I enjoyed The Age of Innocence immensely and expected I would have the same response to The House of Mirth but never imagined I would become so emotionally involved in the story of Lily Bart I'd be tearfully proclaiming....I loved it!!
"She was so evidently the victim of the civilisation which had produced her, that the links on her bracelet seemed like manacles chaining her to her fate."
Lily was born into the wealthy upper class society of early 20th century New York and raised to be the perfect wife - a showcase to display her husband's wealth. Beautiful, much-desired and 'expensive' anything other than a life of luxury she has been taught to believe is 'dinginess' and 'living like a pig'.
Unfortunately, at 29 , ' eleven years of late hours and indefatigable dancing' have taken their toll and Lily still lacks the two things necessary to social success - money and a husband. Lily is poor and depends on the generosity, and the hope of an inheritance, from the aunt she lives with. She will not marry for love without money but an inner resistance to society rules has her running away from numerous marriage proposals and her overspending trying to keep up with rich 'friends' eventually leads to a downward spiral of debt and dishonour.
' She had a fatalistic sense of being drawn from one wrong turning to another, without ever perceiving the right road till it was too late to take it.'
Lily Bart must surely be the most frustrating character I've ever met. The first chapter gives a glimpse of a young woman very different to the materialistic, shallow socialite she appears to be which immediately arouses sympathy and the hope that Lily will wake up and see the potential for happiness that is right before her eyes. At the same time somehow you feel the inevitability of it not happening - Lily can't make the right choices because she doesn't really know what she wants and so allows her fear of poverty to dominate her thinking and never takes the time to explore her deeper feelings and realise she only wants to be loved.
I loved Edith Wharton's writing, her imagery and symbolism and even though The House of Mirth is a walk on the dark side of Gilded Age New York society I didn't find it depressing , just very, very sad.
reading for The Classics Club
I'm reading....The House of Mirth
A Classics Challenge Prompt - Chapter Musings