Originally published in 1905
Source: my copy bought at my local library's book sale
The House of Mirth is the story of Lily Bart, a young woman who battling her desire to live a life of luxury and her hope of a marriage built on love. Lily's mother raised her to believe that nothing but the best was good enough, that she belongs among the elite. But when Lily's father died when she was just 19, it left her relying on family, friends, and her own incomparable beauty to help her make her way in life in the manner in which she was raised.
Having already passed up a number of chances for marriage, Lily has finally come to accept that it is time for her to settle for dull Percy Gryce. Lily has been raised to believe that money will buy you happiness and that her beauty and persona will bring the money to her. But Lily, who tells a friend that all of the dinners, the parties, the clothing are part of the "business," seems incapable of making the choices that will keep her in business.
"But the luxury of others was not what she wanted. A few years ago it had sufficed her; she had taken her daily meed of pleasure without caring who provided it. Now she was beginning to chafe at the obligations it imposed, to feel herself a mere pensioner on the splendour which had once seemed to belong to her."
Lily presents at the beginning of The House of Mirth as a young woman with a strong self-knowledge. But as the book progresses, it becomes apparent that Lily is a woman torn between the things she believes will bring her happiness. She desperately wants to be wealthy, yet she scorns the wealthy. She often believes she will give it all up to marry the man she loves but she cannot help herself from pushing him away. Almost from the start it becomes apparent that Lily is self-destructive, money her drug of choice. Lily is unwilling to make the choices that will allow her to regain her place among her former friends and unable to make the choices which will allow her to live happily in altered circumstance. Time and again Lily finds herself caught in situations she cannot control, where she has not grasped the ramifications of her choices, and her social status plunges as one by one her so-called friends abandon her.
"Sometimes," she [friend Mrs. Fisher] added, "I think it's just flightiness - and sometimes I think it's because, at heart, she despises the things she's trying for. And it's the difficulty of deciding that makes her such an interesting study."