In 1905, Edith Wharton introduced the world to a new heroine: Lily Bart. Lily is the heroine of The House Of Mirth, Edith Wharton’s commentary of the lives of women who were part of the upper classes in the early 20th century.
Lily is the product of her time. When the novel starts, she is at the height of her power. She has a small income, however, she is very well connected and hopes to receiving an inheritance from her aunt. At the age of 29, Lily knows that she has to marry. She turns down several proposals while having a will they or won’t they flirtation with Lawrence Selden, a barrister with whom marriage is out of the question.
Due to a gambling debt, she accepts money from a friend’s husband who wants more than a thank you for his generosity. Her reputation and her income soon fall. She looses her circle of friends and is forced to find other ways to survive.
I saw the movie last month, I finally got my hands on a copy of the book yesterday. I loved the movie and I love this book. Ms. Wharton’s sharp commentary on the very shallow values that dictated society at that time is absolutely perfect. What I also love is that this book makes the perfect case for why Feminism is still needed.
I get the feeling that if Lily had lived in our time, she would have thrived and survived. But, she is from high society in 1905, when an upper class woman’s only choice of profession was that of wife and mother.
I highly recommend this book.