Albion College's Reviews > The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
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Mar 19, 12

Read from August 09, 2011 to March 19, 2012

Edith Wharton's "The House of Mirth" gives an interesting perspective on interpersonal relationships in late 1800s New York high society. Wharton focuses on the life of a young-ish woman (she's 29) named Lily Bart. She is attractive, has important family connections, and some money, but she's not wealthy. The focus of this book is money, and how important it is or is not, and how a woman of only small means might go about getting wealthy. Indeed, this is a novel about the ways in which both upper-class men and women are consumed by the desire for money, who value other people in no small part based on how much money they have.

Despite that, this novel is extremely readable and full of interesting, and even sympathetic, characters. It's difficult not to sympathize with Lily in her quest to achieve the lifestyle she truly wants. The trouble is, her head and her heart are in conflict -- there's a man who might just be the right personality match for her, but he's of more modest means than she's prepared to settle for.

Although the setup makes this seem like a romance novel, "The House of Mirth" is really much more of a social commentary, giving us a peek behind the curtain of what life was like for the wealthiest Americans during the Gilded Age. Wharton manages to find worthy characters, and to really make us feel for them, while simultaneously condemning the society she writes about for its hypocrisy, preoccupation with wealth, and for its tendency to value individuals more for their family circumstances, wealth, and reputation than for their individual character. I wholeheartedly recommends this book!

-Megan O'Neill
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