Friday, January 10, 2014

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905)

What the hell, Lily Bart?   Really?  First - you want to be be rich again.  I understand that need.  But you can't be moral and be rich - the two just don't seem to work very well together. If you don't want to have lurid affairs with your friend's husbands for money (I think this is a good idea) then marry Rosedale.  Many women and men have married for money before.  Or really -- marry Lawrence Selden for love.  Or better yet:  hop on the first train West and start all over again where no one knows you.  That last chapter of the boo, you should have taken the $10,000 from your aunt and headed for the hills.  No one will ever know.  That's chump change to the Trenors anyway; you can live like a queen for a little bit in Denver or San Francisco or Cheyenne.  Open a high class brothel, or school for girls, or do something with your life girl.  Lily, you just sit back and take it.  You're a sloth, a stupid sloth.  Or worse, a leech.  You're not even a very good leech either, clearly, as the situation with Bertha Dorset and the Duchess showed.  One poor choice after another Lily Bart.  Should have married Lawrence Selden when you had the chance. Scarlet O'Hara would have married BOTH of them.  Too bad you didn't know her.

Once again, Mean Girls is the literary trope of a novel.  Gossipy bitches, out to ruin each other's lives.  

I'm not exactly sure what is so attractive about her other than her good looks. She's obviously a good flirt, but what exactly is attractive to Lawrence Selden underneath the good looks and flirtation?  Surely he knows other women.

Bertha Dorset is a dyed in the wool bitch, through and through.  Carry Fisher gets all the best lines; she's probably my favorite character in the entire book.  Both are certainly more interesting than Lily Bart, cleverer, more cunning.  The villianess is always more interesting than the princess.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The House of Mirth is soapy.  Edith Wharton doesn't write Lifebuoy or Lava soap.   Mirth is like a really expensive handmade bar of rosemary and green tea soap you'd buy from an upscale boutique, maybe while you are vacation and obviously spending more money on soap than you usually would.  But it's still soap. Enjoyable, literary, melodramatic soap.  SPOILER, Lily dies tragically at the end - that's the ultimate in soap, right (other than having an evil twin, or she comes back from the grave two books later).  The House of Mirthis also  full to the brim of bitchery, love lost, missed opportunities, greed, the repulsively rich, a dashing poor guy, heartache, sorrow, lost fortune, and more bitchery.  Did I mention the bitches?  Like any good soap opera, this has a great, great villainess, a classic queen of the bitches in the from of Bertha Dorset, and several small sharp shiv in the back variety of villainesses like all of those mean girl cousins of Lily Bart.  Edith Wharton knew how to dress up a soap opera and make it classy (Downton Abbey, anyone?) and write some memorably wicked women (her male characters, though, leave much to be desired). Lily Bart never stood a chance against the shady ladies that spring, fully formed, from Wharton's pen.    


From a Goodreads Five Star Review:  "This book has inspired my next tattoo."   WTF?  Huh?  And she never goes on in the review to say what that said tattoo actually is going to be.  A brougham?  Edith Wharton's profile?  Carrie Fisher (that would be subtly witty and meta)?  An electric victoria?  A vial of choral?  A gas-lamp?  An orangeine?  A Virot hat? 

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