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92Y's Read By

Aug 2, 2020

Jennifer Egan on her selection:

The House of Mirth was the first literary classic that I picked up entirely on my own, without prodding from a teacher or a parent, and adored.  I read it as a teenager, during a stifling summer visit to my grandparents, when my literary tastes were unsophisticated (Archie comics were high on my list).  I recall the experience as my coming-of-age as a reader—when I learned, years before discovering that I wanted to write, what transformative power a work of fiction can have.  Because my attachment to The House of Mirth is so personal, I tend to reread it with slight trepidation that the magic may have fled.  But each time, I find the novel’s tragic power intact, even as the nature of the tragedy seems to shift—from the perils of living by one’s looks (teenage reading) to the cruelty of the world toward women (young adult reading) to the struggle for personal freedom in a money-obsessed culture (adult readings) to my most recent (middle-aged, I’ll reluctantly call it) appreciation of the novel as an artifact of the Gilded Age that lays bare that era’s pathologies.  All of which moves me to assert that Edith Wharton’s second novel is a masterpiece, a pinnacle of American letters that remains electrifying and relevant in our 21st Century.

The House of Mirth with an introduction by Jennifer Egan at 

Music: “Shift of Currents” by Blue Dot Sessions // CC BY-NC 2.0