First published in 1905, this novel follows the downhill progress of beautiful Lily Bart in the world of rich, fast American society. It starts promisingly enough. The reader is intrigued to know who Lily is, why she is so alone in the world and how, if she is poor, she manages to live so expensively. These questions are soon answered and the rot sets in. The author seems to go endlessly round and round her subject: the same problems, the same frightful people and dull social engagements. It is impossible for me to feel sympathy for Lily. She sees no alternative to her way of life but the author shows that there is one: the Gerty Farish solution of living within one’s means in a dull but worthy manner.
There are similarities with The Bonfire of the Vanities in that one small incident triggers the main character’s downward spiral and with The Way We Live Now in the merciless exposure of empty lives. Both Tom Wolfe and Trollope are far better writers and engage the reader’s attention. This novel is completely lacking in pace and I would prefer Lily if she were an out and out, unscrupulous adventuress in the Becky Sharp mould. I was reading other books at the same time and every time I picked up this one again, my heart sank at the prospect of further dullness, so that I nearly gave up. Edith Wharton now goes on my list of overrated authors. Oh dear, I much prefer to be recommending books to people.