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THE HOUSE OF MIRTH: Selden paused in surprise. In the afternoon rush of the Grand Central Station his eyes had been refreshed by the sight of Miss Lily Bart.

NARRATOR: New York, during its gilded age, was a world apart from Dreiser's Chicago and Sister Carrie. It was a privileged world of old money and unspoken manners.

THE HOUSE OF MIRTH: There was nothing new about Lily Bart, yet he could never see her without a faint movement of interest: it was characteristic of her that she always roused speculation, that her simplest act seemed the result of far-reaching intentions.

NARRATOR: Lily Bart, the subject of Edith Wharton's THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, begins her journey at the apex of the American Dream. A member of New York society Lily is someone who Wharton writes looks like "she must have cost a great deal to make, that a great many dull and ugly people must, in some mysterious way, have been sacrificed to produce her."

But for all her trappings of wealth and manners, Lily Bart is not as secure as she pretends to be.

ANDREW DELBANCO: Lily is someone who dresses to appear beyond her means. Her father has gone bankrupt. So Lily comes from a situation where there had once been money, but there isn't enough money anymore. And her assignment that she gives to herself, her task in life, is to climb back into that situation, where the money is there again.

MAUREEN HOWARD: Lily Bart absolutely has to get married because marriage will mean money. And she has a plan to get married. She has the man picked out, a rather foolish man, a man with lots of money, and of course she doesn't really have any draw to him at all.

THE HOUSE OF MIRTH: She was almost sure she had "landed" him: a few days' work and she would win her reward. But the reward itself seemed unpalatable just then: she could get no zest from the thought of victory. It would be a rest from worry, no moreŅand how little that would have seemed to her a few years earlier?

ERICA JONG: Everything in her world tells her, if you want to be a success, marry this man. You'll have houses and jewels and, and trips to Europe and all of those things. And rich children. And she just can't because he's gross and she's too fine to marry a man who is loathsome to her. And that's a failing in that society.

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The American Novel