1 minute read

House of Mirth, The

a novel by Edith Wharton, published in 1905, a social satire depicting manners in New York society. Lily Bart, despite her beauty and high social connections, remains unmarried at 29. Among her suitors are the rich financier Simon Rosedale, and Lawrence Selden, a lawyer, who is her real love but is without the means to support her. She unwittingly falls into the power of Gus Trenor in a gambling game, who advances her money to cover her debts. He seeks repayment by demanding physical attention, but Lily escapes and promises to repay the money. Later, her reputation in fashionable society is ruined through being framed as George Dorset's mistress by his wife, who is seeking to cover her own love affair. As Lily goes down in the world, so Simon Rosedale rises to the top, winning social acceptance by a shrewd manipulation of his increasing wealth. Lily becomes a milliner, and after a final declaration of her love to Selden, she returns to her boarding-room and commits suicide. Upon Selden's arrival to request her hand in marriage, he discovers that Lily has put aside her aunt's entire bequest to pay her debt to Trenor. Lily is thus destroyed by the very society whose decorative but inhumane specifications her upbringing had designed her precisely to meet.

Additional topics

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Honest Ulsterman to Douglas Hyde Biography