(E-)Book Read! THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton
Author: Edith Wharton
Publication date: 1905
Original Language: English
Read in: English
Number of Pages: 366
Where From: Feedbooks
First sentence: “Selden paused in surprise.”
P. 99: “The stir of the pulses which his nearness always ????? was increased by a slight sense of constraint.”
Last sentence: “He knelt by the bed and bent over her, draining their last moment to its lees; and in the silence there passed between them the word which made all clear.”
From Wikipedia: The House of Mirth tells the story of Lily Bart, a woman who is torn between her desire for luxurious living and a relationship based on mutual respect and love. She sabotages all her possible chances for a wealthy marriage, loses the esteem of her social circle, and dies young, poor, and alone.
Lily is initially of good social standing and rejects several offers of advantageous marriage. She then damages her standing by accepting an invitation to Lawrence Selden’s private rooms. Lily’s social standing erodes further when her friend Judy Trenor’s husband Gus gives Lily a large sum of money. Lily innocently accepts the money, believing that it is the return on investments he supposedly made for her. The rumors of this transaction, and of her mysterious visit to Gus in his city residence crack her social standing further.
To escape the rumours and gossip, she accepts an invitation from Bertha Dorset to join her and her husband, George, on a cruise of Europe aboard their yacht the Sabrina. Unfortunately, while aboard the yacht, Bertha accuses Lily of adultery with George in order to shift societal attention from Bertha’s own infidelity with poet Ned Silverton. The ensuing scandal ruins Lily, leading her friends to abandon her and Aunt Peniston to disinherit her.
Lily descends the social strata, working as a personal secretary until Bertha sabotages her position by turning her employers against her. Lily then takes a job as social secretary for a disreputable woman, but resigns after Selden comes to rescue her from complete infamy. She then works in a millinery, but produces poorly and is let go at the end of the season. Simon Rosedale, the Jewish suitor who had proposed marriage to her when she was higher on the social scale tries to rescue her, but she is unwilling to meet his terms: to use love letters she bought which prove the affair Bertha Dorset and Selden had years earlier. Lily refrains for sake of Selden’s reputation, and secretly burns the letters when she visits Selden for one last time. Eventually Lily receives her $10,000 inheritance, which she uses to pay her debt to Trenor. Lily dies from an overdose, possibly accidental, of the sleeping draught to which she had become addicted. Hours later Selden comes to propose to her, but finds she has died. Only then is he able to be close to her in a way he never was able to when she was living and admit his true love for her.
Lily is a snobbish, egotistic and even narcissistic person, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for her and admire her at the same time because, although she was tempted more than once to take the easy way out of her problems, she never did. This meant she was able to keep the little self-respect that was left to her after all her ordeals.
Wharton’s language is beautiful, and evokes a time and period that is hard for someone of our liberal society to understand.
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