The House of Mirth is about the tragic fall from grace of a beautiful New York socialite, Lily Bart. The story chronicles her desperate search for a husband as society gradually rejects her. Edith Wharton writes a very revealing, critical study of high-class society in the Gilded Age that is fascinating in part because it is at once unfamiliar and very similar to modern-day society. Her characters are well-crafted, she writes very well, and the subject matter is very interesting, if not at some points a bit dry and superficial.
According to Aristotle, tragedy is about making "fatal choices," and it is Wharton's exploitation of this idea that makes the book falter. Lily Bart makes so many fatal choices it's hard not to choke on them. It seems like every page, she makes a choice that is obviously (to the reader) a bad idea. No woman can possibly be this daft so often. Her character is only falling from grace because Wharton so desperately wants her to. (Oh, and she never LEARNS!) The shoddy character development brings this book down to 4/5 stars.
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