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The House of Mirth, Book Review Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1220

Book Review

The novel “The House of Mirth” written by Edith Wharton in 1905 is the story of a young poor girl Lily Bart who in her struggle for a good marriage breaks the stereotypes of the high society and, therefore, is subject to a kind of ostracism.

The author herself belonged to the New-York aristocracy and being aware of its specific features could easily reveal the weak sides of its old social pattern with its cultural limitations and tight codes of contact. Edith Wharton saw the fall of the elegant and exquisite culture, the conventional moral, as well as the beginning of the new era of the bourgeois coarse pragmatism. These changes build up the background of the novel. In her book the writer means to compare these two opposite worlds and demonstrate the advantage of the old world over the new one. It should be also pointed out that it was typical of Edith Wharton to describe the events in the narrow perspective of the American reality, in other words, some kind of regionalism is peculiar to her.

Moreover, the author of the book, being a young writer, at some period of her life suffered nervous collapse, as it was extremely difficult for her to combine the roles of a writer and a wife. So, she paid much attention to the problem of gap between the social roles of people and their inner life.

In addition, Edith Wharton was an aristocratic woman who by the time of the writing the novel was about to divorce her husband and face the problems of loneliness, on the one hand, and the effect of malevolent people’s opinions, on the other hand. So, the problems unmarried women faced in high society were of Wharton’s current interest at that time.

The title of the novel is taken by Edith Wharton from Ecclesiastes: “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth” (2000). However, it does not mean that Lily Bart’s heart is the heart of a fool. It seems to be the author’s bitter irony. The society brought the main character of the novel in such a way that she had to accommodate herself to the requirements of the time. Thus, she is considered to be the victim of her time who had to sin against the laws of her own nature.

Nevertheless, Lily Bart is not declared to be a positive heroine. She seems to be an ordinary girl, miserable and beautiful at he same time. She is noble, but noble not enough to be aristocratic. She is cold and mercantile, but also not enough to become successful. Thus, she appears to be in the middle of all the virtues and evils which makes her rush about the things unable to take the right course. Her moral fall can be no justified, neither reproached, because the author gives such a true-life picture of life and characters that the reader can’t help understanding the reasons for the character’s thoughts and actions. It also should be noted that Lily Bart may have foreseen the tragic final of her life. However, she persisted in her relationships with Gus Trenor, as well as agreed to accompany the Dorsets on the cruise knowing her role there. She is thought to come consciously to the end being aware that it is inevitable for her to become an outcast or put her life at stake.

Lily Bart is not the only character who can help us trace the negative changes in the society. Moreover, she seems too be the least to blame, as she is shown to be the victim of her surroundings. The outstanding representative of this society is a vulgar banker – a snob who is the embodiment of such qualities as moneymaking, dissimulation and hypocrisy. Again, the characters like he prove the fact that there is no fools in Wharton’s novel – even if it seems that there are some, it is just a fiction made up by the characters themselves. Another example is George and Bertha Dorset who are absolutely indifferent to each other, as well as other people. They appear to be envious and greedy, spreading rumors about those who seem unsuitable to them. In addition, Lily Bart herself is well aware of the fact that there are no genuine feelings, true emotions it the world she wanted to belong to. She clearly understood tat the only person she can be open and honest with is Lawrence Selden. The relationships with all others meant gossip and pretense.

In the novel “The House of Mirth” there is a strong opposition of the world of money to the poor world. The evident representative of the latter one is a young lawyer Lawrence Selden. As bourgeois class begins to rule the world, all the areas of people’s life become dependent upon money and the only way up the social staircase may be only with the help of money. So, the protagonist of the novel, Lily Bart is standing between reach Percy Gryce, Bertha Dorset, the Trenors and her only friend Lawrence Selden, poor, but sincere and faithful. It becomes apparent that if Lily Bart had chosen to marry Lawrence Selden, she would have stayed alive, perhaps, poor, but happy.

Interesting is another aspect of social relationships of the time described. If compare Lily Bart to the character who found himself in the like situation – Lawrence Selden – one can notice that still there is difference between their attitudes to their bad financial state. The reason seems to be that they belong to different sexes. While the man, in case he is free of social stereotypes, could easily take his poverty, the woman could hardly bear it, at least because it was reproached by the people around. So, while men could allow themselves to feel free (one may admit that the absence of money gives a kind of freedom), women were forced to become ambitious enough to get enough money for decent life. If compared to men, it was the only way for women to feel free.

To conclude, in the novel “The House of Mirth” Edith Wharton pays much attention to the social circumstances that made the main character Lily Bart suffer greatly and die tragically in absolute poverty. It is evident that there is certain connection between the author’s life and her work, so it proves that the problems raised were really important to women of that time and, therefore, are important to be touched.

Works Cited

Arts Publications. (1995, Summer). The naturalism of Edith Wharton’s “House of Mirth.” Retrieved March 20, 2009, from    http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0403/is_n2_v41/ai_17861988

Reference Publiations. (1993, Summer). ‘The House of Mirth’ and Edith Wharton’s “Beyond!” Retrieved March 20, 2009, from http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb3362/is_n3_v72/ai_n28633514

The Expository Files. (2000, November). The House of Mourning. Retrieved March 20, 2009, from http://www.bible.ca/ef/expository-ecclesiastes-7-2-4.htm

The House of Mirth Study Guide. (2005-2006). Retrieved March 20, 2009, from ttp://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-housemirth/

The Literature Network. (2000-2009). Edith Wharton. Retrieved March 20, 2009, from http://www.online-literature.com/wharton/

Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. (2009). The House of Mirth Edith Wharton. Retrieved March 20, 2009, from http://www.enotes.com/twentieth-century-criticism/house-mirth-edith-wharton

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