The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Written in 1905, this is a delightful, yet, on some level, tragic story about the vacuousness of American high society at the turn of the nineteenth century. Comedy abounds in the subtle descriptions of people and situations where money, social reputation and material possessions are the gauge by which everything is measured. Against this background, Lily - orphaned and disinherited - attempts to do everything in her power to be perceived as 'belonging' while Lawrence Seldon (already part of the circle to which she wants to belong) attempts, without over-straining himself, to make her realize that she should be focusing on higher goals even if such a focus may be equated with a less grand lifestyle. Lily has no father to support her financially and no mother to give her advice; she is at the mercy of so-called friends, many of whom - particularly the males - have no scruples in using her innocence and naivety to further their own ends. The women, all climbing the social ladder, are also prepared to use her in whatever way that might propel them further in the direction of social acceptance. Lily makes many mistakes as she stumbles from one difficult situation to the next, and, it becomes evident that those who are sincerely concerned for her are her impoverished friend Gerty and a couple of women from the working class; the upper class that she so strives to be part of, is really not interested.

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