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.