The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton

Since I can’t seem to find a way to some it up on my own, here’s a description from the back of one of the editions: “Lily Bart, beautiful, witty, and sophisticated, is accepted by “old money” and courted by the growing tribe of nouveaux riches. But as she nears 30, her foothold becomes precarious; a poor girl with expensive tastes, she needs a husband to preserve her social standing and to maintain her life in the luxury she has come to expect. While many have sought her, something—fastidiousness or integrity—prevents her from making a “suitable” match.”

Lily was raised to love splendor and wealth and to be an ornament in that world. She cannot help but strive for the comfort and ease (even if it is marked by falsehoods) that that world offers. And yet there is a part of her that strives for some greater, higher ideal, some deeper truth beyond the finery.

Her downfall is in part due to circumstance (being a woman in her time period and raised to desire wealth and shun shabbiness) and in part due to her own poor choices. There are many times she could have prevented a mishap, only to blindly (out of naiveté) or purposefully (out of selfishness and her desire for wealth) step right into it. And many other times she could have saved herself, only to reject it due to her own sense of morality. Witnessing her mistakes is to see all the little ways she is guilty, while simultaneously discovering the multitude of ways she is innocent. It’s all just so profoundly human.

The story was easy to follow and compelling to read. the scenes unfolding with eloquent language and open frankness. By the end of the book, i found that my commute wasn’t long enough and I sat in my car upon arriving home listening to the conclusion, unable to wait until morning.

I often cry at books and movies; I’m easily moved (sometimes even a TV commercial will illicit a few tears). But this was an experience beyond mere crying. This was me with my hands pressed to my face, snot running out of my nose, abjectly weeping in the front seat of my car. I can’t fully express why this book plucked that inner string in me, but it did.

I’m sure a part of it was the spectacular reading given by Eleanor Bron (who also, as it turns out, played Lily’s Aunt Peniston in the 2000 movie adaptation) in the audio. She strikes just the right tone of reserve and emotions, her voice soothing and adaptable to each character. I don’t know if my wrought emotional reaction would have been the same had I read it in text, but that’s not something one can speculate on, since each individual experience is based on a multitude of circumstances that can’t be recreated.

All I know, is I started this book thinking I would merely enjoy it, and ended it being madly in love.

Cross-posted to my livejournal. You are welcome to comment either here or there.