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Published in 1905, it is set in a world the author knew well, a world of wealth, privilege, and high society. Wharton had a wicked sharp wit that she wielded gleefully in her fiction. House of Mirth introduces Lily Barton, an attractive young woman with champagne tastes without the funds to match. Well that’s not actually true, because even without the funds to do so prudently, Lily is determined to live luxuriously as a part of the smart set. The surest path to prosperity for a beautiful young woman with social graces is to marry well, in this endeavor Lily scuttles her chances and tarnishes her reputation thus hastening her reduction in circumstances. It is an interesting story about class, the role of a woman, and the disadvantages of not carefully considering consequences. In 1921 Edith Wharton became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Age of Innocence.
— Deon Stonehouse
A literary sensation when it was published by Scribners in 1905, The House of Mirth quickly established Edith Wharton as the most important American woman of letters in the twentieth century. The first American novel to provide a devastatingly accurate portrait of New York's aristocracy, it is the story of the beautiful and beguiling Lily Bart and her ill-fated attempt to rise to the heights of a heartless society in which, ultimately, she has no part.
From the staid conventionality of Old New York to the forced conviviality of the French Riviera, from the drawing room of Gus Trenor's Bellomont to the dreary resort of a downtown boardinghouse, Wharton created her "first full-scale survey," as her biographer R.W.B. Lewis put it, "of the comédie humaine, American style." A brilliantly satiric yet sensitive exploration of manners and morality, The House of Mirth marked Wharton's transformation from an amateur into a professional writer and figures among her most important works.
About the Author
Edith Wharton (1862–1937) was an American novelist—the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Age of Innocence in 1921—as well as a short story writer, playwright, designer, reporter, and poet. Born into one of New York's elite families, she drew upon her knowledge of upper class aristocracy to realistically portray the lives and morals of the Gilded Age.
Gore Vidal There are only three or four American novelists who can be thought of as "major," and Edith Wharton is one.