Tag Archives: Edith Wharton

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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What does the central character (or characters want?
What is standing in his (or her) way?  (
WEM, pg. 73)

Recognize those WEM questions?
Edith Wharton helps us with one of the answers in chapter 8.

If Lily Bart wants a wealthy husband and the acceptance of her peers,
then what’s standing in her way?

Perhaps the question is who is standing in her way?

“I envy Gerty that power she has of dressing up with romance all our ugly and prosaic arrangements!  I have never recovered my self-respect since you showed me how poor and unimportant my ambitions were.”

The words were hardly spoken when she realized their infelicity.  It seemed to be her fate to appear at her worst to Selden.

“I thought, on the contrary,” he returned lightly, “that I had been the means of proving they were more important to you than anything else.”

“It was as if the eager current of her being had been checked by a sudden obstacle which drove it back upon itself.  She looked at him helplessly, like a hurt or frightened child: this real self of hers, which he had the faculty of drawing out of the depths, was so little accustomed to go alone!

There you have it.

Selden = obstacle

Okay, maybe it’s a little more complicated than that.  Selden intentionally “holds a mirror” up to Lily.  With him, she admits who she truly is.  He removes her mask, and she’s forced to look at herself.

Maybe it is that simple.

Selden = obstacle

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Posted by on May 13, 2013 in The House of Mirth


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The House of Mirth chapter 8

Lily Bart and Gerty Farish are looking over the display of wedding gifts at the Stepney wedding reception.  Gerty is enjoying the evening, happy for the newlyweds.  Lily does not catch the bouquet; she catches a serious case of envy.

Wharton crafts a beautiful description of the bride’s jewels, and then she writes the sentences which turned me against Lily Bart.

The glow of the stones warmed Lily’s veins like wine.  More completely than any other expression of wealth they symbolized the life she longed to lead, the life of fastidious aloofness and refinement in which every detail should have the finish of a jewel, and the whole form a harmonious setting to her own jewel-like rareness.

I’m so disappointed in Miss Lily Bart.  Jewelry “warms [her] veins like wine“?!  ugh.



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Posted by on May 9, 2013 in The House of Mirth


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All the Days of Your Social Life

You know those people who only go to church because it fits into their social life?

No, me neither.  It would be wrong for me to place intentions on those coming into the presence of God for  much needed forgiveness.  Certainly they could do the same to me.

But Edith Wharton found characters like that within her imagination – Mr. and Mrs. Weatherall.

The Wetheralls always went to church.  They belonged to the vast group of human automata who go through life without neglecting to perform a single one of the gestures executed by the surrounding puppets.  It is true that the Bellomont puppets did not go to church; but others equally important did – and Mr. and Mrs. Wetherall’s circle was so large that God was included in their visiting-list.

This quote makes me equal parts sad and giggly.

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Posted by on April 25, 2013 in The House of Mirth


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Matchmaker, Matchmaker

James and Wharton

I’ve been known to play matchmaker a time or two in my life.  Not always successfully I’ll admit, well, rarely successfully might be more like it, and while I’ve sworn off the practice in real life, I’m not afraid to set up a fictional friend or two.

So when we learn in Chapter 3 that Lily’s preference in the husband category “would have been for an English nobleman with political ambitions and vast estates” I wanted to sit down an pen a missive to our dear Lord Warburton suggesting a blind date.  It would be a match made in literature.

Here’s the oddly fitting part, Edith Wharton and Henry James were good friends. So was Mrs. Wharton giving a little nod to her buddy’s characters?  I don’t know, but if Lily can’t get things to work out with any of these dudes we’ve met so far, I hope she hops the pond and looks up one of Isabel’s rejected.


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Most Cordially Welcome

THOMA Classic Case of Madness invites you to read along with us for our next classic work:
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton.

Gentleman novelist Louis Auchincloss said The House of Mirth was “uniquely authentic among American novels of manners.”

What is Wharton’s book about exactly?  Fashionable New York society.

Here’s a quote from the back of my Signet Classic edition:

Its heroine, Lily Bart, the poor relation of a wealthy woman, is beautiful, intelligent, and hopelessly addicted to the pleasures of a moneyed world of luxury and grace.  But, ironically, her delicacy of taste and moral sensibility–qualities representing the ideal goals of that world–render her unfit for survival in it.

Whew.  For a minute I thought we were going to have Madame Bovary all over again.  I’m glad to hear that Lily Bart has moral sensibilities.

New York Socialites are not enough of a reason to read along with us?
How about the fact that Edith Wharton grew up amidst those socialites and know what she’s talking about?
How about the fact that after eight male authors in a row, we have a female one?!

I will close my invitation with a last quote from the Signet Classic.
The House of Mirth is “a brilliant portrayal of both human frailty and nobility, and a bitter attack on false social values.”

We would love to have you join us.


The details…

SWB recommends this Signet Classic reprint edition..  I notice that the Kindle version is free.  SWB’s notes in the WEM book also say to skip Anna Quindlen’s introduction.  As faithful WEM students, we know to skip all introductions that are not written by the author herself.  Who wants hints to character motivation before even starting the book?  Not us certainly!  We may not be socialites, but we are rule followers.


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


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