#19: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Not my favorite.

Written in 1905, The House of Mirth follows the life of Lily Bart, a woman who is slowly falling out of New York City’s upper class. In 1905 there may have been intentions for the reader to sympathize with Miss Bart, but in reading this in the twenty-first century I feel little compassion for someone so willing to complain about her troubles, so reluctant to accept help, and too stubborn to come to terms with reality. Needless to say, this book did not leave the intended effect on me.

Miss Bart repeatedly crossed the line between a strong independent woman who saw her own value and didn’t feel the need to marry and a penniless woman looking for the first rich man who would allow her to carry out the life of a high-class New Yorker. With each passing page, and mind you these pages were long and drawn out, I felt my empathy for Lily slipping away. I can’t help but wonder how my reading of this would have been different had I lived in the twentieth century. I have to imagine I would prefer the Lily who was looking for a rich man over the independent Lily. God forbid a strong woman in the 1900’s (not to suggest that we are very willing to accept strong women in today’s society…) Early on in the novel, Lily asks her friend’s husband, Gus Trenor, to invest her money for her. She and Mr. Trenor keep these transactions a secret. This eventually spirals into rumors running around about her relationship with Mr. Trenor and is just the start of her downfall in society. Reading this in 2017, I want to scream into the book, “WHY NOT JUST TELL EVERYONE HE INVESTED YOUR MONEY?” But I have to remind myself that this was written 102 years ago. I suppose I’ll cut Ms. Wharton some slack.

As I have probably made abundantly clear, I was not a huge fan of The House of Mirth. It’s quotes like this that make me quite certain I would have done very poorly in the twentieth century…

“…and the mere idea of immorality was as offensive to Mrs. Peniston as a smell of cooking in the drawing room: it was one of the conceptions her mind refused to admit.”


Next up, (though I have already finished it as a getaway from this lovely novel) Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur…

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