My 2012 literary journey can be highlighted with the discovery of two authors. Dabbling into sci-fi (I haven’t been much of a fan) by way of HG Wells via Margaret Atwood and this ongoing love affair with Edith Wharton. I picked up a copy of Age of Innocence years ago – it survived my move to Singapore 9 years ago but has stayed forgotten in my bookshelf until late last year. I was blown away by that book and once again, Wharton doesn’t disappoint in The House of Mirth. I daresay this is my favorite work of hers.
A novel once again set at the turn of the 20thc New York upper class, Wharton explores the role of the female in an unforgiving society (“Isn’t marriage your vocation? Isn’t it what you’re all brought up for?”) and the societal maneuverings that chews up its victims. The shunning of Lily Bart by a society that was all too quick to believe the worst, left her with no prospects, no friends and without any useful skills that she was so completely stripped of confidence. She refused Rosedale’s help (I am convinced it was without any dark motives.) and she didn’t even think herself deserving of Selden’s love. But ahh Lily, if only you were a little bit more cunning!
And Lawrence Selden – can you think of any male character more vile? He was quick to judge Lily for her aspirations and scoffs (and call bullshit) at the society he pretends to be outside of. He ran away from Lily when he thought she was having an affair with Trenor (when he himself was tapping Bertha Dorset!) and was ready to believe the worst in her. He acts like he’s Lily’s savior yet never had the courage to offer any real, tangible help. Spineless!
Edith Wharton’s writing is so deft, her characters so fleshed out that I have often forgotten throughout reading this novel that this is written in the third person.
On a lighter note, I am no smoker and hate cigarettes but damn you Edith Wharton, you make them sound so delicious.
*Note this review was originally written in January 2013.