Tag Archives: The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth - Edith WhartonThe House of Mirth – Edith Wharton
Girlebooks, Originally published: 1905
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There are qualities to The House of Mirth that reminded me of other books around the theme of single women at the turn of the century, such as Thank Heaven FastingConsequencesThe Third Miss SymonsHow do you survive as a girl who is unmarried, and yet brought up for the exact purpose of marriage and nothing else? How to navigate the world of social conventions, of dos and don’ts for women? And how to deal by the time you are relegated to the sidelines of society because you are considered of unmarriageable age or reputation?

Some might call these books bleak. Others might complain about the lack of power in these girls and the unlikeability of the main characters. For me, the themes, characterisation, the painful realism are what made me love Thank Heaven Fasting and Consequences. It is what made me raise my hopes for The House of Mirth to, perhaps, unrealistic heights. I had a more complicated relationship with Wharton’s novel, and with its main character Lily Bart than I had with the books by E.M. Delafield, although it far outranks The Third Miss Symons. Look, perhaps Delafield style just suits me a little better. Perhaps I treated The House of Mirth unfairly by constantly comparing it to the books I had previously read. It is not that I did not enjoy The House of Mirth, or that I did not absolutely love parts of it. By the end it had wholly convinced me. It is just that it would be unfair not to mention my complicated relationship with other parts of the book.

Lily Bart does not lack agency like some might complain Alex Clare and Monica Ingram lack it. She does not subdue to circumstances, or at least, she holds out a little longer. She makes a lot of choices, for herself,for what she believes are her own best interests. Perhaps this is where Lily became a complicated character to like for me. So often she makes decisions that you, as a reader, realise are not for her own good, that at times it becomes hard to believe in her naivety, and to not fall into the trap of condemning her like the society surrounding her might (but which is also always from hindsight, knowing more than Lily does because you have seen this type of story before). The story is written in a way that, for a long time, makes you question whether or not Wharton is condemning her as a “silly” girl, that shouldn’t have been allowed to make these decisions in the first place.. Of course, deep down there were challenges to that socially condemning narrative, and possibly the fact that it makes the reader uncomfortable to be – almost – pushed into the camp of society is what is meant to happen. The fact is: I did not always feel sympathetic towards Lily. And I wanted to feel more sympathetic towards her. Which for part of the story just left me feeling very very conflicted.

On top of that, I felt the story dragged a little in the middle part. In part, this might have been due to my own circumstances, as I had a very difficult time reading anything beyond 10 pages a night at the time when I read The House of Mirth. When I finally settled down and made myself read more than those 10 pages, I quickly fell into the pace of the story again. Nevertheless, I do think it was not all me. Some episodes of circumstances, of choices made that might have been better left undone, were a bit heavy on the details, might have been just a tad shorter to my taste.

But then the latter third of the story happened. And it shook me so deeply. I do not think I will be giving away much when I say that this is a tragic story. Because of that tragedy, being witness to the disintegration of Lily’s life out of prejudice, circumstance, unforgivingness.. my feelings of empathy suddenly leaped and made up for what I had felt was lacking through parts of the story. It cast The House of Mirth in a very different light for me. And whereas previously I feared having to come on here and proclaim to the online world that I knew I should have loved The House of Mirth, but couldn’t, I knew that I might face a much more difficult task: namely admitting that I couldn’t like parts of it, but that I irrevocably loved the ending, and that that ending made me reconsider much of what I felt had been lacking in some other parts. I can see how perhaps the very ending might turn others of (too melodramatic for some, perhaps?), but for me, the last third made the book.

I know, this post lacks any coherent exploration of themes, or any meaningful criticism. But I think Edith Wharton is famous enough, and probably discussed in many a high school, that I need not bother doing that (or perhaps I dare not? – I feel bad enough about saying that I felt some parts of the book dragged a little). If the themes in the first paragraph interest you, if fiction exploring the position of women at the beginning of the twentieth century is of interest to you, if you like books that critique social circumstances, I think you should probably read this. I won’t say you’ll definitely like it, because I know my own feelings about it are all over the place, but I definitely think it is worth a try.

Other Opinions: So, so many.

Cross-posted to the Project Gutenberg Project blog.

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Thursday Tea: Slow Reading

thursdaytea-newThe books (or: which titles I have not been reading):  Remember when last week I posted how I had finished my first book for Long-Awaited Reads Month in under a day, and how I could not wait to get started on my next two booksThe Brides of Rollrock Island and The House of Mirth? Well.. I was excited, and I have been enjoying both books (although Lanagan’s more, but that doesn’t surprise me). The thing is.. working life started again, with social events keeping me up until late at night each evening so far this week. I was lucky to find 15 minutes to read each day, which really, feels like too little. Luckily, I have tonight off, and have been reading for *gasp* over an hour! I really miss being home and settling down with myself for a while and getting lost in a different world.

Anyway. This past week was eventful. I got my eyes checked and it turns out I am in desperate need of new glasses. Just as I was trying to find a new frame (have I mentioned that I hate the part where you have to decide on a frame that you will be wearing every day for the upcoming two years. Finding clothes I feel comfortable in is hard enough and you only have to wear those once in a while), the whole city centre lost its electricity supply.. so that was that. I travelled to where my parents lived because I finally found an optician I liked and trusted.. I guess I will try again soon. Anyway, since finding out I need new glasses and that my left eye in particular doesn’t seem to see much of anything with my current glasses, I have suffered from headaches and continuous tiredness (I did that before but just thought it was the stress of starting a new job a few months ago).

On Monday, I had a nerve-wracking day because I was nominated for a thesis prize that would be awarded in the afternoon. I was not nervous about whether or not I would win (I didn’t really expect to and was proud enough to be nominated), but mostly the thought that if I did end up winning, I had to give a speech in front of the whole faculty, wasn’t very conducive to my peace of mind. In the end, I did win (yay!) and didn’t need to speech, so I had nothing to worry about except still having a lot of attention focused on me that afternoon (I really need to learn to deal with that!).

On Tuesday I went to see Life of Pi in theatres directly out of work, and afterwards was too tired to do anything but sleep. (Have any of you seen it? How did you like it? I’d love to discuss!) And yesterday, I went to a modern ballet class with a colleague to see whether or not we want to take it during the upcoming semester, and afterwards I met up with friends for a few drinks. It was wonderful to dance again, although the formerly sprained ankle still means I have much difficulty keeping my balance, and it’s nice to spent time with kind co-workers outside of “office hours”.

Anyway, as for reading.. Hopefully I will do some more of that during the weekend. I’m almost done with The Brides of Rollrock Island. It is stunning. And there’s so much in there that I’m half afraid I will shrink from writing about it again, just like I did with the beautiful Tender Morsels.

What are you reading today?

Oh, right! As this is Thursday Tea (which I realise I have conveniently kidnapped by babbling on about personal issues), I need to tell you which tea I’m drinking. It’s Lipton’s Green Tea with Jasmine Petals. The weather has been unseasonably soft around here (though very wet), and Jasmine Tea just suits the feel of this “warmth” (yay, 10 degrees celsius!) I’ve been told it’s going to become cold from tomorrow onwards, so I guess next week will find me drinking lots of chai tea.

Thursday Tea is a weekly meme organised by Anastasia of Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog.