The House of Mirth Study Guide

The House of Mirth Study Guide

Original title:
The House of Mirth

House of Mirth by Edith Wharton is the novel that is often classified as social satire. It tells the readers the story of a well-educated, beautiful and virtuous woman of upper class, named Lily Bart and her downfall from the upper class to the very social bottom. The problem of Lily is simple and very common for the noble women with proper upbringing of that times: she is twenty-nine already and still not married. Her chances to get a proper husband on the marriage market are diminishing every day, because there are a lot of younger beauties around with similar upbringing. The tragedy is that Lily is unable to do anything except spending time on lavish parties and being pretty and magnificent. She desperately tries to find someone she can charm, spending more and more money for dressing up and attending the parties where the potential suitors can be, but all in vain.

Here social satire starts to border with tragedy, because the society that raised her that way and that continues producing countless girls with the same goals and upbringing, condemns her for the series of scandals that happen during her desperate search of husband. Being single at twenty-nine is improper and harmful, but being so immodest to actively search for a husband is improper and harmful too.

Despaired and ostracized, Lily tries to find jobs, where we see how dangerous can be raising daughters as pretty trophy wives only. A member of the upper-class that is presented as corrupted and hedonistic, Lily isn’t used to any kind of job. She lost the chance to be “bought” on the marriage market of aristocracy, but she loses one opportunity after another on a job market too, being unable to compete with the women of the working class, who are much more skilled than she is.

House of Mirth shows Lily not only as a member of the upper-class society, corrupted to the core, but also as a victim of it, who failed to live up to the standards of this society and is mercilessly thrown away to her death.

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