The House of Mirth Audible Audiobook – Unabridged
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Audible Audiobook, Unabridged
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Single woman of 29, Lily Bart is Edith Wharton's quintessential trapped heroine.
Orphaned following the death of her parents, Lily understands that she must use her beauty, grace, and charm to attain the social position she longs for, but she is caught between her desire for wealth and a strong moral conscience, which sabotages every opportunity she encounters.
Lily's employment as a maid finds her visiting the houses of New York's upper echelons, where she is invited to live lavishly and party with her patrons until the early hours. She meets many eligible bachelors and rich men; however, she is captivated by Laurence Seldon, a struggling attorney who sees through the glossy superficiality of upper society. She cannot bring herself to marry a man of working class, nor a millionaire whom she does not love. Thus begins her downward spiral into penury.
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|Listening Length||13 hours and 58 minutes|
|Whispersync for Voice||Ready|
|Audible.com Release Date||September 11, 2019|
|Best Sellers Rank|| #82,676 in Audible Books & Originals (See Top 100 in Audible Books & Originals) |
#2,354 in Classic Literature (Audible Books & Originals)
#10,682 in Classic Literature & Fiction
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Top reviews from the United States
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In this tragic and realistic tale we have more than a frilly story of a poor little rich girl, we have an elevated cast of characters with the familiar complexity of personalities that Mrs. Wharton excelled in creating for her readers. She was known for her biting commentary and after reading a good listing of her magnetic titles; The House of Mirth seems to be her darkest examination about the other side of the door of the grand houses on Fifth Avenue versus the comedic satire that wonderfully twirls together the first part of The Buccaneers . In this story we experience various emotional and passionate pages of: happiness, greed, love, jealousy and endless possibilities of hope and lines of regret and despair. The further you sink into the elegantly crafted world Mrs. Wharton has painted with such striking and commanding strokes of events; the more you will never forget those moments. I know I never have or will and I couldn’t have found a better way to let 2015 go with style and reflection than revisiting the complex journey of emotions and trials that beautifully dwells in this understated classic. Highly Recommend.
Instead, she feels no chemistry with Percy and earns the ire of married socialite Bertha when Bertha's ex-paramour Lawrence Selden turns up to see Lily. Bertha splits up the budding romance between Lily and Percy, leaving Lily in a position to have to ask Judy's husband, Gus, to make some investments for her to help keep her afloat. Gus views this as an investment in earning Lily's...favors, and though she manages to keep her head above water and even rise briefly, it all comes crashing down when Bertha invites Lily on a trip to keep her husband George distracted while Bertha carries on with her latest conquest. When George discovers the truth, though, Bertha spreads lies painting Lily as a temptress instead, which begins Lily's descent through the social classes.
This book plays with the same kind of themes Wharton would return to in her Pulitzer Prize-winning The Age of Innocence, which I read a few years before I read this: the artificiality of the upper-class New York "society" in which Wharton herself was born and raised and the way it constrains and even punishes real feeling primary among them. Lily herself is a great heroine: it's so easy to identify with her simultaneous longing to do the "right" thing and make it easy on herself by just finding someone rich to marry her and keep her in comfort and to be true to herself and wait for the kind of real connection she feels with Lawrence. Even though women are by and large much less dependent on men for material support today, I think there still exists the temptation, especially as one approaches 30, to just settle for someone good enough and check "marriage" off the list of things you constantly get asked about as a woman. And the power of the rumor mill, and its ability to ruin reputations, remains potent.
It's thematically similar enough to The Age of Innocence that comparison is inevitable, and for my money, Innocence is the better-developed and more rewarding work. But Mirth was also written 15 years beforehand, so it's not surprising that it's less mature. It does bring the added context of a female perspective, and it's partly refreshing to see how far we've come and at the same time how many things are still largely the same in terms of the constraints that society as a whole places on women. I will say one of the things that didn't quite work for me was the novel's central romance: it's never really developed, we're just meant to sort of assume that they've fallen for each other. It's necessary to have established for a late character moment to work, but it's done so superfluously that it doesn't quite have the power it could have. All in all, if you like a sharp social critique and old-society novels, or just like Wharton, it's definitely worth reading. Otherwise, pick up The Age of Innocence instead.
Top reviews from other countries
On the eligible but tedious bachelor, Percy Gryce: ‘Mr. Gryce was like a merchant whose warehouses are crammed with an unmarketable commodity.’
On Lily’s aunt, Mrs Peniston: ‘To attempt to bring her into active relation with life was like tugging at a piece of furniture which has been screwed to the floor.’
‘It was the “simple country wedding” to which guests are conveyed in special trains, and from which the hordes of the uninvited have to be fended off by the intervention of the police.’
‘Lily presently saw Mrs. Bry cleaving her determined way through the doors, and, in the broad wake she left, the light figure of Mrs. Fisher bobbing after her like a row-boat at the stern of a tug.’
And I have to mention the elegance of the writing that can convey so much in just a few sentences. For example, as Lily observes those she has regarded as friends: ‘That very afternoon they had seemed full of brilliant qualities; now she saw that they were merely dull in a loud way. Under the glitter of their opportunities she saw the poverty of their achievement.’
Throughout the book, my sympathy was always with Lily and the situation she finds herself in. Yes, she has a role which is largely confined to being an ‘adornment’ to the social scene. However, I admired her determination to use the gifts she has been given, even if that does involve a degree of manipulation. Unfortunately, an entirely innocent action and a chance meeting set in motion a chain of events that put Lily in the power of others, risking her future happiness. Lily believes her beauty allows her to manipulate men but, sadly, she finds it is she who is being manipulated because of a mistake and the need to maintain her social status because of her (relative) poverty.
It transpires that navigating the social scene is akin to a game of snakes and ladders. Working your way up takes time, requires skill in order to cultivate contacts and involves being seen in the right places with the right people. ‘She had been fashioned to adorn and delight; to what other end does nature round the rose-leaf and paint the humming-bird’s breast? And was it her fault that the purely decorative mission is less easily and harmoniously fulfilled among social beings than in the world of nature?’ However, one misstep, one troublesome rumour or item of mischievous gossip and you can slide down very quickly. ‘Lily had the doomed sense of the castaway who has signalled in vain to fleeing sails.’
Very few of the characters in the book come out well. So-called friends (I’m looking at you, Mrs. Fisher) prove to be anything but in Lily’s hour of need – because they are too timid, too afraid of what others will say or possess ulterior motives.
I’ll confess, I was unprepared for the impact the ending had on me. Part of me could understand why Lily did what she did and part of me wished she had found the strength to take another course. The romantic in me wanted another outcome altogether which, I’ll admit, would not have been true to the spirit of what the author was trying to communicate in the book. Call me an old softy.
This will definitely not be the last book by Edith Wharton I read. What an amazing author to have discovered; even more amazing when you realise The House of Mirth was Wharton’s first published novel.
Here then we meet Lily Bart, who when growing up was of a wealthy enough family, her mother always taking her on holidays to Europe and so on. But then the father, who seems to work all the time to support his wife and daughter goes bust, and soon dies and this is followed by her mother. An orphan so she is brought up then by her aunt. Lily has a problem though as she was initially brought up and intended to be the sparkling socialite that she has now been robbed from becoming, and at twenty-nine is really in need of a good husband, or that is what was considered at the time.
Of course, Americans are keen on telling us all that there is no class structure as such in their country, but of course this is not quite true, it is just structured differently to ours. Titles and such pomp do not play a part, but money and success do, as well as having connections and a face that fits. Lily like everyone else is expected to follow the conventions of the period, by hooking an eligible male, as well as to perpetuate the snobbery that goes on. She does have someone who would be really good for her in some respects, although like her he is not exactly wealthy, there is also someone who is more than wealthy, and wants her because as a Jew he needs to have someone of the social elite to be seen as respectable.
For Miss Bart though, she starts to realise that if you want to live life on your own terms the establishment of New York will reject you. It is into this world that Lily finds herself drifting, after all she has debts, has been compromised unintentionally, and is in a feud of sorts with another woman of her class.
Here then Edith Wharton combines satire with the novel of manners to create something that was very true of the period, and indeed to a certain extent still true in many ways of today’s world. The genre which we recognise as a novel of manners was of course dominated by the British, after all just think of Jane Austen and others. By transposing this to America and showing that there is a class system of sorts, so an extra layer of realism is added, and we are shown how certain sections of society behave, and indeed do still so act. At the end of the book, we are left to decide for ourselves how much of what happens to Lily is her own fault, and how much is down to others.
Beautifully written and perceptively observed, Edith Wharton's story of New York society and the lives of the rich and idle, juxtaposed with the lot of the much less wealthy and those who fall by the wayside, makes for a compelling read. Aside from the story's main protagonists, this novel is filled with a whole cast of interesting characters and is it easy to become drawn right into Lily Barton's life and watch her as she travels towards her downfall. Although, as bystanders, we can see the mistakes Lily is making and we may become exasperated with her for her foolhardiness, Lily is not as shallow as she initially seems, she does have scruples and she avoids taking others down with her, and the reader (or this one anyhow) feels for her in her predicament. First published in 1905 and one of Edith Wharton's best novels, this is a poignant and resonant story and one to read, to think about and to then put back in the bookcase to read again later. Recommended.
Lily looks to the future and sees her life narrowing. Early in the book she is on the verge of marrying a fabulously rich man, only to turn away at the last moment because she doesn’t love this boring mummy’s boy. She also had the chance to marry a middling prosperous lawyer, who she does love, only to turn her back on that idea as well. After making these decisions, a general tendency to contrariness hardens into a firm determination to escape her fate. When problems created by others damage her prospects, Lily throws a few spanners of her own in the works. She is seemingly incapable of allowing herself to follow her natural course, whether this course is marriage to a rich man, marriage to a man she loves, the well paid life of a social fixer, or even a career as the owner of an elegant hat boutique. Whenever a course opens up, Lily helps shut it down. She wants to escape the social machine of which she is a part, only to find herself in a different part of the same machine. There are those who wear fancy hats, and there are those who make fancy hats for those that wear them. Both are part of the same mechanism.
So, on the positive side, this is a story which feels universal in the way it considers freedom and fate. On a less positive note, the book was a frustrating read, as Lily trips herself up over and over again. Then there is the voice telling her story, which for all its apparent freedom to look down on flawed human characters, has a few flaws and prejudices of its own. This waspish author voice is prone to switching between character points of view with confusing suddenness. I also found myself feeling distinctly uneasy towards the beginning of the book, reading the stereotyped portrayal of Jewish businessman, Simon Rosedale:
“a plump rosy man of the blond Jewish type, with smart London clothes fitting him like upholstery, and small sidelong eyes which gave him the air of appraising people as if they were bric a brac.”
I wondered if this was supposed to be Lily’s point of view, but as I say, point of view is not stable in this book, and remains ultimately with the author. This voice portrays many of her characters in an unflattering light, but does not otherwise link a specific heritage with human failings. So bringing up a Jewish heritage in relation to an individual’s shortcomings felt jarring. Even though later in the book he becomes a somewhat more sympathetic character, the portrayal of Rosedale still left a bad taste. I know we are reading about a different time with different attitudes, but there is this odd feeling that a point of view which aspires to seeing the weakness in others has blind spots of its own.
Ultimately for me, The House of Mirth was like being in the company of an unpredictable Greek goddess. This deity has the power to flit about over the lower human world and make some profound observations in poetic language, while also displaying a rather human and irrational partiality for some people over others.