Article Expert Appendix A. B, C, & D from House of Mirth

Curtis Harty

House of Mirth: Appendix A, B, C, & D

Main Ideas/Content

  • Appendix A: This sections contains reflections from Edith Wharton on writing the novel. She focuses mainly on the city of New York as a setting, New York Society as her subject and the reception the novel received.
    • She talks of writing the novel that, “[she] held…two trumps in my hand. One was that New York society in the nineties was a field as yet unexploited by any novelist who had grown up in that little hot-house of traditions and conventions; and the other, that as yet these traditions and conventions were unassailed, and tacitly regarded as unassailable” (372).
    • “The fact is that Nature, always wasteful, and apparently compelled to create dozens of stupid people in order to produce a single genius, seems to reverse the process in manufacturing the shallow and the idle. Such groups always rest on an under pinning of wasted human possibilities and it seemed to me that the fate of the persons embodying these possibilities ought to redeem my subject from insignificance” (373).
    • “[G]reat was my astonishment when the story which I had conceived as a simple and fairly moving domestic tragedy, was revived with a loud cry of rejection and reprobation…it proceeded from the very group around whom I had lived my life and situated my story” (375).
      • “This supposed picture of their little circle, secure behind its high stockade of convention, alarmed and disturbed the rulers of Old New York” (375),
      • “But here was a story written by one of themselves…[one] of a young girl of their world who rouged, smoked, ran into debt, borrowed money, gambled, and—crowning horror!—went home with a bachelor friend to take tea in his flat!” (375).
      • “Less than twenty years later, if I had offered the same story to the same readers as a study in social corruption, they would have smiled instead of shuddering, and would have wondered why I had chosen the tame and blameless Lily Bart as the victim of avenging moral forces”(376).
    • “Ah, the golden days for the novelist were those in which a lovely girl could besmirch her reputation by taking tea between trains at a bachelor’s flat!” (376).
  • Appendix B: In this section, Edith Warton relates how she went about writing the novel and how time constraints—do to a change in publishing dates—caused the novel to form itself, in a way.
    • “The first chapters of my tale would have to appear almost at once, and it must be completed within four or five months! I have always been a slow worker, and was then a very inexperienced one, and I was to be put to the severest test to which a novelist can be subjected: my novel was to be exposed to public comment before I had worked it out to its climax” (379).
    • “It was good to turn from a drifting amateur into a professional; but that was nothing compared to the effect on my imagination of systematic daily effort…when the book was done I remember saying to myself: ‘I don’t yet know how to write a novel; but I know how to find out how to.’” (379)
  • Appendix C: This section is comprised of letter both to and from Edith Warton about publication and responses to the novel.
    • My favorite quote from this section, “I must protest, & emphatically, against the suggestion that I have “stripped” New your society. New York society is still amply clad, & the little corner of its garment that I lifted was meant to show only that little atrophied organ—the group of idle & dull people—that exists in any big & wealthy social body” (384).
  • Appendix D: This section is comprised of review from the time the novel was written from publications such as Independent, Outlook, Times Literary Supplement, Literary Digest and so on.
    • The reviews in this section are mostly positive but have interesting correlations. The critic from Independent doesn’t like the novel and calls for an ending where Lily is able to escape, where the critic from Literary Digest says the novel will be liked by all those except sentimentalist who want a happy ending—drops mic.

These sections, more than any other articles I have read this semester, have drawn out the author from the dark and murky depths of something signified and untouchable to someone who is real with concerns, problems and a certain amount of humility and humorous self-depreciation but with very apparent intelligence—she kind of reminds me of Lily Bart.

Why does this novel still resonate with readers today when the social conventions which led to Lily’s downfall had disappeared even in Wharton’s time?

And the age old question, should the author’s views be considered when analyzing this novel?


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