Life inThe House of Mirth is no laughing matter

The House of Mirth is a Jane Austen plot set in 1900’s New York City in which everything goes wrong.

Like Miss Eliza Bennett, Lily Bart must marry money soon.


The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1905, 1951. 329 pp. My grade: A.


Beautiful and witty, Lily is already 29, living on the charity of an aunt who dislikes her, and racking up debts for her bridge losses.

Lily’s choice would be bachelor lawyer Lawrence Seldon, but they both know he hasn’t enough money to satisfy her.
Lily examines a crowd of potential husbands from beneath her parasol.

Lily hooks one of the city’s most eligible bachelors, but when it’s time to reel him in, she can’t bear the thought of living with him.

She vamps a friend’s husband into investing money for her—his money, not hers—and when he wants payment of her gambling debts in services, she bolts.

Bertha Dorset invites Lily on their yacht, then dumps her in Europe, giving friends the impression Lily had been having an affair with her husband.

Within two years, Lily is dead in a rooming house.

Edith Wharton’s characters are more complex and self-aware than Austen’s, but without their practicality and willingness to make do.

New York is as rigid a society as Austen’s England, only far more savage.

Instead of social snubs, Wharton’s characters administer body blows.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda Aragoni

I read. I write. I think. I make big ideas simple. I help teachers teach expository writing to teens and adults. In my free time, I read and review old novels.

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