House of Mirth Readalong (Cleo, ClassicalCarousel)

This readalong is hosted by Cleo of Classical Carousel. We are reading a few chapters a week from November 1-December 15, 2019

We’ll discuss mostly on her blog, but here I want to post some notes and thoughts.

From A Backward Glance (1934)*, Edith Wharton’s autobiography. She writes an interesting take on how she prepared for writing the The House of Mirth (HM), which was her first longer novel after several novellas and a nonfiction. HM was published in 1905, long before Ethan Frome (1911) and The Custom of the Country (1913). The Age of Innocence was published in 1920.

  • Novelists of my generation must have noticed in recent years, as one of the unforeseen results of “crowd mentality” and standardizing, that the modern critic requires ever novelist to treat the same kind of subject and relegates to insignificance the author who declines to conform.
  • …there are two essential rules: one, that the novelist should deal only with what is within his reach, literally or figuratively, and the other that the value of a subject depends almost wholly on what the author sees in it, and how deeply he is able to see into it. [So regarding HM] The problem was how to extract from such a subject the typical human significance with is the story-teller’s reason for telling one story rather than another. In what aspect could a society of irresponsible pleasure-seekers be said to have…any deeper bearing than the people composing such a society could guess? The answer was that a frivolous society can acquire dramatic significance only through what its frivolity destroys. Its tragic implication lies in its power of debasing people and ideals. The answer, in short, was my heroine, Lily Bart. 206 & 207

*Wharton, Edith. A Backward Glance: An Autobiography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

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