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The House of Mirth
By Edith Wharton

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The House of Mirth

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The House of Mirth
By Edith Wharton
Transaction Large Print Edition
Transaction Publishers: 1999
ISBN: 1-56000-505-X
Genre: Fiction

Reviewed by Auggie Moore - October 8, 2007

The House of Mirth is social commentary at its best. In this morbidly comedic novel, Edith Wharton chronicles the life of Lily Bart, a well-born young woman who is severely handicapped by a lack of money. Nonetheless, she tries to pass herself off as the high born lady she was raised to be, all the time knowing that if the true state of her finances where known, she would plummet down the social ladder in record time.

Lily's sad state could be so easily corrected if only her love, Lawrence Selden, would marry her. For Lily, nearly 30 and still unwed, marriage to either a man with an acceptable social standing or a man of wealth is her only hope to retrain her place on the social ladder. Yet while she struggles to find such a husband, there is something within her that rebels against this socially dictated need. Lily wants to be her own person, yet her debts and falling social standing dictate that she marry well - and soon. Unfortunately, Lily is more like Selden than either one of them can imagine. This parity turns Selden against Lily, and he punishes her for deeds that he has also committed. Even worse, all the other possible suitors are so insipid that Lily cannot force herself to accept their proposals.

Throughout this eloquent novel, Wharton vividly describes life in the aristocratic environs of New York City in the late 19th and early parts of the 20th Century. All the while, graphically describing Lily's downward spiral from a highborn young lady, whose only concerns in life are what she would wear and with whom she would dine, to being nothing more that an out-of-work shop assistant whose can only find solace in Morpheus' embrace achieved through the use of drugs.

The House of Mirth is on par with Wharton's heralded book, The Age of Innocence (for which she won a Pulitzer), and like all her books, this one is filled with well-wrought, nuanced characters. While some of her characters are idealized versions of the nouveau riche who were reluctantly being admitted into high society, others are of the 'no longer politically correct' variety, such as Simon Rosedale. Simon is portrayed as a superficial, wealthy, social-climbing Jew, who would do almost anything to be accepted by 'polite' society, including marrying Lily. While distasteful in today's culture, in 1905, when this book was first published, it was an acceptable stereotype and it offers readers an authentic 'taste' of American mores at the time this book was written.

The House of Mirth is an unforgettable book that will remind you just how fickled fate can be, and just how easy it is to fall out of favor with the 'in group' when you do not conform to their standards. In short, The House of Mirth is a romantic comedy of manners, with a dark side! The House of Mirth is a gripping and unforgettable read, and after reading it, you will understand why Edith Wharton is considered to be one of the preeminent American novelists of the modern age.

This large print edition of The House of Mirth, from Transaction Publishers, is complete and unabridged and is printed in a 16-point font.

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