In the classic The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton explores the aristocratic society of the Gilded Age, about 1876-1901. Following the Industrial Revolution, the richer were getting richer and poor getting poorer. In this satire, Wharton tells the story of Miss Lily Bart and her desperate attempt to secure a wealthy husband and a position in society, while passing up true love and happiness.
Twenty-nine year old Lily has beauty and intelligence, but no means for her extravagant lifestyle. She lives with her wealthy aunt, Miss Peniston, on Fifth Avenue. A constant on the social circuit, Lily spends her days buying custom clothing and her nights gambling at bridge, which eventually leads to her demise. Slowly ostracized from society, Lily struggles to regain her faltering position, only to find herself in a boarding house without the support of her moneyed friends.
While Wharton's novel is a romantic love story, it also explores the greed and ruthlessness of New York Society. Her prose captures the political subtleties, social manners and the lavish lifestyle of the era.
"...the only way not to think about about money it to have a great deal of it."
Wharton's characterization paints perfect pictures of the selfish and shallow personalities inhabiting the Gilded Age. By the end of the novel, readers almost feel sorry for Miss Bart and her failure to survive in a world dominated by the wealthy and the wealthier.