House of Mirth

Posted by on Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

House of Mirth by Edith Wharton and House of Mirth directed by Terence Davies

This is where I normally explain that there was some hole in my education, through which some of the great masters slipped.  You know what?  Forget that.  Dear reader, I openly admit that I haven’t read everything yet.  Hence, you know, the still reading. 

Anyway, the novel follows Lily Bart, a New York socialite who is increasingly distressed because she’s unmarried and has limited financial resources.  Lily is essentially bratty and conniving at the opening of the novel, but witty and resourceful as well.  As the story progresses, Lily sabotages a few of her better marriage prospects because she has unintentionally fallen for a man who has to work as a lawyer, and thus lacks the means to support her in the style to which she has become accustomed.  She makes some bad choices, loses the support of her wealthy benefactress aunt, spirals into the working class, and dies.  Of course she does.  Wharton knew what a tough spot a poor gentlewoman of her era was stuck in.    The book is well-written, engaging, heart-breaking, and intensely modern.  Not that many novelists in the period were writing lead women who were, in many ways, unlikeable.

The film lost some of the bite of the novel.  I like Gillian Anderson too much to buy her as the real Lily.  In the same way that the Fanny Price in the recent film adaptation of Mansfield Park was too strong and funny to be the same character in the novel, this Lily is too good to be the Lily from the novel.  The screenwriter did Lily some favors, which allowed Anderson to do Lily some more favors, and the main character in the film actually gets to be more of a heroine.  The film is also a bit too slow–many period films revel in the hard work done by set dressers and costumers a bit too much, sacrificing pacing for good, clear pans through the beauty.  There’s a bit too much of that in the film.  And Anderson’s Lily is a bit too indiscreet–the Lily of the novel, for all of her naughtiness, was not making out with guys on benches outside parties.  She mad mistakes, but she didn’t knowingly sink her reputation in that particular way.

Filed in Books,Film | 4 responses so far

4 Responses to “House of Mirth”

  1. --Debon 04 Apr 2007 at 10:09 pm 1

    That’s one Edith Wharton I haven’t read yet but there’s no question she can write! But, yes, her endings are often . . . depressing (grin).

  2. Janeon 04 Apr 2007 at 10:46 pm 2

    I read H of M last year (listened to it, actually). It was achingly sad, and yes, very modern.

  3. Junoon 05 Apr 2007 at 10:43 am 3

    I’ve never read the book, but I adored the movie.
    It may have been one of those things that just caught me in the right mood – but I was mesmerized. Ended up sitting on the couch weeping uncontrollably.

    Perhaps I benefited from not having the text to compare it unfavorably too?

  4. rachelon 06 Apr 2007 at 10:48 am 4

    Lily making out on a park bench? For reals? That’s just wrong. So, so wrong.

    Hey, did you know your blog isn’t updating on Bloglines? These last two posts never showed up over there.

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