Wharton, Edith: The House of Mirth
(researched by Joanna Kozakou)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description

1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)

This book was copyrighted and published in 1905 by Charles Scribner's Sons in New York. (MDCCCCV)

2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?

The cover of the book was first published in a red cloth with embossed gold printing. The printed paper of the book is off white, but it does seem to have browned a bit with age. Tracing-type paper separates the first illustration and the title page. Every illustration is printed on smooth, white, thick, more glossy paper. The cover is a red cloth with the title in gold embossed letters, enclosed in a gold box.

3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available

4 Pagination

The book's first page number is 3--the first page of the novel. Each number is also encased in brackets [3]. Illustrations are excluded. Total number of pages are 533; however, five blank pages follow. There are a total of 17 unnumbered pages.

5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?

The novel is neither introduced nor edited.

6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?

Edith Wharton's novel is illustrated by A.B. Wenzell. The illustrations are printed on white, thick, glossy paper.

7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available

8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)

At this point in the book's lifetime, the binding is beginning to come apart and pages may easily fall out. The text is attractive as it is similar to Times New Roman font and reads easily. The book also has dingbats at the headers of text pages for stylistic purposes. The binding is printed in sections, and attached to the cover.

9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available

10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)

The paper is thick and is holding up over time. The paper on which the illustrations are printed on are also holding up well.

11 Description of binding(s)

The binding is in poor condition; it seems to have been glued together and is now coming apart. Also, the paper is a bit worn at the edges.

12 Transcription of title page


13 JPEG image of title page, if available

14 Manuscript Holdings

No known manuscripts.

15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)

The information from the title page appears in capital letters with title, author, and publishing company printed in what seems to have been red, but orange now.

Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History

1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A

Yes. The following is a list of dates that Scribner's issued the book in more than one edition: 1905 1908 1914 1933 1951 1975 1989

2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available

3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available

4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?

5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A

Bantam Books, 1986 Guild American Hardcover, no date found Vintage Books, 1990 Folio Society, 1990 NY: Berkeley, 1984 Scribner Books, 1995/1997 Quality Paperback Book Club, no date found International Collectors Library, no date found Twayne Publishing, 1990 NY: Limited Editions, 1975 Signet, 1964/1980/1995 Mass Market Paperback, 1964/1980/1995/1997 NTC Publishing Group, 1998 Simon & Schuster, 1987/1995/1997 NY Penguin Classics, 1986 Penguin USA, 1993 John Lehmann Ltd., 1953 Toronto: McLeod & Allen, 1905 Houghton Mifflin, 1963 Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962 MacMillan Publishing Co., 1987 Everymans Library, 1991 Vintage Books, 1990 Oxford University Press, 1994 St. Martins Press, 1994 Demco Media, 1986 Transaction Large Print, 1999 Amereon Ltd., 1985 Queens House, 1977 North Books, 1998 Icon Books, 1998 Transaction Publishers, 1905/1999 Wordsworth Editions, 1997 Tally Hall Press, 1997 Knopf, 1991 S. French, 1995 J.M. Dent, 1993 Guild America Books, no date found

6 Last date in print?

Still in print.

7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)

8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)

9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)

10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available

11 Other promotion


12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A

Movie: 1918; House of Mirth, directed by Alber Capellani TV Movie: 1981; House of Mirth

13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A

No translations known.

14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A

No serialization known.

15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A

No sequels or prequels known.

Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author

1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)

"Decidedly, I'm a better landscape gardener than novelist, and this place, every line of which is my own work, far surpasses The House of Mirth." --Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton was born Edith Newbold Wharton on January 24, 1862 in New York City to George and Lucretia Jones. Being raised by an aristocratic family with ancestry dating back three hundred years, Wharton was taught the mannerisms and social conduct th
at was expected of a young lady her age. Wharton, however, chose to rebel against this strict code of conduct. At an early age she was schooled at home and read her father's library extensively. Her Pulitzer Prize winning biographer, R.W.B. Lewis say
s, her works are priceless. Continuing testimony to the female experience under modern historical and social conditions, to the modes of entrapment, betrayal, and exclusion devised for women in the first decades of the American and European twentieth century. (Lewis xii) In 1885 Edith Jones married Edward Wharton, a Bostonian who was thirteen years her senior. They traveled a great deal with homes in New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Her marriage, however, was not a satisfying one. With rumors that her husban
d had been unfaithful, Wharton met and fell in love with Morton Fullerton and was "sexually awakened as a 46 year old woman living virtually on her own in Paris." Soon after Edith divorced Teddy (a nickname) and never married again. Wharton, unfortunately, was suffering from "a mature version of her recurring adolescent sadness" (Lewis, 67). She would appear from time to time from her New York apartment "wearing a sweet sad smile, to buy black thread and silk or to order a bonnet ma
de for her; then, the New York season over, she disappears for unknown places (ibid). Much of Edith Wharton's time was spent in Paris and abroad. Wharton was praised and criticized for The House of Mirth, but most importantly the Parisian elite was fascinated by American society and the manner in which Wharton wrote of it. Alternatively,
New York society criticized Wharton more than anything for her negative betrayal of their little circles. A website dedicated to Edith Wharton discussed her social activities: She held salon where the gifted intellectuals of her time gathered to discuss and share ideas. Teddy Roosevelt, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway were all guests of hers at one time or another. Another facet of Edith's career was her friendship
with Henry James whose influence on her writing is inestimable. Edith enjoyed the company of intelligent men during her entire life. The following is a chronological list of events that occurred during Wharton's lifetime: 1878 Publishes Verses, privately 1889 Publishes poems in Scribner's Magazine 1897 Publishes Decoration of Houses, with Ogden Codman 1899 Publishes first stories, Greater Inclination 1902 Publishes first novel, Valley of Decision 1905 Publishes important best seller, House of Mirth 1907 Settles in Paris 1911 Publishes Ethan Frome 1913 Publishes Custom of the Country 1914-18 Devotes time to refugee and charity work in Wharton France 1917 Publishes Summer 1920 Awarded Pulitzer Prize for novel, The Age of Innocence 1923 Receives the Yale honorary award of Doctor of Letters 1930 Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters Wharton died in 1937 after suffering from many strokes. She is buried in Paris, France and her tomb reads: "Ave Crux Spes Unica," or "Hail, cross, the one hope." In conclusion, this last quote from The Age of Innocence exhibits Wharton's ability to capture a moment: It was not the custom in New York drawing-rooms for a lady to get up and walk away from one gentleman in order to seek the company of another. Etiquette required that she should wait, immovable as an idol, while the men who wished to converse with her su
cceeded each other at her side. But the Countess was apparently unaware of having broken any rule; she sat at perfect ease in a corner of the sofa beside Archer, and looked at him with the kindest eyes. (63) The following is a list of works by Edith Wharton: Verses 1878 The Decoration of Houses 1897 The Greater Inclination 1899 The Touchstone 1900 Crucial Instances 1901 The Valley of Decision 1902 Italian Villas and Their Gardens 1904 The House of Mirth 1905 Italian Backgrounds 1905 The Fruit of the Tree 1907 Madame de Treymes 1907 A Motor-Flight Through France 1908 Artemis to Actaeon and Other Verse 1909 Ethan Frome 1912 The Reef 1912 The Custom of the Country 1913 Fighting France, from Dunkerque to Belfort 1915 The Book of the Homeless 1916 Xingu and Other Stories 1916 Summer 1917 The Marne 1918 French Ways and Their Meaning 1919 The Age of Innocence 1920 In Morocco 1920 The Glimpses of the Moon 1922 A Son at the Front 1923 Old New York 1924 The Mother's Recompense 1925 The Writing of Fiction 1925 Here and Beyond 1926 Twelve Poems 1926 Twilight Sleep 1927 The Children 1928 Hudson River Bracketed 1929 The Gods Arrive 1932 A Backward Glance 1934 The Buccaneers 1938 Edith Wharton: the uncollected critical writings Edited by Frederick Wegener 1997 Edith Wharton Abroad: selected travel writings, 1888-1920 Edited by Sarah Bird Wright 1996

Assignment 4: Reception History

1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

In the numerous reviews of Edith Wharton's book "The House of Mirth", reviewers praise the author as being extremely talented and the book as being one of her best accomplishments. She is not only praised for he
r superb writing style, but for her ability to draw a reader into her book. James Huneker says of the main character Lily Bart, "She has been put under a glass and subjected to the air-pump pressure of Mrs. Wharton's art." Wharton managed to create a c
haracter which people across the nation sought to relate to and become acquainted with. It is precisely because of Lily Bart that Wharton's The House of Mirth became so successful. When the novel was first published critics raved: "Mrs. Wharton has done many good things-she has never done anything better than this. Her dialogue is clever, fresh and sparkling; she has a fine discrimination-a natural, unstudied discrimination-in the use of words; and her style is graceful and fluent
." "As a piece of artistic creation, it falls short of supreme excellence." While many critics are often critical of writers and their books, Wharton only received undying praise for this novel. "A dozen other novels of the year are good; but this book is really good. What Mrs. Wharton appears to lack is in a word the creative gift at its fullest. She sees with certainty and her hand is as sure as her eye. But with the richest imaginations som
ething takes place beyond this." Various aspects of her writing were criticized; such as her dialogue, observations, comments, and her wittiness when writing. Interestingly enough, Wharton was criticized for her habit of using men and women as butts for satire and masks for a dialogue i
n previous novels, but with "The House of Mirth" they found that that the novelist had freed "herself from these trammels." Wharton's novel was also likened to art: "Certainly 'The House of Mirth' shows a marked advance in acceptance of responsibilit
y to art, a far larger sense of the value of composition, and a great increase of power in putting that sense to use." I have opted--instead of narrating Wharton's success-to include more excerpts: "'The House of Mirth' marks her coming of age as a novelist. At last, and simultaneously, she had discovered both her medium and her subject matter?.The different levels of society in 'The House of Mirth' are explored with a precision comparable to t
hat of Proust whom Mrs. Wharton was later so greatly to admire." The House of Mirth was not simply considered a book. It was viewed with such admiration and showered with such praise; critics found much depth and meaning to her characters and the societ
y in which they lived in. "I believe that she will be remembered for her two great novels of manners: The House of Mirth, and The Age of Innocence. In these she succeeded in re-creating an adventurous and ceremonious society, appropriately sheltered behind New York brownstone, l
ooking always to the east rather than to the west, and the impact upon it of the winds that blew from both directions."

2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

Although there haven't been many subsequent reviews on Edith Wharton's "The House of Mirth", what has been published has, of course, been positive. The following are excerpts from later reviews: "Lily Bart, by her intelligence and charm as well as by her situation, remind us of Charlotte Stant, Kate Croy, and Fleda Vetch. It is inevitable that her story should be told largely from her point of view. But Mrs. Wharton has not conceived this as an
artistic principle to which sacrifices must be made, and she finds it more convenient to present many passage of the story from the point of view of Selden, and even of such insignificant characters as Mrs. Peniston, Mrs. Stepney, Gerty Farish, and Treno

Assignment 5: Critical Analysis

1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)

"The heart of fools is in the house of mirth." --Ecclesiastes
Published on October 14, 1905, Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth was praised for being one of the first novels to give an accurate representation of American society. One hundred thousand copies were in print as of November 20 and over 140,000 by the
end of the year. The House of Mirth was the best-selling novel across the country, and rivaled successes such as The Garden of Allah by Maxfield Parrish, The Wings of the Dove by Henry James, and The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (Lewis, 151).
Despite its huge success, The House of Mirth encountered mixed reactions. Wharton was criticized for having given a negative impression of American society and for having chosen a subject matter that was utterly unsuitable for conversion into literature,
which demands ideals and humor and for not shedding a more positive light on her characters (Lewis, 154). Wharton herself has said, "When I wrote The House of Mirth I held, without knowing it, two trumps in my hand. One was the fact that New York socie
ty 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" (
Wegener, 265). The bulk of reviews, however, stated that Wharton was one of the three most serious fiction writers of American society and that The House of Mirth was one of her most distinguished novels as of yet. Some argued whether it "could be adjud
ged a masterpiece of whether it fell just short of that final accolade" (Lewis, 154).
Wharton's The House of Mirth was the first full-scale criticism of the "comédie humaine," American style . Set in a contemporary time, it covers the last seventeen months in the life of Lily Bart, a beautiful, penniless young woman in her twenties. Wha
rton first introduced her book in installments and readers became infatuated with the protagonist, Lily Bart, and made her a part of their lives. Total strangers wrote Wharton to share their feelings about The House of Mirth. One woman wrote saying that
she had telegraphed a friend to tell them that Lily was dead and another wrote enclosing a two-cent stamp begging Wharton to write and say whether it was possible for Lily to marry Lawrence Selden (Lewis, 152). The novel obviously became an obsession fo
r many-partly because of its insiders' look into New York's society. Many sought to compare the author to her main character, Lily Bart. Many argued that she embodies many of Wharton's characteristics and features because of her pride, sensitivity, a
nd bitterness. It is said that, "through Lily Bart, Edith Wharton conveyed her sense of herself as essentially unfitted for the only American society she knew, and as gravely misunderstood by that society" (Lewis, 155). Lawrence Selden, interestingly en
ough, is likened to "an emblem of masculinity in Edith's world" (ibid). However, there were many differences in the "outward and material circumstances of Edith Wharton and Lily Bart" (ibid). Also, many reviewers have said that Wharton's soul was pai
ned and trapped, with psychological and physical deprivation (ibid). Essentially, Wharton used Bart as a representation of herself-one which was unfit and misunderstood by American Society. Henry James described The House of Mirth to Wharton as being an
"altogether superior thing?better written than composed. When I do that I shall work in a tribute to the great success and the large portrayal of your Lily B. She is very big and true-and very difficult to have kept big and true" (Lewis, 153).
During the time of the novel's publication, there was not much political activity nor were there any significant events in the media. In fact, the most popular news involved the union tensions and most of what The Jungle had sought to bring to society'
s attention. It is very probable that Wharton's success was self-made and that she relied on her own knowledge of New York society to spark an interest in the minds of many. It is also likely that because of the lack of significant news in the United S
tates, people sought to turn to Wharton's novel in order to fulfill their time and imaginations. Since Wharton's novel was first published in installments, people usually looked forward to the next issues and centered many of their conversations around
Lily Bart and her life. In short, The House of Mirth became somewhat of an escape for many-Lily's life was something that was adventuresome and exciting and during the early twentieth century many people yearned for both of these qualities.
When reviewing her novel, Wharton sought to explain its origins and its existence. She summed it up best when she said, "In my volume of reminiscences, A Backward Glance, I analyzed to the best of my ability, the origin of The House of Mirth, as viewed i
n the author's mind, and the reasons for its unfolding in the particular way it did. Here, on the contrary, I should like to try to describe what happened to it when nit entered other people's minds; for the strangest, and not the least interesting, ad
venture of any work of the imagination is the inevitable distortion it undergoes in passing from the mind of the writer to that of his readers" (Lewis, 268). The rulers of Old New York were disturbed to think that someone was divulging the secrets of the
ir society from the inside; had it been someone from the outside looking in and guessing, it would have been a different matter completely. However, Wharton was the insider telling all the secrets and this only angered and infuriated a small circle of Ne
w Yorkers.
These New Yorkers were especially angered by the portrayal of Lily Bart-a young girl who smoked, ran herself into debt, gambled, and flirted with bachelors! Wharton said, Ï was not only asking the outer world to believe that such creatures were tolerated
in New York society, but actually presenting this unhappy specimen as my heroine! And the people who surrounded her-dreadful caricatures of this or that cousin or uncle or aunt (for of course my characters were all immediately labeled, and some of them
wore at least three different labels)-well, it was all so painful and surprising and unaccountable that the best way, perhaps, was not to allude to the book in the presence of its author, but firmly to ignore the fact that she had committed this deplorabl
e blunder; a blunder which, like the book itself, would doubtless soon be forgotten" (Lewis, 268).
Wharton had gathered material for her book while living at the Mount. The house had an air of individuality and distinctness; this reflected Wharton's sense of "variety and unity of life and the nature of human relationships" (Lewis, 135). She was simu
ltaneously writing several short stories for her next book of fiction that was also to appear in Scribner's in serial form (Lewis, 144). This was the hardest that Wharton had worked her entire life. As Lewis writes, "It was Edward Burlingame, apparentl
y, who drew Edith back to in August 1904, by begging her to have the novel ready to begin serialization in Scribner's the following January, since another story due to start then had fallen through (Lewis, 151). After a period of "black despair" the nov
el was written in a rush and by October Wharton was pleased with her creation. From January to November 1905 The House of Mirth ran through eleven issues.
Besides being such a critically acclaimed author, Wharton was also a very dedicated critic. She appeared to be honoring the notion of such a "celebrated community of critical women or of an intellectual center presided over largely by members of her own
sex. Yet one remembers, of course, that the ideal salon, in her eyes, nonetheless consisted of women whose listening attentiveness forms a backdrop for the superior conversation among its male participants" (Wegener, 10). Wharton's temperament contribu
ted to her ability to be a critic and her understanding of fiction. Wharton's profound sensibility of nineteenth-century critical traditions aided the construction of much of her critical prose and the discussion of her own work. In addition, many of t
he cultures and languages that she was so familiar with gave her the expanded knowledge and wisdom to criticize others' work. As Wegener says, "Persuaded that the critical art had no room for writers of her own sex, and yet struggling so often and so do
ggedly to express her self as a critic, Wharton occupies a considerable, if problematic and ambiguous, place in a tradition to which so many other previously muted voices have lately been restored" (46). When speaking of her own work, Wharton did not hes
itate to be critical of it: "That is why, on reflection, I was not afraid of the poverty of my subject, but proceeded to attack it with the first fine careless valour of the inexperienced. And the subsequent career of the book would seem to justify my audacity; for, in spite of the
fact that I wrote about totally insignificant people, and 'dated' them by an elaborate stage-setting of manners, furniture and costume, the book still lives, and has now attained the honour of figuring on the list of the Oxford University Press" (266).

In the midst of writing The House of Mirth, Wharton was also dedicated to other activities. She was part of the Lenox Library Committee, the Village Improvement Committee, and the Flower Show Committee. Her interest in travelling did not stop, though.
She was fond of the New England countryside and would make frequent trips to admire its beauty. Lewis said, "There was romance here too, she was discovering, in the somber and changing scene" (137). This said, Lewis makes the connection between her own
life and the life that she creates in The House of Mirth by saying, "It is a modest and well-illustrated thesis is that, confronted by scenes of a conventional and stylized nature, 'it is only in the background that the artist finds himself free to expr
ess his personality.' Such a thesis could also find application in Edith Wharton's fictional portraits of the stirrings of rebellious individuality within conventional society. Perhaps, more obscurely, it might have relevance to the outward and inward
shaping of Edith Wharton's own life and personality" (144).
After divorcing her husband on April 16, 1913, Wharton traveled for the fifteen months; she visited seven countries on three continents. According to Henry James, she had begun to exercise what he called a "fantastic freedom" (Lewis, 339). During the sp
an of the First World War, from 1913 to 1918, Wharton dedicated much of her time to exploring the Walt Whitman side of her by writing poems. Also, she visited the British cavalry and infantry divisions (376).
As the author of two novellas, three collections of short stories, an historical novel, two travel books, and study of the decoration of houses, Wharton spent a great deal of her time writing and not doing much of anything else (Auchincloss, xi). Her int
erest in the elite society contributed a great deal to The House of Mirth's success. Most importantly, however, is the interest the public showed in her main character, Lily Bart. The novel follows Lily Bart's long and slow fall from the social grace
of New York's society. As Auchincloss writes, "she is dogged by her fatally good taste and by a moral code which is in part ethical and in part simply one of good manners?she suffers from her own high standards of what a 'lady,' a real lady, must do o
r not do"(Auchincloss, xii). Auchincloss best describes the great interest in the protagonist when he says, "one feels, the lovely Lily is simply the one and only lady in a tribe of near barbarians" (ibid). Her existence in a society which is contradict
ory to her lifestyle is what creates the intrigue which so many are attracted to. Lily's bad luck and her long descent into poverty deepens the tragedy. Continuing, Auchincloss states, "We feel that nothing could save Lily, that she is irretrievably do
omed by the conflict between her worldly tastes and her moral convictions. If she could only have been a little bit better or a little bit worse, she might have escaped the savage society that seemed to have tasted her blood" (Auchincloss, xiii).
The House of Mirth continues to be widely read today as well as many of Wharton's other novels such as Ethan Frome, The Custom of the Country, and The Age of Innocence. Her novels are read widely by the general public and many of them are taught in the
classroom. "There is no way of reacting to any phenomenon but by criticizing it; and to differentiate and complicate one's reactions is an amusement that the human intelligence will probably never renounce." --Edith Wharton

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