Friday, June 14, 2013

Book review: The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews.

First published in 1905, The House of Mirth shocked the New York society it so deftly chronicles, portraying the moral, social, and economic restraints on a woman who dared to claim the privileges of marriage without assuming the responsibilities. Lily Bart, beautiful, witty, and sophisticated, is accepted by "old money" and courted by the growing tribe of nouveaux riches. But as she nears 30, her foothold becomes precarious; a poor girl with expensive tastes, she needs a husband to preserve her social standing and to maintain her life in the luxury she has come to expect. While many have sought her, something—fastidiousness or integrity—prevents her from making a "suitable" match.

To me, this book was a mix of Jane Austen and Mean Girls. Really. Even though each of these three things (Jane Austen's writing, the book's writing, and Mean Girls) happened with a hundred years almost between each.

The House of Mirth reminds me of Austen's book Emma in a couple ways: one, both are about society -- high society of the time, to be specific, and about making appropriate matches, according to status, mostly. Secondly, because I'm not sure the main character is entirely likeable. With Emma, I know that Austen did this on purpose. With Lily, the main character in  The House of Mirth, I'm not sure.

Lily is a girl with expensive taste. She likes to spend time with folks with much more money than she has, she spends money she doesn't have, and she gets herself into sticky situations with other people's husbands. She is also VERY aware of her own attractiveness and is very manipulative of the effect her beauty and charm have on people. Just when I was getting to like her, she'd talk about how beautiful she was again, and there it went.

And then there's the Mean Girls part. Like I said, Lily gets herself into a couple tricky situations with other people's husbands. Through the repercussions of these incidents, we see the many sides of society life: the cheating, the manipulation, and where you go when you fall from grace.

The House of Mirth shows the many sides of society life in the early 20th century -- the good, the bad and the ugly. It was a bit of a slow read, as many society books are (more visiting with other people and descriptions of parties than actual action) but super fascinating -- and it took turns I was not expecting. I gave it four stars on Goodreads! Thank you to Pat's dad for the book!!

Have any of you read The House of Mirth or books like it? I love to read books like this now and then!


Katrin said...

I just put it on my wishlist! Sounds pretty interesting! Thanks for the review!

Amanda said...

I feel like I've definitely read this one, but I can't remember for sure. So that's lame. I do like reading older classics, though. Emma is one of my favorites.


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