American Icons: The House of Mirth

Feature

Friday, October 29, 2010

Transcript

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.

 

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

The House of Mirth, Penguin Books Red Edition
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
Bettmann-CORBIS

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.

Edith Wharton at her desk in 1905
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 a world many assumed to be glamorous.

Edith Wharton in a publicity photo
Edith Wharton Collection, Beinecke Library, Yale University

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

Edith Wharton's estate, The Mount
Courtesy of The Mount

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

Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth
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.

Manuscript page from The House of Mirth
Edith Wharton Collection, Beinecke Library, Yale University

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

Manuscript page from The House of Mirth, zoom
Edith Wharton Collection, Beinecke Library, Yale University

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

A.B. Wenzell Illustration, 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.

A.B. Wenzell Illustration, The House of Mirth
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.

Contributors:

Emily Botein and Michele Siegel

Comments [3]

Carol O. Troiani from Burlington, CT

Great show. Wonderful, insightful commentary from Ms. Höller, as well. As I listened, I kept wondering where I heard that voice before. It was during a tour of The Tenement Museum guided by non other than Ms. Höller. Anyone looking for more wisdom and interaction from this scholar will enjoy her tour of the museum.
Until my next trip to NY's Lower East Side, keep up the good work!

Nov. 07 2010 11:05 AM
Carolina A Miranda from NYC

wonderful piece. keep 'em coming.

Nov. 05 2010 09:11 PM
Hash from New York

Isn't it great to know that the rich will rule us and now instead of aristocracy we will now have corporatocracy

Oct. 31 2010 06:51 PM

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