morals no longer hold true, and where the individual has become an expendable commodity. Contextual materials include Wharton's correspondence about the novel, period articles on social mores, etiquette, and dress, and contemporary writings by Henry James, Thorstein Veblen, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.