American Icons: The House of Mirth


Friday, July 05, 2013

The House of Mirth feature card

This is a cautionary tale of class, money, and society.

Lily is a smart single woman, a beauty in demand on the party circuit. But Lily is nearing thirty, and struggling to manage money, friendships, and romance. In The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton examined the dangerous compromises facing a woman who wants to set her own destiny, and broke ground for countless writers who followed. This is not TV, and it doesn’t end happily. Candace Bushnell, who wrote Sex and the City, explains why she vowed “never to end up like Lily Bart.” Wharton scholars and film director Terence Davies explain why the tragedy feels so contemporary.

The House of Mirth was produced by Michele Siegel and edited by Emily Botein.

The actor Anne Marie Nest read selections from the book.

(Originally aired: October 29, 2010)


Bonus Track: Franzen on Wharton
The novelist Jonathan Franzen wrote in Time Magazine that The House of Mirth was one of five books that inspired him. In this bonus audio, Franzen tells Kurt why he thinks Wharton’s protagonist Lily Bart is “a miraculous achievement.”


Slideshow: Edith Wharton and The House of Mirth

Courtesy of Penguin Books

The cover art of the 2010 Penguin Classics Red edition of The House of Mirth includes some of Lily Bart’s own words: “Who wants a dingy woman? We are expected to be pretty and well dressed till we drop.”


Edith Wharton in New York, circa 1877, when she was in her early 20s. It would be two more decades until her writing brought her recognition and success. She was 43 when The House of Mirth was published.

Courtesy of The Mount

Edith Wharton at her desk in 1905, the same year The House of Mirth was published.  Wharton was one of the first novelists to write about the suffocating social conventions of the wealthy and privileged classes, providing an insider’s view of the underside of a world many assumed to be glamorous.

Edith Wharton Collection, Beinecke Library, Yale University

Wharton in a publicity photo, taken at her estate, The Mount, in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Courtesy of The Mount

Wharton wrote The House of Mirth at her Lenox, Massachusetts estate, The Mount.

Courtesy of The Mount

Edith Wharton’s personal, first-edition copy of The House of Mirth. It was a huge hit, selling 140,000 copies its first year.

Edith Wharton Collection, Beinecke Library, Yale University

A page from the original manuscript of The House of Mirth.

Edith Wharton Collection, Beinecke Library, Yale University

A close-up of Wharton’s manuscript for Book 2, Chapter 9 of The House of Mirth.

The House of Mirth, A. B. Wenzell (Artist)

Lily Bart with Lawrence Selden in an illustration from the first edition of The House of Mirth. Molly McFall, Librarian at The Mount, says that Wharton hated having illustrations published in her books. In her personal copy of The House of Mirth, she crossed out the illustrations credit on the title page, and may have cut out the illustrations, as well — there are none to be found.

The House of Mirth, A. B. Wenzell (Artist)

An illustration by A.B. Wenzell that appeared in the serialization and in the first edition of The House of Mirth. The public was hooked when they started reading the chapters in Scribner's Magazine. Every month readers were dying to find out what was going to happen to the beautiful and complicated Lily Bart.

    Music Playlist
  1. Un Sospiro, for Piano in D-flat major-22
    Artist: Franz Liszt
    Album: Works for Violin & Piano Complete
    Label: Hungaroton
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. Romance Oubliee
    Artist: Franz Liszt
    Album: Works for Violin & Piano Complete
    Label: Hungaroton
    Purchase: Amazon
  3. Romance Oubléé
    Artist: Mikhail Lidsky
    Album: Franz Liszt: 4 Mephisto Waltzes
    Label: Denon
    Purchase: Amazon
  4. La Campanella - Grandes Etudes de Paganini, S. 141-3
    Artist: Franz Liszt
    Album: La Campanella featuring Fujiko Hemming
    Label: Domo Classics
    Purchase: Amazon
  5. Fruhlingsglaube
    Artist: Oxana Yablonskaya
    Album: Liszt: Schubert Song Transcriptions, Vol. 1
    Label: Naxos
    Purchase: Amazon
  6. Prelude In E Minor, Op. 28, No. 4
    Artist: Chopin
    Album: Chopin: The Romantic World Of Chopin's Piano, Vol. 3
    Label: High Definition Classics
    Purchase: Amazon
  7. Sex In The City (Theme Song)
    Artist: Tune In TV
    Album: Movie Soundtrack - Songs From Film & TV
    Label: Goldenlane Records
    Purchase: Amazon


Candace Bushnell, Terence Davies, Hildegard Hoeller, Deborah Jermyn and Roxana Robinson

Produced by:

Michele Siegel


Emily Botein

Comments [1]

Steve MacIntyre

Edith Wharton "was not rich." Is that true? If it is true, then Studio 360 is breaking news about Edith Jones Wharton. By all accounts, she came from a family so wealthy that it gave rise to the expression, "keeping up with the Joneses".

Jul. 07 2013 02:53 PM

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