Friday, June 27, 2008

Edith Wharton: House of Mirth

So clearly, I'm reading out of turn again. This book has been sitting on my shelf forever, and ever, and I have this weird Barnes & Noble edition that I can't even find the ISBN for online, like it doesn't even exist, and it's heavy, and I keep moving it from house to house and never reading it, and I saw "The Age of Innocence" movie a couple months ago, so I finally figured, why the hell not. As I was reading "House of Mirth," I didn't realize that it wasn't the book that the movie I had seen was based on, till, oh, half way through. Either I am even dumber/denser than I thought, or Edith Wharton has written two very similar books. I'm going to go for both options.

This is a classic, and it should be read. Is it a Great Book (at least in the eyes of themacinator)? Probably not. It tells the story of a lady, Lily Bart, who is both the star of an obscenely wealthy and distinguished turn of the century social life in New York, and the disgrace of the same social circle. She is left virtually penniless (or what stands for penniless in her crowd) and has to rely on her beauty and charms- which she is graced with in abundance- to keep up with her set. This leads to scandal after scandal and her eventual falling out with multiple sets, including her family, her main set of friends, and eventually her new groups of friends. What makes the book slightly more complex- and therefore readable- is that Lily Bart (or the omniscient narrator) has enough sense to know that maybe there is more to life than the quest for the Richest Husband and the Best Dresses. However, these moments of clarity are brief and the plot goes back and forth (and back and forth and back and forth over and over and over and over again) between Lily jumping for joy at the thought that she's attaining what she wants, realizing she's never going to get over her debts, and thinking she doesn't want these things at all.

If I were a more romantic type, or inclined to care about white dresses and slender young things, "House of Mirth" probably would have pleased me more. However, I found this pre-feminist book a little disgusting and overboard. Lily's self-stated rare moments of introspection made her a little unlikeable, and really, her whole milieu was unlikeable as well. I'm glad I read Wharton, as a well read reader probably should have a book or two on her shelf, but I'm not ready to read the other two novels contained in my bizarre edition yet.