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The House of Mirth

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  88,501 ratings  ·  4,936 reviews
First published in 1905, The House of Mirth shocked the New York society it so deftly chronicles, portraying the moral, social and economic restraints on a woman who dared to claim the privileges of marriage without assuming the responsibilities.

Lily Bart, beautiful, witty and sophisticated, is accepted by 'old money' and courted by the growing tribe of nouveaux riches. Bu
Paperback, 351 pages
Published January 19th 2006 by Virago (first published October 14th 1905)
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Andrew Emma Messenger is good, I agree. But my own preference in the end is the light-stepping Eleanor Brun. She does have a british accent. But she knows ho…moreEmma Messenger is good, I agree. But my own preference in the end is the light-stepping Eleanor Brun. She does have a british accent. But she knows how to quickly speak "desultory" and "indefatigable". Brun is subtle in her reading, and to me, Messenger adds too much drama, just a little too heavy on that pedal. (less)
Hayley She paid back all the money that she owed because her personal integrity wouldn't permit her to return to society with a debt like that still unpaid. …moreShe paid back all the money that she owed because her personal integrity wouldn't permit her to return to society with a debt like that still unpaid. Also, there was the implication that Trenor at least expected some kind of "personal" favour in return for lending Lily money, and I can well imagine that anything she could do to avoid that prospect would also be high in her mind. (less)

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 ·  88,501 ratings  ·  4,936 reviews

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Jim Fonseca
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-authors
There’s actually little mirth in this story. I read this after enjoying the author’s Ethan Frome and realizing again what a good writer Edith Wharton is.

Lily Bart belong to the ‘jet set’ of the early 1900’s. She hangs out in New York mansions, Newport and the Riviera. (As did the author.) Lily was from a wealthy family that spent down its fortune and then her parents died. Now she’s looking for a husband with money. She had some opportunities to marry earlier but she finds she’s waited a bit lo
Glenn Sumi
Poor, lovely Lily Bart
Her tragic story
will break your heart

She runs in the best circles
Wears the right clothes
And flirts with rich men

But everyone knows
That she needs to marry
Someone – and fast!

At 29 her looks won’t last
She’s ringing up debts
Borrowing from men

And displeasing their wives
Not to mention her friend
Lawrence Selden, a lawyer (but not very rich)

It’s Gilded Age New York
And life’s a bitch
If you’re not “old money”

Like the Trenors, Dorsets
And that odd Percy Gryce
The most you can do is
On occasions like this, I rue the absence of a 'tragedy' shelf or some variation of the same because mere 'melancholia' seems too modest, too equivocal a word to convey the kind of heartbreak Lily Bart's story inflicted on me.

It is, perhaps, apposite that I came to this with my mind still fresh from Anita Desai's stirring homage to a resolutely single, unsung fictional heroine who holds together a disintegrating family, unacknowledged, misunderstood, left behind and forgotten (Clear Light of Day
Nov 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Lily Bart, the protagonist of Edith Wharton's stunning first novel, is introduced to the reader as a young woman traveling within high society. While her blood and wealth may place her on the fringe of that society, her "pale" beauty (as it is continuously characterized throughout the novel) elevates her within its ranks. Lily is marriage material. And within Manhattan's high society at the turn of the century, women are meant to marry; and in order to marry women are meant to maintain a reputat ...more
Henry Avila
Aug 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lily Bart, born poor but from a blue blood family, grew up privileged, well her mother pretended they had wealth, always telling her hard working husband, she will not live like a pig! He succumbs to an early grave, broke, at the turn of the century (20th), that is, the mother spends money, they haven't got, going to Europe, buying expensive clothes, jewelry, furniture, all for the sake of appearances, their friends, in High Society are very well - to- do. Since childhood, Lily is told one thing ...more
Paul Bryant
Sep 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
What a piece of art
Is our Lily Bart
Surrounded by men who don’t need much urgin’
Yet Lily is a 29 year old virgin

She’s a part of a truly disgusting society – the filthy rich of New York, 1905 - all they do is party till five in the morning and have discreet affairs and play bridge for money and get waited on hand and foot (snap your fingers once for a Faberge egg on toast, twice for a new hat made of ptarmigan feathers) and rush off to Monaco and gamble and party and have affairs and snap their fi
May 16, 2012 rated it liked it
“The House of Mirth” just might be to “The Age of Innocence” what “Tom Sawyer” is to “Huck Finn”: that is, only but a stepping-stone towards a more profound greatness (although why I used that Twain analogy is a mystery even to me—I find that brand of American Literature a bit overrated). “Age of Innocence” is stupendous—utterly amazing. On the other hand, “The House of Mirth” describes the downward spiral of one, Miss Lily Bart, misunderstood by her social “set,” her particular New York niche. ...more
Mar 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: There's a hole in my pocket about Lily's size
Shelves: read-in-2014, dost
Edith Wharton sets the New York social stage of the early twentieth century for a succession of short scenes that glitter with glossy superficiality. Lightning, backdrops and lush costumes are put on display to create a natural effect in this tableaux vivant of a novel, where Lily Bart stands out as the most stunning living painting ever. She is the leading actress of this theatrical narrative, a delicate flower bred for exhibition and ornament whose beauty shines with the precise effortless gra ...more
I have read almost all of Edith Wharton's writing. I have the highest regard for her work. She was overshadowed by Fitzgerald and Hemingway in her day but even so she won the Pulitzer prize in 1921 for her novel The Age of Innocence. The House of Mirth was one of her early novels and my favorite, although I like all of her novels.

Lily Bart, the protagonist in The House of Mirth, is such a captivating and tragic figure that she has stayed in my mind for years. Of course, creating great characters
Joe Valdez
May 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-general
Reading Edith Wharton's second novel The House of Mirth was like being kidnapped by Barbary pirates and held for ransom for ten fortnights; not a comfort, but an adventure. Published in 1905, this tale of Miss Lily Bart -- a young woman held prisoner by New York high society for her grace and beauty until her dependence on wealthy patrons makes her vulnerable to their whims -- carried me off against my will and held me with jeweled prose, breathless detail to character and droll wit. Wharton's m ...more
Sidharth Vardhan
“Her whole being dilated in an atmosphere of luxury. It was the background she required, the only climate she could breathe in.”

Veblen in his 'Theory of Leisure Class' (written six years before this book) argues that one of the way leisure class show their wealth is by maintaining people who will sit idly for them. The chief example is of wives, where richest men do not want their wives to be doing paid jobs - do and own charities - yes, art exhibitions -yes, partying - yes, just not doi
Katie Lumsden
May 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I really loved this - it was engaging and beautifully written, and the main character is fascinating. I absolutely recommend this - I think it'll stay with me for a long time. ...more

Mrs. Lloyd by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1775)

In our imperfectly organized society there is no provision as yet for the young woman who claims the privileges of marriage without assuming its obligations.

Oh, how I delighted in this book. How I bathed in the world Edith Wharton created, this world belonging to beautiful Lily Bart, as she navigates through the temptations and perils of society of the early twentieth century. I was charmed, transported and moved as she tries desperately to cling to th
"What is truth? Where a woman is concerned, it's the story that's easiest to believe."

What is truth? Truth is that Lily Bart is Madame Bovary dying without even having engaged in the love affairs - dying a virgin in reality, a promiscuous siren in the world of evil gossip.

If you want to suffer the pain of sexual injustice and social brutality, read this book and die with Lily, step by step. There were moments when I wanted to step into the story and shake the disgusting predators - that is ho
L A i N E Y ~back in a bit~
“She had no tolerance for scenes which were not of her own making.”

Edith Wharton had a particular way of writing which was a bit difficult to tune into at first but once I got the hang of it, it was real beautiful.

Which was why I am saddened to give this such low rating. Just saddened.

From the very start I really liked Lily Bart... until the second half of the book, then, I couldn't stop myself getting annoyed with her everytime: her indecision, her actions and mostly just.... HER.

May 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-list
The House of Mirth is the third Wharton novel I've finished so far, and while reading it, I was able to figure out why I love her books so much. Edith Wharton is witty, and her writing is beautiful, but more importantly, she is honest and realistic. She portrays rich, spoiled society exactly as it is - full of people who hide their own misery behind lavish homes and strict manners - and condemns it, but even as her characters realize how toxic this environment is, they are still driven by an ins ...more
Dec 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-books-ever
This book has inspired my next tattoo. That is some fine literature. (And I am sure that if Edith Wharton were alive today, she would appreciate the tribute.)

I have this theory that the mark of great literature is that no matter how many times you read it, you can always plausibly hope, as a reader, that things might turn out differently in the end. Not that the actual ending is wrong; it's just that the character of Lily Bart is so alive for me, I seriously believe she might make a different ch
Sep 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth made me think about a lot of 'stuff'—so if you're one of those self-righteous hall monitor types who scolds reviewers on Goodreads for not being relevant enough, then be on your way. There's nothing for you to see here except for some navel-gazing. Proceed at your own peril.

The House of Mirth centers on a privileged white female named Lily Bart who's navigating the precarious social landscape of New York City and its environs at the tail-end of the nineteenth c
Dec 06, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-lit
The House of Mirth is a tragic tale of the life of Miss Lily Bart, a beautiful young girl who is raised to aspire to wealth and luxury. Being raised as an ornament to catch the eye of a rich man, she is not skilled in anything except in the art of being beautiful and agreeable. But the mean and selfish New York elite are too much for her to handle. They do not hesitate to use her in their wile schemes, and eventually, to cast her off.

The story brings out an unpleasant side of the upper-class Ne
Apr 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a beautiful and tragic novel this is! As frustrating as Lily Bart could be — she kept making small errors that damaged her reputation — I also pitied her for how she was mistreated by society. Lily was unable to marry the man she loved because he wasn't rich enough, but she also couldn't tolerate the dull, wealthy men who were interested in her. Lily wanted to do the right thing, but somehow things kept going wrong for her until she ended up broke, sick and without hope.

I decided to reread
Dec 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: edith-wharton
I know many authors who can write beautiful scenes beautifully,but there are few who can also write sad scenes as beautifully as Wharton.Yes,she is a real pro at love tragedies.When reading,sometimes I cynically wonder if each description and character gangs together to dig nasty holes here and there,even though the heroine tries every possible effort to get herself out of them.The story line is simple and easily predictable,which leaves it to your imagination why each character thinks and acts ...more
This book reminded me of when I used to tutor a particular 15-year-old boy. I'd arrive and he'd be snacking and watching this dreadful MTV reality show called “My Super Sweet Sixteen”. I used to spend a lot of time over there, so I caught enough bits and pieces of it to feel thoroughly revolted.

Those of you in the USA have probably seen it – it follows over-privileged kids as they organize and throw their lavish 16th birthday parties. But what I find scary about it aren't the 6-figure cars these
Apr 29, 2019 rated it really liked it

"I have tried hard -- but life is difficult, and I am a very useless person. I can hardly be said to have an independent existence. I was just a screw or a cog in the great machine I called life, and when I dropped out of it I found I was of no use anywhere else. What can one do when one finds that one only fits into one hole? One must get back to it or be thrown out into the rubbish heap -- and you don't know what it's like in the rubbish heap!"

There is a displacement in the space-time cont
Alice Poon
May 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: classics

I have taken much longer than usual to finish this novel. I blame it on two reasons. First, the subject matter of vacuous and decadent high society life in 20th century America is not of particular interest to me, and second, the writing is verbose and convoluted to the point of vapid. I had read The Age of Innocence by the same author, and had enjoyed that novel much more.

The story is slow-paced but effectively constructed, reaching the climax in the last fifth of the novel. It tells how one gl
Jul 24, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001
Dear Ms. Wharton,

I recently finished your book, The House of Mirth and am once again left disappointed. I so very much want to love your books. Your style of writing is beautiful and real, but the characters, oh the characters! I feel like I get to know them so well, and feel such hope for them, only to be crushed down at the end!

Let us not start with Lily Bart as that would be jumping in rather hastily. First, let's discuss the handsome Lawrence Selden, that book-loving, philosophical lawyer wh
Jennifer (aka EM)
Aug 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jennifer (aka EM) by: Elizabeth
This will end up being a review of The House of Mirth, sort of.

“Wasn’t she too beautiful, Lawrence? Don’t you like her best in that simple dress? It makes her look like the real Lily – the Lily I know.” p.142

Let’s begin with rich, beautiful people. I am neither, and I come from a long line of neithers. I come from hardy, working-class stock – Scots-English, mostly. Lots of ‘em orphaned or abandoned and left to fend for themselves as a result of various kinds of neglect, addictions or just plain
Lily Bart is the first and greatest of Edith Wharton's trapped women. Here's the trick Wharton pulls off with her: she's not great, and Wharton makes you wish she was worse.

Lily is beautiful; she looks, thinks her star-crossed friend Selden, as though "she must have cost a great deal to make, that a great many dull and ugly people must, in some mysterious way, have been sacrificed to produce her." Maybe she looks a little like this painting she mimics for a tableau vivant, which is a shitty part

I am trying to figure out the building blocks behind this novel: the history of society which lead up to an upper class woman confronting the mores and values of the time by writing this book and rocking the boat from within.

Published in 1905, Edith Wharton obviously knew her 'customers' since this book was aimed at the very class she was born into, and not written for the 'plebs' roaming the universities in the hope of improving their chances to join the selected few. Neither did she use a lan
★★★★✰ 4.5 stars

“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”

As many readers have already pointed out, there is little mirth to be found in The House of Mirth (and I thought that The Age of Innocence and Summer had despairing endings...I was clearly misguided).
As with the majority of her works, Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth is chiefly concerned with depicting the conflict between social and individual fulfilment, and it focuses on t
Feb 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
A quiet scholar came home one night,
From a social gathering, large and polite.
Asked how he'd liked it, the scholar said:
'If they were books, I'd leave them unread.'

Goethe, East-West Divan

[Note: Republication with new intro quote, after accidentally deleting book and review when removing it from one shelf when I thought it was on another. My apologies.]

A superb, timeless novel that went to my top 50 because it was a real kick in the a$$ to NYC upper class society in the early 20th Century. So
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Edith Newbold Jones was born into such wealth and privilege that her family inspired the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses." The youngest of three children, Edith spent her early years touring Europe with her parents and, upon the family's return to the United States, enjoyed a privileged childhood in New York and Newport, Rhode Island. Edith's creativity and talent soon became obvious: By the a ...more

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