January Classic Challenge: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

One of my goals for this year is reading one classic book a month. I feel like I am constantly pushing old books off my TBR as so many new ones are published each year! By reading a classic a month, I hope to gain a better understanding for the literature that has shaped so many other works throughout the years.

My pick for January was:

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.

Rating: 4 Stars

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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 thirty, her foothold becomes precarious; a poor girl with expensive tastes, she needs a husband to preserve her social standing and to maintain her in the luxury she has come to expect. Whilst many have sought her, something – fastidiousness or integrity- prevents her from making a ‘suitable’ match.

Let me start off with this novel is divided into two “Books” like many older works are. Throughout the entirety of Book I, the plot seemed a little slow for me. I enjoyed this section for what it was, a critique of women’s rights in the early 20th century. While I felt horrible for Lily and her situation, attempting to find a marriage for money because she had little for herself, I still cringed at some of the decisions she made (even if the author’s point was that she had few other options). Overall I was underwhelmed by this first half and was dreading having to slug through the second portion, especially because it took me five days to get that far.

While Book II started off slowly, the action quickly picked up with Lily facing scandals abroad and attempting to pick up the pieces of her life while holding on to the strict morals everyone else believes she lacks. I’ll admit, I started crying twice during this section when faced with Lily’s slide into poverty while her former friends looked on. It was during this time that Lily’s true strength became more apparent, as she worked to pay off money loaned to her based on her own morals. While I knew how the book ended before hand, I was still crying by the end

It was very easy to forget that the description of the narrators’ thoughts were not always reliable. In many cases, Lily viewed situations in more rosy a light than they deserved, which I felt was very apparent in her description of Lawrence Selden. Selden provides a wonderful foil to Lily, representing what she could have been had she been a man. She herself notes on many occasions the freedom which she could have had to move about society and have affairs such as he did. Towards the end I came to detest him and his decisions. Although he constantly denounced the feelings of high society, and Lily almost hero worshiped him for his protestations, almost all his decisions regarding his relationships stemmed from societal whims.

This book averaged to 4 STARS. Book I was a 2 star read, but Book II redeemed the entirety of it, bringing up the overall rating.

What challenges are you hoping to complete this year?

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One thought on “January Classic Challenge: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

  1. Pingback: Making a TBR Jar

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