Edith Wharton. She gets me every time. I know I should expect it and she shouldn't be able to surprise me, but she does.
People do not write like this anymore. If they did, publishers would reject it or send it back saying, "Remove flowery language and cut some details." But that is what makes the story so moving. Wharton's lyrical language is entrancing enough and into it she weaves a story that pierces your heart.
The House of Mirth follows the life of Lily Bart, a young woman with dreams of escalating the rungs of the New York society ladder around the year 1900. Throughout the book I was torn between adoring her, pitying her, and feeling that she was getting what she deserved. Lily is no two-dimensional character. She is vain, but she is kind. She is ambitious but self-controlled. She is willing to learn from her mistakes, a loyal friend, and refuses to speak against others even if it would be true. Unfortunately, she also makes some horrible decisions, is naïve, and does not open her heart up to the right people.
Lily spends a very long time searching for Mr. Right - someone who is rich and she could tolerate living with. A decision made for love is not one that she has been trained to make. The intolerance of society and shallowness of her friendships is made clear to her, but she hesitates to rely on those who truly love her.
The end was shocking, heart-wrenching, and so very Wharton-like. This book reminded me of another favorite of mine, Villette by Charlotte Bronte. It is one that will stay with you, floating around in your head as though you might be able to dash in and make something happen differently.