Tag Archives: 19th century

The House of Mirth

I return to my comfort zone. Another classic: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. Oddly enough, I was not grasping at the chance to read another work of Wharton’s since I did not care for the last novel of hers I read, Summer. By happenstance, I was listening to a dicussion of Wharton’s 1905 novel on WYNC’s weekend segment, Studio 360, and thought the premise sounded interesting: 29 year-old, umarried woman in 1890s New York society with limited means and expensive tastes.

Lily Bart is a real product of the society in which she is raised and though the New York of the late nineteenth century has passed in the material sense, its social scruples remain the same. Women, single and married, vie cattily for the attention of the irresponsible and handsome while their husbands seek solace in the sympathy of any young thing who will lend them an ear and flatter their wounded egos. Those who see human failings for what they really are become the less colorful, jaded, or tragic characters.

Wharton shows as a string command of language and makes it a point to show-off her love of French wherever possible. However, it’s her insights into the mind and its emotional faculties which interest me most: “It is less mortifying to believe one’s self unpopular than insignificant, and vanity prefers to assume that indifference is a latent form of unfriendliness” (123). Indeed. Small obervances such as this are littered throughout and distributed among the characters giving the reader a nice little microcosm of people general.

My personal favorite of these asides may, perhaps, represent the crux of the novel. When Lily asks social-climber Simon Rosedale whether he believes truth makes a difference he states simply, “I believe it does in novels, but I’m certain it don’t in real life” (256).

I downloaded The House of Mirth for free on iBooks.

The Passionate Friends

Once again a movie inspires me to read a book. The Passionate Friends by H.G. Wells was made into a number of film adaptations, apparantly. I saw the 1949 version directed by David Lean which changes the ending of the original novel considerably (Oddly enough, I detected this as I was watching the ending of the film. The whole of the plot seems to build up to nothing.) Wanting to know more than what the Wikipedia article could offer me, I downloaded the book on my Nook and found the perfect time to read it while traveling last week.

Aside from the romance novel-esque sounding title, I think it was a good read overall. Wells tells the story of Stephen Stratton, a middle-class son of a clergyman, and Mary Christian, a young and rich society debutant. A couple whose star-crossed romance never quite fulfills itself in the course of their lives. If you read the book for the “passionate” aspect of it you may be interested to find that it does not lie so much in the love story as in the politics of the late 19th and early 20th century. Stephen and Mary are veritable mouth pieces for Well’s opinions not only on the changing views of religion, but science, social justice, international relations, and the treatment of women.

Granted, one can get lost in the author’s diatribes about the failings of humanity, so much so that it makes the idea that the entire novel is a letter to Stephen’s son seem rather silly. However, as a microcosm of what may have been running through the minds of many British subjects at the turn of the century, just before the outbreak of the first world war, it is fascinating and suprisingly modern in tone.

The Passionate Friends is available as a FREE download on iTunes and $0.99 on the Nook, and probably available at your public library.