Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth is a cautionary tale about Lily Bart, a dazzling but impoverished socialite who discovers the precariousness of her social standing when her beauty and charm attract unwelcome interest and jealousy. Compromised by the ill intentions of others and by the internal struggle between her own moral scruples and corruptibility, Lily always seems to do the right thing at the wrong time. Attempting to conform to social expectations, her quest for a wealthy husband thwarts her chance for real love with a young lawyer, Lawrence Selden. Her life comes to a scandalous end when she is falsely accused of having an affair with a married man and is rejected by the society and friends that once supported her.
Considered one of Edith Wharton's finest novels, The House of Mirth is an uncompromising indictment of the superficial values and strict codes that pervaded upper-crust New York society in the early 20th century. While the work vividly describes the social specific of its time, the story of Lily's expulsion from high society and her subsequent descent into poverty remains timeless. Indeed, the works of Wharton have achieved something of a renaissance recently, with three major motion pictures based on her work appearing in the last decade: Ethan Frome, The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth.