An immensely popular bestseller upon its publication in 1905, The House of Mirth was Edith Wharton’s first great novel. Set among the elegant brownstones of New York City and opulent country houses like gracious Bellomont on the Hudson, the novel creates a satiric portrayal of what Wharton herself called “a society of irresponsible pleasure-seekers” with a precision comparable to that of Proust. And her brilliant and complex characterization of the doomed Lily Bart, whose stunning beauty and dependence on marriage for economic survival reduce her to a decorative object, becomes an incisive commentary on the nature and status of women in that society. From her tragic attraction to bachelor lawyer Lawrence Selden to her desperate relationship with social-climbing Rosedale, 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.” For it is Lily’s very specialness that threatens the elegance and fulfillment she seeks in life. Along with the author’s other masterpiece, The Age of Innocence, this novel claims a place among the finest American novels of manners.
About the Author
Edith Wharton (1862-1937), American novelist and short-story writer, was born in New York City. Strongly influenced by Henry James, she is best known for her subtle and su-perbly crafted studies of the tragedies and ironies in the lives of members of middle-class and artistocratic New York soci-ety in the the nineteenth century. She was educated in New York and Europe, and married Edward Wharton, a Boston banker, in 1885. When her husband became mentally ill, she cared for him until 1913, when she settled permanently in France and divorced him. Among her best and most characteristic works are The House of Mirth (1905) and The Age of Innocence (1920), for which she received a Pultizer prize.
"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."—The New York Times