Friday, March 2, 2012

What Do You Mean You Never Read: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

It's been a while since we've done one of these, but Katie had a hankering to revisit one of her old favorites.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

The 150th anniversary of Edith Wharton’s birth was this month, which puts her firmly in the “Old, Dead Writers Club.” You may have even been assigned The Age of Innocence or Ethan Frome in your English classes. Which is all well and good, but it’s The House of Mirth that you really, really need to read. I picked it up in high school looking for an American answer to Jane Austen and instead found something entirely new and remarkable.

Lily Bart is young, witty, beautiful, and loves a good party. She’s also single at the turn of the century (the 20th century that is) and looking for love AND money. Lily wants to create her own destiny, or to put it more simply, she wants to have it all. As we follow Lily down a path of parties, men, social climbing, and struggle in privileged New York City, it’s hard to not fall a little bit in love with her, because despite it all--missteps, living beyond her means, desperation, depression--it’s easy to see ourselves in her even 100 years later and hopefully learn something from her mistakes in the process.

This book is smart, funny, and oh so heartbreaking. Edith Wharton is Jane Austen with an edge and Lily Bart is her 19th century Carrie Bradshaw. Although for once I can’t promise you a happy ending, this book is definitely worth a trip away from the New Books display and back in time. Maybe while eating a cupcake in honor of Ms. Wharton’s birthday.

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