The House of Mirth and the Gilded Age

971 WordsNov 6, 20054 Pages
Novelist Edith Wharton wrote her defining work, 1905's the House of Mirth, on a subject she knew all too well: the style-over-substance realm of New York's upper-crust society during the Gilded Age. Having been raised in this "fashionable" society, Wharton knew both its intricacies and cruelties firsthand. The triumphant rise and tragic fall of protagonist Lily Bart demonstrate both the "sunshine and shadow" of the Gilded Age. The House of Mirth not only exposes the reality of how "the other half live," but also satirizes and condemns their elitist existence. Historians refer to the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s as America's "Gilded Age." This was essentially a time when stock market trading and industrial expansion widened the chasm…show more content…
Wharton never reveals whether or not Lily's death was intentional. Regardless, she is finally free of the chains of wealth and politics that bound her on Earth. Analyzing the characters in the House of Mirth also assists the reader in uncovering the author's intent. The only truly content character is Lawrence Selden, who is not rich, but is self-sufficient and comfortable. Lily's incredible outer beauty cannot mask the internal suffering which she endures. This is Wharton's way of revealing the emptiness and greed behind the glittering exterior of elite society. The Dorsets, despite their fabulous wealth, are the most unhappy characters in the novel. Bertha is a cruel and bitter antagonist, and her husband is a lonely, pathetic old man. Edith Wharton spent her entire life rubbing elbows with the upper-crust, yet still believed that money cannot buy happiness. The House of Mirth may be categorized as a "novel of manners," a literary genre which explores the struggle of the individual in society, and most commonly, the way in which that struggle effects women and Lucas 4 marriage. This genre is meant to expose the absurdities of popular convention and encourage the reader to challenge the existing social edifice. In the most convenient definitions, Wharton's the House of Mirth is a cautionary tale which warns of the consequences of valuing monetary wealth over emotional and spiritual wealth,

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