The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton - The House of Mirth is a 1905 novel by American author Edith Wharton. It tells the story of Lily Bart, a well-born but impoverished woman belonging to New York City's high society around the end of the 19th century.[a] The House of Mirth traces Lily's slow two-year social descent from privilege to a lonely existence on the margins of society. In the words of one scholar, Wharton uses Lily as an attack on "an irresponsible, grasping and morally corrupt upper class."
Lily Bart is a beautiful but impoverished socialite, who is seeking a husband. Her success is challenged by her advancing age-at twenty-nine, she has been on the "marriage market" for more than ten years-and her penchant for gambling at bridge that has left her in debt. While Lily admires lawyer Lawrence Selden, he is too poor for her to seriously consider marrying. Her choices are limited to coarse, vulgar Simon Rosedale, a financier, and wealthy but dull Percy Gryce.
Lily grew up surrounded by elegance and luxury-an atmosphere she believes she cannot live without. The loss of her father's wealth and the death of her parents left her an orphan at twenty. Lacking an inheritance or a caring protector, she adapts to life as a ward of her strait-laced aunt, Julia Peniston, from whom she receives an erratic allowance, a fashionable address, and good food, but little direction or parenting. Lily is not fond of her aunt Julia and avoids her whenever possible while simultaneously relying on her for both necessities and luxuries.
Lily learns that Selden and the vindictive Bertha Dorset were lovers. She buys scandalous letters Bertha wrote to Selden but keeps them secret. Lily confides her money problems to Gus Trenor, a skilled stockbroker and the husband of her friend Judy. Trenor writes Lily a check for $5,000 and claims to have invested another $4,000 for her. Trenor tries to seduce her, but Lily spurns his attentions. Bertha still has feelings for Lawrence notwithstanding her recent breakup with him. As she notices Selden's fondness for Lily, she decides to sabotage Lily's budding romance with Percy by filling him in on the most salacious and scandalous rumors about Lily's card-playing and past romantic life. This effectively frightens Percy away. Lily manages to cast the blame on Judy for having been the one to set the match up.
In retribution for a social snub, Lily's cousin Grace Stepney informs their aunt Julia about rumors that Lily has gambling debts which she may be trying to cover through an inappropriate relationship with Gus Trenor. This sows seeds of doubt and discomfort in Aunt Julia who, though shocked, does not discuss the situation with her niece so as to avoid a scene.