The House of Mirth Critical Overview - Essay

Edith Wharton

Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

The House of Mirth, Wharton’s second novel, was published in 1905 to immediate critical and popular acclaim. Her editor at Scribners noted that it enjoyed the publishing house’s quickest sales of the time. In comparing the novel to Wharton’s earlier works, many critics found its complexity, characterization, and emotional resonance to show her important advances as a writer. The New York Times Book Review praises Wharton as the “most scholarly and distinctive writer of fiction of the day,” while the Saturday Review notes that it is “one of the few novels which can claim rank as literature.” Review of Reviews has extremely high praise, announcing that The House of Mirth is “worked out in a manner to stamp the writer a genius, and give her name a place in the history of American literature.” Writers as celebrated as F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Dean Howells, Sinclair Lewis, and Joseph Conrad all valued The House of Mirth, which was recognized even in its day as Wharton’s breakthrough novel.

The Times Literary Supplement commends Wharton’s “trenchant knowledge of the human spirit and its curious workings,” which is perhaps seen most clearly in Wharton’s depiction of Lily Bart. As Henry James astutely comments, Lily was “very big and true—and very difficult to have kept big and true.” One reviewer, Alice Meynell of London’s Bookman, focuses her attention on Lawrence...

(The entire section is 534 words.)