The Modern Library 100 Best Novels Challenge discussion

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100 Best Novels - Discussion > The House of Mirth - Edith Wharton

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message 1: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie March 2010

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton The House of Mirth

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message 2: by Sunflower (last edited Feb 25, 2010 09:42AM) (new)

Sunflower | 22 comments I have never even heard of this book, but it's available on Kindle for PC, so have downloaded and look forward to reading it and finding out why it is on the list.(not till March, though!)


toria (vikz writes) (victoriavikzwrites) My copy just arrived from amazon. So, I hope to be reading it soon.


message 4: by LynnB (new)

LynnB I went out yesterday and bought it in the Dover Thrift edition (unabridged), which my local bookstore carries -- it was only $3. Love their prices on classics! Will be starting on it soon.


message 5: by Sunflower (new)

Sunflower | 22 comments Have just finished this. I don't really think it belongs in the 100 Best, but then I wasn't consulted when they decided! It is well written, and Lily Bart is a product of her times, but I couldn't help but feel (with the advantage of about 100 years of social change on my side) that she could have stood up for herself better.


message 6: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie I wrote a 20 page paper on Lily Bart in college if anyone wants to further their reading experience. ;)


message 7: by Sunflower (new)

Sunflower | 22 comments Why did she call it the House of Mirth? I didn't think there was much for poor Lily to be mirthful about.


message 8: by Gail (last edited Mar 20, 2010 08:00AM) (new)

Gail Wharton was a very sophisticated woman who had an odd sense of humor, so I think that was the point of the title, Sunflower---that there was no mirth for Lily or indeed anyone in that book. Wharton sometimes favored ironic titles. Another example would be The Age of Innocence, an excellent novel in which there is not one innocent character.


message 9: by Sunflower (new)

Sunflower | 22 comments In that case it could also have been the House of Happy Endings, the House of Undying Love, the House of Perfect Marriages. That's why I wondered why Mirth in particular?


message 10: by Gail (last edited Mar 21, 2010 01:10PM) (new)

Gail I see your point. According to Wikipedia, not always the most reliable source, but probably so in this case, the title derives from the Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 7, verse 4:
"The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."

Also according to W., the original or working title was A Moment's Ornament, which is an allusion to a poem by Wordsworth entitled "She was a Phantom of Delight". That seems like a much sadder title to me, and after reading the poem, a very apt title for the novel.

ETA some pertinent lines from the poem:

She was a Phantom of delight
When first she gleam'd upon my sight;
A lovely apparition, sent
To be a moment's ornament.
...
A creature not too bright or good
For human natures' daily food,
For transient sorrows, simple wiles,
Praise, blame, love, kisses, tears and smiles.


message 11: by Sunflower (new)

Sunflower | 22 comments Excellent! I think the Book of Ecclesiastes is the answer-that rings true for me. Thanks!


message 12: by LynnB (new)

LynnB Gail wrote: "...from the Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 7, verse 4: "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth." "

Thanks for posting that. I'm just starting the book and wondered about the title.


message 13: by Gail (new)

Gail You're welcome...I hadn't known it either, until Sunflower asked the question, although I read the book a couple of years ago. I found House of Mirth to be a quite depressing, but very realistic for its time, book. Lily's story is just sad.


message 14: by LynnB (new)

LynnB Gail wrote: "According to Wikipedia, not always the most reliable source, but probably so in this case, the title derives from the Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 7, verse 4: "The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."

I find my copy of the book has a little blurb about the author and background on her writing of the book --it gives this same quote from Ecclesiastes. Edith Wharton was, herself, of the inner circle of New York society and so wrote as an insider. Her family disapproved of her writing career -- the goal at the time was to "marry rich".

It gives a quote from Edith Wharton which seems to sum it all up - "...a frivolous society can acquire dramatic significance only through what its frivolity destroys. Its tragic implication lies in its power of debasing people and ideals. The answer, in short, was my heroine, Lily Bart."


message 15: by LynnB (new)

LynnB I just finished the book. It was such a sad ending for everyone...and her rich friends still didn't seem to pull out of their self-absorption. I give it 4 stars.


message 16: by Willis (new)

Willis | 27 comments Question that's been bothering me: why does Lily owe Trenor money? I understand that she asked him to invest for her, an undertaking beneath her gender/class, but why when she won't reciprocate his advances does she owe him the money back - I'm just not clear on how that works. Even if it's a misunderstanding and he was paying her to 'keep' her, so to speak, how is it that he expects the money back, and that she believes she owes it??? . . . help!


message 17: by Sunflower (last edited Apr 23, 2010 07:13PM) (new)

Sunflower | 22 comments It's a few weeks now since I read it, but my understanding was that Lily thought that the money was from an investment, but she later finds out that he has just been giving it to her. This puts her in the same category as the other woman he gave money to (forget the name) who because of that is an object of contempt for Trenor's wife, who has discussed this with Lily. Lily wants her self-esteem and independence back, therefore she feels she has to return the money, which unfortunately she has already spent.


message 18: by LynnB (new)

LynnB Sunflower wrote: "It's a few weeks now since I read it, but my understanding was that Lily thought that the money was from an investment, but she later finds out that he has just been giving it to her. This puts her..."

That's pretty much my understanding of it, too.


message 19: by Willis (new)

Willis | 27 comments Thanks, yeah, I guess that makes the most sense; still a bit confused that even under that scenario that Trenor (and Lily) would consider it a debt expected to be repaid . . .


message 20: by Gail (new)

Gail If she didn't repay it, then her affection would have been paid for, making her a kept woman. Unacceptable at the time.


message 21: by LynnB (new)

LynnB It left her in his debt and I think she felt he could "call back" the favor at sometime in the future and she didn't want that connection.


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