Top positive review
One person found this helpful
Beautifully Written, Perceptively Observed
on 6 June 2017
Edith Wharton's 'The House of Mirth' focuses on the beautiful socialite Lily Barton, who is in her late twenties and, after ten years on the 'marriage market', is still looking for a suitably rich husband. Brought up to be purely decorative, Lily seemingly leads a life of luxury and pleasure, but we soon learn that she actually has only a very small income and lives on the charity of a rich aunt who is becoming increasingly disapproving of Lily's gadabout life. Worried about her gambling debts and desperately trying to keep up with the rich set, Lily sets her sights on the very wealthy, if boring Percy Grace, but her plans to snare Mr Gryce are ruined when she becomes attracted to the dark and handsome Lawrence Selden. Mr Selden, however, despite finding Lily breathtakingly beautiful, is a man of only modest means and being aware of Lily's ambitions to marry well, he tries to avoid taking her too seriously. As Lily and Selden circle around each other, both attracted to one another but neither of them willing to commit themselves, Lily becomes desperately worried about her increasing debts and she foolishly approaches the husband of one of her friends to help her to invest her small amount of capital. When it becomes apparent to Lily that the money she has been receiving is not from the dividends on her own money, Lily finds herself embroiled in a whole series of events that eventually lead to her fall from grace, but to reveal more would spoil the story for those who have yet to read it.
Beautifully written and perceptively observed, Edith Wharton's story of New York society and the lives of the rich and idle, juxtaposed with the lot of the much less wealthy and those who fall by the wayside, makes for a compelling read. Aside from the story's main protagonists, this novel is filled with a whole cast of interesting characters and is it easy to become drawn right into Lily Barton's life and watch her as she travels towards her downfall. Although, as bystanders, we can see the mistakes Lily is making and we may become exasperated with her for her foolhardiness, Lily is not as shallow as she initially seems, she does have scruples and she avoids taking others down with her, and the reader (or this one anyhow) feels for her in her predicament. First published in 1905 and one of Edith Wharton's best novels, this is a poignant and resonant story and one to read, to think about and to then put back in the bookcase to read again later. Recommended.