Mikel's Reviews > The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
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's review
Mar 30, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: classics, horror-ghost-or-gothic
Read from March 12 to 17, 2010

I can see now why the author said that Age of Innocence was an apology for this book. While House of Mirth has a lot of the same 'sweet sadness' of Age of Innocence its conclusion lacked the same poignancy. It is another story of a person who get’s the short end of the societal stick. However, as the author’s first novel it was very well done.

What I did enjoy was the author’s well-rounded character development. Authors often spoon feed you which character’s to like and which ones to hate, I love that Edith Wharton doesn’t do that in her novels. When the book starts the protagonist, Lily Bart, is not necessarily reflected in positive light. Too be completely honest I couldn’t stand her in the opening scenes of the novel. You’re not supposed to. She’s a worldly, selfish gold digger who’s not ashamed to admit it. With these glaring personality deficiencies, it’s amazing that Edith Wharton was able to contrive in her readers the remotest feeling of compassion for Lily’s situation. Yet in spite of all this you start to like Lily little by little. Now, I’ve known too many women like her so I didn’t go down without a fight. Even after I started to like her it wasn’t until the last 50 pages of the book that I gave up my “you deserve what you get” attitude. The fact that I had such a personal dislike for her for so long is a great testament to Edith’s abilities. Her character was so real that she invoked strong emotions of like and dislike in turn. Whatever your final judgment of Lily may be you will not be able to walk away from her story impartial.

I do have to get on my little soap box here for a moment. Presently, it’s INCREDIBLY popular to write literature on the evils of ‘high society’ and their perceived prejudices. What’s great is that Edith Wharton belonged to this world. Where many authors are from ‘lower class society’ writing of the malevolence they see in those ‘above’ them Edith actually lived with the daily fluctuations. She experienced first hand their good and their bad. Her novels are refreshingly clean of the bitter jealousy’s I feel often dominate the story of these other narratives. She’s writing not because she’s resentful of her exclusion from these circles, she’s writing because she’s part of these circles. There’s a very refined difference in her narration because of this. Her structure is less condemning than it could have been. She brings home the fact that Lily was a product of the world in which she was brought up. She was raised to be “ornamental.” We wouldn’t blame someone who had been raised as a savage for continuing to eat with their hands even after they were provided with a fork and spoon. So why blame someone who marries for money if that’s all they’ve been taught marriage is. Obviously I don’t agree with it (or I wouldn’t have held on to my prejudice of Lily for so long) but just because I don’t agree with doesn’t mean that I can’t be understanding of it; just as I wouldn’t agree with the savage eating with their hands instead of their fork.

It’s easy to sympathize with someone who we view as inferior to us and it’s easy to be jealous of those who we view as superior. But it’s the coward’s way out. Edith challenges us to be more than that in House of Mirth.

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Reading Progress

03/12/2010 page 30
03/17/2010 page 352
100% "Still crying, will review later."
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