GENERAL SPOILER ALERT: If you’ve never read The House of Mirth, and would like to discover it with no previous knowledge of the plot, I suggest you stop here. Since it was published in the 1905, I’m writing with the assumption that the cat’s out of the bag in terms of any plot twists, and you’ve probably read it already or are super familiar with the plot. So, if not, stop. Now. You’ve been warned.
“Most timidities have such secret compensations, and Miss Bart was discerning enough to know that the inner vanity is generally in proportion to the outer self-depreciation.” (p.22)
In my humble opinion, Edith Wharton is one of the most talented American novelists ever to have graced the page with her brilliance. The portraits she creates of each of her characters are so incredibly timeless, dynamic and fully realized.
The book that first turned me on to Wharton’s genius was Ethan Frome, which was originally published in 1911. Who knew a book that features sledding and a broken dish could be so captivating???? It’s the characters she creates, and the intricate relationships she develops, the push and the pull. The House of Mirth is no exception.
The novel follows heroine Lily Bart as she clings to her tenuous place in society, eternally dependent on the fortune and good opinion of others. Lily really spoke to me because she’s so complexly rendered and so REAL. She puts her foot in her mouth. She misjudges situations and people, but can also be remarkably perceptive. She can be at times naive and at times jaded. She can be calculating, shallow, ambitious, and lazy. She can be generous, spontaneous, delicate, and vulnerable. She can be her own biggest advocate and her own worst enemy. She’s someone I admire and someone who represents the darker more flawed parts of myself.
The only part of the piece I wasn’t crazy about was the ending…though I understand Wharton couldn’t have ended the story on a happy note without compromising the integrity of the novel. I’m just not a fan of the whole woman giving up on life motif.
“You’ve asked me just now for the truth–well, the truth about any girl is that once she’s talked about she’s done for; and the more she explains her case the worse it looks.” (p. 236)
Rubric rating: 9.5. The next Wharton novel I’ll be reading is The Age of Innocence.