"The House of Mirth" by Edith Wharton.

Essay by thiefyHigh School, 11th gradeA+, May 2003

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It is truly ironic after one works endlessly to benefiting oneself that such work only ends up being harmful. Such is the case of Miss Lily Bart in New York at the turn of the century. In Edith Wharton's House of Mirth, Lily Bart behaves as the young and jaded protagonist, desperate to establish and maintain her position on the social ladder. Her extreme carelessness and arrogance initially evoke less pity than desired by the classic Aristotelian formula, but as the story progresses, the potent horrors that unfold prove to iterate the several dark, underlying themes present in the story.

The whole story focuses on Lily's main objective to acquire wealth and permanently lofty social status. Her decisions and actions are all based on intricate planning, and "her simplest acts seemed the result of far-reaching intentions" (15). The true driving force behind all of this is her lack of money.

Both of her parents are deceased at the beginning of the story, and Lily is sent to live with her reluctant aunt, Julia Peniston. Mrs. Peniston is indeed very wealthy and provides for Lily very handsomely, but Lily's lifestyle is still far too lavish to be satisfied by this. She has an extreme aversion to anything "dingy" and will only accept the finest clothing and jewelry. With this, she has an addiction to gambling throughout the book, which puts her deeply into debt. She knows she must marry soon, already being twenty-nine years old. Her one true love, Lawrence Selden, however, is not wealthy enough for Lily to marry, and she possesses the consistent belief that she can do better. Lily soon asks a very wealthy and much older man, Gus Trenor, to invest some of her money in the stock market, and he readily agrees, for he has...