Dana Stabenow's Reviews > The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
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's review
Mar 20, 11

bookshelves: book-club
Read in March, 2011

Okay, I didn't finish it, I'm on page 41, I'm just not sure I can or want to continue reading. Wharton feels such contempt for all of her characters. A sort-of friend describes Lily as

...a captured dryad subdued to the conventions of the drawing-room; and Selden reflected that it was the same streak of sylvan freedom in her nature that lent such savour to her artificiality.

Ouch. Of one potential victim slash husband:

She had been bored all the afternoon by Percy Gryce...and all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honour of boring her for life.

Poor bastard. Of Lily's character:

...she had never been able to understand the laws of a universe which was so ready to leave her out of its calculations.

Of Lily's father:

...a neutral-tinted father filled an intermediate space between the butler and the man who came to wind the clocks.

Jesus. Her mother thought

...there was something heroic in living as though one were much richer than one's bankbook denoted.

Yeah, it's funny, but it's awfully nasty, too. I feel like Wharton's not just writing a novel, she's out for revenge.

She's a good writer, I'll give her that, she makes me despise them, too, but do I really want to live through 300 more pages of this? I understand that this is a portrait of a specific place and time, but were the members of New York's turn-of-the-century upper crust really so uniformly selfish and self-absorbed and snobbish? I can't have just one character I don't loathe? Even The Great Gatsby had Nick.

Of course I know how this ends, Lily is disgraced because she went to tea in a gentleman's rooms and gets caught in a lie about it and is cast off and probably dies of disgrace, like a goat sacrificed to New York society gods. I understand that Wharton is vilifying a society she despises (at least I think she is, otherwise what's the point of all this downright meanness), outing a silly, pretentious bunch of rich people who care for nothing but having money and marrying more. It just feels so heavy-handed. Talk about using a sledgehammer. She should have read more Austen to learn how to use a scalpel.
addendum a week later--

Just ran across Kurt Vonnegut's eight rules for writing fiction, as follows:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading charcters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

I would draw Ms. Wharton's attention to number 2.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Morgan (new)

Morgan I'm copying the KV rules and posting them on my desktop. I need to concentrate on #6.

message 2: by Carolyn (new)

Carolyn I like KV's rules, too. #7 would be more consistent if he's warned authors of getting an STD instead of pneumonia...lol.

Debashri I love how you snub Wharton.

Virtuella Would that Mr Vonnegut had stuck to his rule 2 himself...

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