The House of Mirth

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What to expect

Set among the elegant brownstones and opulent country houses of turn-of-the-century upper-class New York, Edith Wharton’s first great novel is a precise, satiric portrayal of what the author herself called “a society of irresponsible pleasure-seekers.” Her brilliantly complex characterization of the doomed Lily Bart, whose stunning beauty and dependence on marriage for economic survival reduce her to a decorative object, is an incisive commentary on the status of women in that society. Lily is all too much a product of the world indicated by the title, a phrase taken from Ecclesiastes: “The heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” From her tragic attraction to bachelor lawyer Lawrence Seldon to her desperate relationship with the social-climbing Rosedale, it is Lily’s very specialness that threatens the fulfillment she seeks in life.

Time after time, Lily fails to make the ultimate move, to abandon the possibility of a greater love and enter into a mercenary union. This masterful novel from one of literature’s greatest voices is a tragedy of money, morality, and missed opportunity.

Critics Review

  • “A tragedy of our modern life, in which the relentlessness of what men used to call Fate and esteem, in their ignorance, a power beyond their control, is as vividly set forth as ever it was by Aeschylus or Shakespeare.”

    New York Times
  • “Perhaps the finest study of American social life, certainly the strongest and most artistic novel of the year.”

    San Francisco Chronicle, 1905
  • “Wharton is mercilessly frank as she chronicles Lily’s fall from grace, contrasting psychological insights with descriptions of external effects…Wharton shows us exactly how women like Lily could be smothered by the upper reaches of society, where individual tragedies are easily subsumed by the current of other people lives.”

    Guardian (London)
  • “Wharton’s characters leap out from the pages and…become very real. You know their hearts, souls and yearnings, and the price they pay for those yearnings.”

    San Francisco Examiner
  • “The truly marvelous narration of Anna Fields. She perfectly captures Lily and a largish cast, discriminating among them with such skill that you’ll believe you’re hearing a full-cast recording. Wharton’s book, though dated, is fine, and Fields makes it even finer. Winner of the AudioFile Earphones Award.”

  • “Fields’ rendition vivifies the character in such a way that they become lifelong companions in one’s mind.”


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