House of Mirth
Set among the elegant brownstones of New York City and the opulent country houses like gracious Bellomont on the Hudson, the novel creates a satiric portrayal of what Wharton herself called "a society of irresponsible pleasure-seekers" with a precision comparable to that of Proust. Her brilliant and complex characterization of the doomed Lily Bart, whose stunning beauty and dependence on marriage for economic survival reduce her to a decorative object, becomes an incisive commentary on the nature and status of women in that society.
Burdened by poverty and spiritually dulled by a loveless marriage to an older woman, Frome is emotionally stirred by the arrival of a youthful cousin who is employed as household help. Mattie's presence not only brightens a gloomy house but stirs long dormant feelings in Ethan. Their growing love for one another, discovered by an embittered wife, presages an ending to this grim tale that is both shocking and savagely ironic.