“It was only at The Mount that I was really happy,” recalled Edith Wharton about the Berkshires country home where she wrote The House of Mirth (1905), the book that would mark her debut as a major American novelist. Yet the scandal surrounding the novel and its satirical depiction of Gilded Age society would cut her off permanently from America – and the Mount. She would reside the rest of her life in France.

Lily Bart, the heroine of The House of Mirth, is also without a home. Orphaned at an early age and without a fortune, she grows up to become a famous society beauty, but finds herself unable to make the splendid marriage expected of her. Only one man interests her, the intellectual lawyer Lawrence Selden, who belongs to her class, but lacks the means to provide for her.

A biting comedy, a classical tragedy, a 19th-century novel of manners written with 20th-century frankness, The House of Mirth explores questions of love and money, freedom and responsibility, family and inheritance, and home and heart.

Image: Frieze, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

Film Adaptation of The House of Mirth


Cheryl Miller

Cheryl Miller is executive director at the Hertog Foundation. Previously, she served as deputy director of research in the Office of Presidential Speechwriting and as research assistant to David Brooks at The New York Times. Her reviews and commentary have appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, and The Weekly Standard. She graduated from the University of Dallas with Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and Politics.

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