"House of Mirth"

House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Yet another author I missed reading for years and then found recommended on other blogs. I'm getting more of a literary education now than I did in school!  I loved House Of Mirth and am happy to see there is quite a long list of other books the author has written. They will all go on my tbr list, and sit happily there while I dip into books from the many other authors I'm just now discovering. Life is good, is it not?

This book is more character driven than plot driven, and that's the way I usually like them. Wharton reveals more and more about the characters as time progresses and most end up quite well fleshed out with both virtues and flaws. At times I wanted to cheer them on, but then came the times when I wanted to knock their heads together till they smartened up.

It's appalling to see how conditioned the characters are to accept the social conventions of their time, even when those conventions did more harm than good. The author shows her disdain early in the book by calling them "puppets". It makes me wonder if we, in the present day, are doing the same thing without realizing it. A good discussion for another time perhaps.

I was completely drawn into the story right at the beginning. It's one of those where you check the clock after 10 minutes to find an hour has passed. The story is about a woman, Lily Bart, who goes from well-to-do, sought after social butterfly to poverty stricken outcast in a very short time. The other main character is Lawrence Seldon, who loved Lily and yet stood by and watched her destruction. I feel he let her (and me) down and that he failed to become the strong man of integrity I hoped he would.

A recurring theme throughout the book is the ridiculous class consciousness that completely ruled it's victims in that era. The recurring words 'dingy' and 'dinginess' are used to describe the lives of the lower classes. Anyone without money was cast out of the inner circle and abandoned to fend for themselves. I find it hard to swallow the coldness with which it was done. Many of the characters were in a position to help Lily but found it more amusing to look down on her and enjoy her misfortune.

(Spoiler alert)
As we all do, Lily brought on some of her own problems and acted unwisely at crucial times. She would do just about anything in order to live the life of luxury and leisure she wanted and was raised for. She maintains the higher ground in the end though, which is more than I can say for Lawrence. I was bitterly disappointed in him. He portrayed himself as a man of character who could see past the social conventions, but in the end he failed to be the man of action, and thus the hero, that he could have been.

Another male character offers her help, but only under conditions Lily could not accept. The argument could be made that she refused all offers of help, but I'm of the school of thought that thinks it's not enough to ask "What can I do to help?", but rather you should just find something that needs doing and do it! The people she knew could have done something, they simply chose not to. They would blame it on the demands of social propriety, to which I would answer: pfft! 

I love Wharton's writing and greatly enjoyed reading it. I highly recommend it.

6 comments:

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

This is a great review. I can't to read House of Mirth myself. I really need to read American classics more. Thanks for sharing!

Emidy said...

Oh, so glad you liked this book! I'm pretty sure I've heard of it, but I haven't read it yet. Great review!

Emidy
from Une Parole
P.S. I'm here from the Hop! When I saw "no paranormal" on your link I just had to visit and become a follower!

teadevotee.com said...

I'm glad you liked this - I actually liked 'The Age of Innocence' even better! I was too outraged at the end to truly love this...poor Lily

amandawk said...

Found you through the hop. I really liked this book. Ethan Frome, by the same author was even better.

talesandtreats.blogspot.com

Ordinary Reader said...

Irena: Thanks! After I posted I went back and re-read it and was surprised to hear that I sounded angry. I guess that makes a statement about how real Wharton's characters are!

Emidy: It's nice to know I'm not the only one reeeeeeally tired of vampires! Thanks!

Tea Devotee: Age of Innocence is on my tbr list. Glad to hear you were outraged too. I was beginning to think I was getting way too involved...

Amandawk: I just ordered a copy of Ethan Frome and am (im)patiently waiting for it to arrive!

Christopher said...

Edith Wharton is, in a sense, a Naturalist, like Thomas Hardy. Her protagonists always come up against 'Fate." And usually with very bad results. As one reads "The House of Mirth," one always wants to to take the actions that will save Lily, but it always for nought, isn't it? This is one of my favorite novels of all time. Every time I read it I am completely blown away...I so want a different outcome, don't you?

You have a lovely blog going here, Diane; keep up the good work! Cheers! Chris

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