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The House of Mirth Reissue Edition, Kindle Edition
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|Kindle, 1 July 1997||
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"A tragedy of our modern life, in which the relentlessness of what men used to call Fate and esteem, in their ignorance, a power beyond their control, is as vividly set forth as ever it was by Aeschylus or Shakespeare."-- "New York Times"
"Fields' rendition vivifies the character in such a way that they become lifelong companions in one's mind."-- "Booklist"
"Lily's misadventures create a shifting mix of poignancy, sadness, exhilaration, pity, even fear--for her and for the listener, who is well served in this audiobook by the truly marvelous narration of Anna Fields. She perfectly captures Lily and a largish cast, discriminating among them with such skill that you'll believe you're hearing a full-cast recording."-- "AudioFile"
"The performance by Fields is a perfect balance of energy and subtlety, lending and authenticity that is in keeping with Wharton's vibrant prose style."-- "Kliatt"
"Wharton's characters leap out from the pages and...become very real. You know their hearts, souls and yearnings, and the price they pay for those yearnings."-- "San Francisco Examiner"
Perhaps the finest study of American social life, certainly the strongest and most artistic novel of the year.-- "San Francisco Chronicle, 1905"
Wharton is mercilessly frank as she chronicles Lily's fall from grace, contrasting psychological insights with descriptions of external effects...Wharton shows us exactly how women like Lily could be smothered by the upper reaches of society, where individual tragedies are easily subsumed by the current of other people lives.-- "Guardian (London)" --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- ASIN : B002ZJCQR4
- Publisher : Scribner; Reissue edition (1 July 1997)
- Language : English
- File size : 2669 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 460 pages
- Customer Reviews:
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Top review from Australia
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And nobody chronicled them better than Edith Wharton, who spun exquisitely barbed novels out of the social clashes of the late nineteenth century. "The House of Mirth" is one of her darker stories, where scandals and lack of conformity trigger a tragic downward spiral for a vibrant woman.
Like most not-so-rich women, Lily Bart is on the prowl for a marriage to keep her in luxury and affluent circles. What's more, she has a rapid intellect and striking looks, but she is also a habitual liar who defies society's strictures (she gambles and smokes). Her only friend is Lawrence Seldon, but she is determined not to marry for love alone.
Unfortunately, her schemes and plans start to collapse -- her adoring suitors either aren't rich enough, or her independent spirit sends her off. Her desperation becomes even more intense as she finds herself in the thick of a scandal, spun up by a malicious society matron to cover up her own affair. With her reputation in ruins, Lily's life spirals down into a new life of unemployment, poverty, and the final tragedy.
Edith Wharton always paid a lot of attention to a woman's restricted life in the Gilded Age, and how scandals, unconventionality and society's hypocrisy could ruin them. But "The House of Mirth" pays more attention to this than most -- it's a bleakly realistic story, unflinchingly showing Lily's slow descent into miserable loneliness.
Despite that, Wharton's writing is pure flowering poetry with a knack for evocation ("Her small pale face seemed the mere setting of a pair of dark exaggerated eyes"), and has a sensual quality with all the descriptions of silks, plants, soft light and luxurious mansions. And she vividly portrays the upper echelons of New York society at the time -- affairs, gossip and gilded salons -- as well as the restricted lives of women
But Wharton is just as capable of describing the darker, sadder world that Lily falls into ("... blurred the gaunt roof-lines, threw a mauve veil over the discouraging perspective of the side streets"). Sedoesn't pull any punches with the tragic finale, which has a distinct air of inevitability about it -- no fairy-tale last-minute save by a Prince Charming.
Lily starts out the book as a glimmering satellite of society, who can be rather selfish and cruel, but who nevertheless gains some sympathy for her terrible plight. The cruel, glittering society of the time had no room for women who stood outside the lines, especially if they tried to lie at all the wrong times. And so we see poor Lily, driven into miserable poverty and drug addiction.
"The House of Mirth" is anything but mirthful -- it's the study of a woman's slow downfall, and the cruel society that left her friendless and disgraced. Haunting and vivid.
Top reviews from other countries
On the eligible but tedious bachelor, Percy Gryce: ‘Mr. Gryce was like a merchant whose warehouses are crammed with an unmarketable commodity.’
On Lily’s aunt, Mrs Peniston: ‘To attempt to bring her into active relation with life was like tugging at a piece of furniture which has been screwed to the floor.’
‘It was the “simple country wedding” to which guests are conveyed in special trains, and from which the hordes of the uninvited have to be fended off by the intervention of the police.’
‘Lily presently saw Mrs. Bry cleaving her determined way through the doors, and, in the broad wake she left, the light figure of Mrs. Fisher bobbing after her like a row-boat at the stern of a tug.’
And I have to mention the elegance of the writing that can convey so much in just a few sentences. For example, as Lily observes those she has regarded as friends: ‘That very afternoon they had seemed full of brilliant qualities; now she saw that they were merely dull in a loud way. Under the glitter of their opportunities she saw the poverty of their achievement.’
Throughout the book, my sympathy was always with Lily and the situation she finds herself in. Yes, she has a role which is largely confined to being an ‘adornment’ to the social scene. However, I admired her determination to use the gifts she has been given, even if that does involve a degree of manipulation. Unfortunately, an entirely innocent action and a chance meeting set in motion a chain of events that put Lily in the power of others, risking her future happiness. Lily believes her beauty allows her to manipulate men but, sadly, she finds it is she who is being manipulated because of a mistake and the need to maintain her social status because of her (relative) poverty.
It transpires that navigating the social scene is akin to a game of snakes and ladders. Working your way up takes time, requires skill in order to cultivate contacts and involves being seen in the right places with the right people. ‘She had been fashioned to adorn and delight; to what other end does nature round the rose-leaf and paint the humming-bird’s breast? And was it her fault that the purely decorative mission is less easily and harmoniously fulfilled among social beings than in the world of nature?’ However, one misstep, one troublesome rumour or item of mischievous gossip and you can slide down very quickly. ‘Lily had the doomed sense of the castaway who has signalled in vain to fleeing sails.’
Very few of the characters in the book come out well. So-called friends (I’m looking at you, Mrs. Fisher) prove to be anything but in Lily’s hour of need – because they are too timid, too afraid of what others will say or possess ulterior motives.
I’ll confess, I was unprepared for the impact the ending had on me. Part of me could understand why Lily did what she did and part of me wished she had found the strength to take another course. The romantic in me wanted another outcome altogether which, I’ll admit, would not have been true to the spirit of what the author was trying to communicate in the book. Call me an old softy.
This will definitely not be the last book by Edith Wharton I read. What an amazing author to have discovered; even more amazing when you realise The House of Mirth was Wharton’s first published novel.
Here then we meet Lily Bart, who when growing up was of a wealthy enough family, her mother always taking her on holidays to Europe and so on. But then the father, who seems to work all the time to support his wife and daughter goes bust, and soon dies and this is followed by her mother. An orphan so she is brought up then by her aunt. Lily has a problem though as she was initially brought up and intended to be the sparkling socialite that she has now been robbed from becoming, and at twenty-nine is really in need of a good husband, or that is what was considered at the time.
Of course, Americans are keen on telling us all that there is no class structure as such in their country, but of course this is not quite true, it is just structured differently to ours. Titles and such pomp do not play a part, but money and success do, as well as having connections and a face that fits. Lily like everyone else is expected to follow the conventions of the period, by hooking an eligible male, as well as to perpetuate the snobbery that goes on. She does have someone who would be really good for her in some respects, although like her he is not exactly wealthy, there is also someone who is more than wealthy, and wants her because as a Jew he needs to have someone of the social elite to be seen as respectable.
For Miss Bart though, she starts to realise that if you want to live life on your own terms the establishment of New York will reject you. It is into this world that Lily finds herself drifting, after all she has debts, has been compromised unintentionally, and is in a feud of sorts with another woman of her class.
Here then Edith Wharton combines satire with the novel of manners to create something that was very true of the period, and indeed to a certain extent still true in many ways of today’s world. The genre which we recognise as a novel of manners was of course dominated by the British, after all just think of Jane Austen and others. By transposing this to America and showing that there is a class system of sorts, so an extra layer of realism is added, and we are shown how certain sections of society behave, and indeed do still so act. At the end of the book, we are left to decide for ourselves how much of what happens to Lily is her own fault, and how much is down to others.
Beautifully written and perceptively observed, Edith Wharton's story of New York society and the lives of the rich and idle, juxtaposed with the lot of the much less wealthy and those who fall by the wayside, makes for a compelling read. Aside from the story's main protagonists, this novel is filled with a whole cast of interesting characters and is it easy to become drawn right into Lily Barton's life and watch her as she travels towards her downfall. Although, as bystanders, we can see the mistakes Lily is making and we may become exasperated with her for her foolhardiness, Lily is not as shallow as she initially seems, she does have scruples and she avoids taking others down with her, and the reader (or this one anyhow) feels for her in her predicament. First published in 1905 and one of Edith Wharton's best novels, this is a poignant and resonant story and one to read, to think about and to then put back in the bookcase to read again later. Recommended.
Lily looks to the future and sees her life narrowing. Early in the book she is on the verge of marrying a fabulously rich man, only to turn away at the last moment because she doesn’t love this boring mummy’s boy. She also had the chance to marry a middling prosperous lawyer, who she does love, only to turn her back on that idea as well. After making these decisions, a general tendency to contrariness hardens into a firm determination to escape her fate. When problems created by others damage her prospects, Lily throws a few spanners of her own in the works. She is seemingly incapable of allowing herself to follow her natural course, whether this course is marriage to a rich man, marriage to a man she loves, the well paid life of a social fixer, or even a career as the owner of an elegant hat boutique. Whenever a course opens up, Lily helps shut it down. She wants to escape the social machine of which she is a part, only to find herself in a different part of the same machine. There are those who wear fancy hats, and there are those who make fancy hats for those that wear them. Both are part of the same mechanism.
So, on the positive side, this is a story which feels universal in the way it considers freedom and fate. On a less positive note, the book was a frustrating read, as Lily trips herself up over and over again. Then there is the voice telling her story, which for all its apparent freedom to look down on flawed human characters, has a few flaws and prejudices of its own. This waspish author voice is prone to switching between character points of view with confusing suddenness. I also found myself feeling distinctly uneasy towards the beginning of the book, reading the stereotyped portrayal of Jewish businessman, Simon Rosedale:
“a plump rosy man of the blond Jewish type, with smart London clothes fitting him like upholstery, and small sidelong eyes which gave him the air of appraising people as if they were bric a brac.”
I wondered if this was supposed to be Lily’s point of view, but as I say, point of view is not stable in this book, and remains ultimately with the author. This voice portrays many of her characters in an unflattering light, but does not otherwise link a specific heritage with human failings. So bringing up a Jewish heritage in relation to an individual’s shortcomings felt jarring. Even though later in the book he becomes a somewhat more sympathetic character, the portrayal of Rosedale still left a bad taste. I know we are reading about a different time with different attitudes, but there is this odd feeling that a point of view which aspires to seeing the weakness in others has blind spots of its own.
Ultimately for me, The House of Mirth was like being in the company of an unpredictable Greek goddess. This deity has the power to flit about over the lower human world and make some profound observations in poetic language, while also displaying a rather human and irrational partiality for some people over others.