The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton

Historical and Cultural Context

The House of Mirth, written by Edith Wharton and published in 1905, beautifully captures the essence and contradictions of the Gilded Age. This era, spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was marked by significant economic growth and stark social inequalities in America. The novel adeptly portrays the fixed and unyielding roles within the New York social hierarchy, where both old aristocracy and newfound wealth coexist.

The story delves into the limited avenues open to women of the time, mirroring the era's constraints. Women were largely dependent on marriage for both financial stability and societal standing. The protagonist, Lily Bart, embodies the conflict between a desire for independence and the societal expectations placed upon women. Her journey underscores the restrictions faced by women, especially those who valued their autonomy and independence.

In the cultural panorama, the novel reflects the era's excessive consumerism and a societal focus on wealth and material accumulation. Characters within The House of Mirth wrestle with substantial moral questions regarding wealth, social standing, and personal integrity. These themes offer a reflection of the larger societal apprehensions of the Gilded Age.

Edith Wharton, herself rooted in the society she critiques, provides a unique and insightful perspective on these issues. Her narrative in The House of Mirth deftly explores and criticises the social and moral concerns of her era, highlighting her literary prowess and astute social commentary. The novel remains a lauded literary work, showcasing Wharton’s exceptional ability in character development and societal examination.

1. When was The House of Mirth published?

A. 1900

B. 1910

C. 1920

D. 1905


2. What era is the novel set in?

A. Victorian Era

B. Gilded Age

C. The Renaissance

D. The Enlightenment

3. What does the novel highlight about women's roles?

A. Abundant freedom

B. Financial independence

C. Limited options and dependency on marriage

D. Professional success

4. Who is the main character in The House of Mirth?

A. Edith Wharton

B. Elizabeth Bennet

C. Hester Prynne

D. Lily Bart

DISCUSSION:  What pressures do women in their twenties have?

Further reading