House of Mirth Book Analysis

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Life can be extremely challenging at times. It could be for financial troubles, romantic setbacks, or family issues. No matter how small a challenge might appear, it can still hurt a person quite a lot, sometimes even enough to give up. And sometimes all those challenges come at once, breaking a person down to their core. On the other hand, nearly every person has their own principles and worldviews that help them to resist that power and not let the challenges break them. One of the brightest literary examples of this is Lily Bart from Edith Wharton’s book and its 2000 adaptation The House of Mirth. In the story, Lily is so devoted to honesty and her honor that, in spite of all challenges, she still manages to get herself together most of the time.
Honor and Honesty
Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth (1905) and its 2000 film adaptation follow a story of a young woman Lily Bart who appears to steadily get into trouble over a rather short period of time. At the age of 29, she is not yet married, which is considered too radical for a woman at the time. In addition to that, despite living a luxury life at her disapproving aunt’s place, she accumulated a large debt due to her gambling susceptibility (Wharton 30-36). Despite the challenges, however, Lily in both the book and the film does not appear to be giving up due to her natural attitude and her will to build a better future.
Later, in an attempt to find money to repay her debt, Lily naively gets into a scheme offered by her best friend’s husband, Gus Trenor. Gus offers to invest money on Lily’s behalf and share the return afterwards. Later, however, it turns out that he demands romantic attention from her in exchange for that (Wharton 74). The film slightly differs in this regard as, in the film, Lily attempts to earn money to become more independent (Davies). In both narratives, however, Lily falls for an apparently easy way to achieve her goals and fails. At this point, while facing another challenge, Lily still does not give up, largely due to societal notions in the society.
Being essentially, a narrative of its time, The House of Mirth appears to be largely in line with the notion of liberating women’s rights in the United States. In her 2020 article for the Guardian dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the film, Jennifer Egan explains that the society and the environment of the time do not let the protagonist of the story to give up and submit to the older ideas dominating the society. Egan provides that the 20th century largely overturned the ideas of marriage to wealthy men for 19-year-old women. While the author admits that Edith Wharton was a little bit too radical regarding following that notion, she managed to create an inspiring character for Lily that would manage women of the time liberate themselves from within (Egan). At the same time, in terms of the narrative, the notion Wharton is appealing to helped Lily to be essentially unbreakable until the very end.
Even after Lily apparently gives up at the end of the story, she manages to preserve her reputation and honor. After a series of failures and challenges, such as being accused of adultery, unsuccessful attempts to work, and the loss of her aunt, her final protector, she decides to commit suicide to relieve her emotional pain. Yet, before that, she repays her debts from the inheritance she receives from her aunt (Wharton 264; Davies). Hence, even despite her challenges broke her mentally, they could not break her morally. Lily cares for her reputation the most and cannot take her life without restoring it, thus, demonstrating the strength of her character.
Some challenges in life can lead people to tragic consequences, however, those with strong principles and beliefs will not break entirely, even if they decide to end their life. Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth reminds that challenges can break a person mentally and death can break a person physically. However, nothing can break a strong character with clear goals and motivation. After all, if one craves for something beyond the physical world and even the life itself, they cannot lose.

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Works Cited
Davies, Terence. The House of Mirth. Sony Pictures Classics Inc., 2000.
Egan, Jennifer. "The House of Mirth: Jennifer Egan on Edith Wharton’s Masterpiece". The Guardian, 2020,
Wharton, Edith. The House of Mirth. Dover Publications, 2014.f

May 13, 2022

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