Fashion Book–House of Mirth
I’ve been meaning to read Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth for ages now. Last week, I finally did. Wharton’s classic novel depicts New York high society at the beginning of the 20th century–a world both riddled with alien rules and familiar in its customs and attitudes. Lily Bart is one of the most iconic heroines of American literature–beautiful, smart, savvy, and fun, she’s considered an absolute asset at all of the best parties and events. She’s adored by many men, but remains unmarried at the age of 29, a spinster in terms of that time period. Lily’s got one major problem–she’s poor. As a single woman, she has no assets or trade skills of her own, and since she’s an orphan, she’s been condemned to living with her judgmental aunt, Mrs. Peniston. She must rely on her friends and her aunt for any kind of income, which she then squanders on high-fashion dresses and playing bridge, all in an effort to keep up with the very set she can’t quite afford to run with, though her survival depends upon it.
In Wharton’s New York, the women are catty, the men are sleazy, and everyone is obsessed with appearances. In other words, not a whole heck of a lot has changed. Lily’s plight is all too familiar, though I did find myself wanting to scream at her many times to just get over herself and tell the truth. She’s in love with a man named Selden, and he’s in love with her, but both of them are too full of pride to ever fully take action on their feelings. Frankly, Selden doesn’t have enough wealth to offer Lily the type of future she feels she needs, so she pretty much turns him down, resulting in me wanting to shake her and yell at my book, “WHAT WHAT WHAT are you doing??”
Another thing–the title of this book is very misleading, my friends. Lily’s situation turns out to be not so mirthful and I was actually shocked by the ending. And also really pissed off. But I won’t spoil it. Just go read it for yourself and thank me later.
At one point, Lily appears at a grand party in a live “tableaux” which was essentially a living painting (apparently those were big back in the day). In it, she’s wearing a simple white dress, unadorned by jewelry or accessories, without makeup or fussy hair. She’s basically au natural. And everyone is completely infatuated with her this way, remarking throughout the rest of the book that it’s when she really looked her best. So I wanted to recreate something along those lines were Lily to be around today–simple, unadorned, and fresh.