Category Archives: The House of Mirth

Sunday Homework

Our classy friend Norma pointed out to us a few weeks back that the title for Wharton’s The House of Mirth is taken from Ecclesiastes 7:4.  So, for today’s classics meditation I submit to you the first thirteen verses of that chapter.

1 A good name is better than precious ointment,
   and the day of death than the day of birth.
2 It is better to go to the house of mourning
   than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
    and the living will lay it to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
   for by sadness of face the heart is made glad.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
   but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.
5 It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise
   than to hear the song of fools.
6 For as the crackling of thorns under a pot,
   so is the laughter of the fools;
    this also is vanity.
7 Surely oppression drives the wise into madness,
   and a bribe corrupts the heart.
8 Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
    and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
9 Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
   for anger lodges in the heart[b] of fools.
10 Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
   For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.
11 Wisdom is good with an inheritance,
   an advantage to those who see the sun.
12 For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,
    and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.
13 Consider the work of God:
   who can make straight what he has made crooked?

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Posted by on May 26, 2013 in The House of Mirth


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Not to Bum You Out

I’m so tired of all these women dying.  I’ve nearly lost track of them, first it was Helen, then Emma, Alyona and Lizaveta, Anna, Eustacia, and now Lily. Why?  Why must we read so much tragedy?  Why the death?  What’s wrong with a happy ending once in a while?

Then I stumbled across this article in my facebook newsfeed.  Friends, it’s worth the read (it even mentions three of our authors.)  The subject is tragedy.  The context is Christian worship.  The backdrop is our life.

If you only click on one external link today, I encourage you to choose the one above.  You can even leave the arguments about worship behind, but I’d love to know what you think about the tragedy vs. entertainment question.

Is our WEM reading list reminding you that we live in the valley of the shadow of death?  Is it drawing you face to face with the world of iniquity from which we would rather shield our minds?  Are the authors and their sin-filled worlds making you cling firmly to the Author of creation?  Is the despair of the characters wakening a vision of the evil that surrounds us outside the pages of fiction?  Or, are the novels a source of pacification and escapism?  Are the classics entertaining?  Should the classics be entertaining?


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Two Temptations

The House of Mirth Book 2, chapter 6

Our girl, Lilly B. runs into Dorset.  He apologizes to her and says he wants/ needs her friendship.  He also wants her to give him details of his wife Bertha’s infidelity.

Lily Bart is tempted.

All her past weaknesses were like so many eager accomplices drawing her toward the path their feet had already smoothed.  She turned quickly, and held out her hand to Dorset.
“Goodbye–I’m sorry; there’s nothing in the world that I can do.”

I have to say.  I was proud of our girl.  She didn’t give in, and I kind of thought that she might.

Not too many pages later, Lily comes home to find George Dorset in her sitting room.  He doesn’t want to give up on her.  If she would only tell him what he’s sure that she knows.

Their eyes met, and for a second she trembled again with the nearness of the temptation.  “You’re mistaken; I know nothing; I saw nothing,” she exclaimed, striving, by sheer force of reiteration, to build a barrier between herself and her peril; and as he turned away, groaning out “You sacrifice us both,” she continued to repeat, as if it were a charm; “I know nothing–absolutely nothing.”

How about that.  She stayed strong.

Still… she has the letters.

I’m waiting for the third temptation.  Doesn’t it seem like there should be three?  As Lily’s situation becomes more dire, I wonder if she’ll give in in the end.

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Posted by on May 23, 2013 in The House of Mirth


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Don’t Shoot

There are lots of good reasons for taking up the practice of reading the classics, and Grace Stepney added another to our list while attempting to sour an aunt on her neice.  And she nearly learned it the hard way.

It was agreeable to shock Mrs. Peniston, but not to shock her to the verge of anger.  Miss Stepney was not sufficiently familiar with the classic drama to have recalled in advance how bearers of bad tidings are proverbially received, but she now had a rapid vision of forfeited dinners and a reduced wardrobe as the possible consequence of her disinterestedness.

So, on what do I blame my lack of dinner invites and sad summer clothes options?

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Posted by on May 21, 2013 in The House of Mirth


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Told ya so.

The House of Mirth  Book 1, chapter 15

Lily has major money problems, and her aunt is not going to help.  So while Lily stays home “lunching and dining alone with her aunt“.  The aunt “complained of flutterings of the heart…”

I wrote in my journal: “Is the aunt going to die?  Will her heart fail?”

Yes. Yes, she will die.  Yes, her heart will fail.

Wharton doesn’t wait long to kill off Mrs. Peniston.  By Book 2, chapter 4, it’s all over.

Did I call it or what?!  Maybe for this whole DIY Master’s Degree thing, I’ll minor in foreshadowing.

PS.  While I’m braggin’ about my mad prediction skillz…
At the end of chapter 15, Lily receives an invitation to go on a cruise with the Dorsets.

Will you join us on a cruise in the Mediterranean?

There’s no question.  Lily will pack her bags.  She’s do anything to avoid her problems.

Yep, I’m definitely minoring in foreshadowing.


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Posted by on May 20, 2013 in The House of Mirth


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Socialite Suspense

Book 1, chapter 13

My chapter notes:

Gus Trenor tricks Lily Bart into coming over.  He wants “payment” for the money he gave her.  Lily Bart hates herself for allowing the situation to happen.  She’s afraid.  Her normal man-tricks aren’t working on Trenor.  Eventually Trenor remembers his proper upbringing, and Lily Bart leaves the home.  A mysterious stranger (who we find out in the next chapter is Selden) sees her leaving the Trenor home at an improper hour when the lady of the house is not there.

**** This reminds me of Crime and Punishment!  When Svidrigailov meets up with Dounia and reveals that her brother Raskolnikov is a murderer.

I think this is HoM’s most suspenseful chapter.
How did this chapter make you feel about GusTrenor?


Posted by on May 19, 2013 in The House of Mirth


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Gerty Farish

I’m answering the WEM wrap-up questions

Do you sympathize with the characters?  Which ones, and why? (WEM pg 80)

Do you know with whom I sympathize?  Gerty Farish.

She’s kind.  She’s generous.  She’s charitable.  She’s accepted her lot in life.  She’s done more than accept it.  She enjoys it.  Going to the ritzy wedding earlier in the book didn’t make her jealous or depressed like it did Lily Bart.  Gerty savors the evening but then is content to go back to her tiny apartment and go on with her less than glamorous life.

But then Book 1, chapter 14 happens.
Did you foresee Gerty’s crush on Selden?

Oh, Gerty.

Gerty likes Lily Bart.  Selden really likes Lily Bart.  When the two discuss their misguided friend, Gerty misunderstands Selden’s rapt attention.

But then things become clear.

The little confidential room, where a moment ago their thoughts had touched elbows like their chairs, grew to unfriendly vastness, separating her from Selden by all the length of her new vision of the future–and that future stretched out interminably, with her lonely figure toiling down it, a mere speck on the solitude.

Oh, Gerty.

For a moment I worried about Lily Bart.  I knew things were going to get progressively worse for her.  Gerty had been her true friend.

But when Lily shows up later, afraid to be alone, Gerty sets aside her own feelings and comforts her.

Gerty deserves some sympathy.


Posted by on May 18, 2013 in The House of Mirth



Sad Fun

Here is your daily dose of oxymoronicism.  That’s probably a word, right?

In Chapter 5 of Book One Seldon has appeared at Bellomont, and Lily has begun to view all her friends in a new light, and it’s not all that flattering.  But apparently the shadows are still playing tricks on Gus.

“I say, do look at her,”  he exclaimed, turning to Miss Bart with lugubrious merriment – “I beg your pardon, but do just look at my wife making a foot of that poor devil over there!”


And either way you slice his emotion, I just don’t think it’s a nice way to react to your wive’s behavior.

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Posted by on May 17, 2013 in The House of Mirth


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Stupid Question: The Husband Edition

Stupid QuestionsLast night my beloved posed a question for which I had no good response, therefore I’m passing it on to you, dear readers:

Why did we read House of Mirth when Edith Wharton penned a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Age of Innocence?

It’s a legitimate question.  What little research I’ve done purports that she wrote AOI as an “apology” for HOM.  So, did we read her early work because it was a greater expose of the flawed moral and social structures of early 20th century urban American life?  Did Wharton go to far, or was her apology simply a bend to the very societal pressures she had condemned?

Or did SWB just go “eeny-meeny-miney-mo?”


Posted by on May 15, 2013 in The House of Mirth


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Spring Cleaning

My house needs sprucing up.  I missed spring cleaning, and I need some motivation to declutter, organize, and deep-clean.

I know!  I’ll invite two literary characters over for tea.  They will have lots of advice that will inspire me in my tasks.

Who’s coming to my “Tidy-up Tea”?  Why Mrs. Peniston from The House of Mirth and Miss Ophelia  from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, of course!   Between Mrs. Peniston’s enthusiasm for going through every closet and cabinet in chapter 9  of her book and Miss Ophelia’s ideas for Dinah’s kitchen organization in her book, I’ll be set.

Can you think of anyone else I should invite?  Because I think Peniston and Ophelia could easily have a cleaning/organizing television show on TLC.


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