Alright, so The House of Mirth is an extraordinarily clever book. Wharton clearly has such a sense of social “manners” and the intelligence to imply the underlying aspects of that culture that her prose is realistic, sharp and prying. The interactions between characters are remarkably clever and loaded with social constructs of the way things are and imply the way they feel they should be, notably the relationship between Selden and Lily.
Here’s a ditty that stuck out for me: “He had a confused sense that she must have cost a great deal to make, that a great many dull and ugly people must, in some mysterious way, have been sacrificed to produce her.” This, in a way, and from the beginning of the book, sums up the sense of people in this time period. They are ordered, put into classes based on public perception by easily observable characteristics that are often socially agreed upon as to their meaning. At every sentence Wharton fumes with the definable, shallow perception of people and society. But at the same time, this shows without explicitly stating the human factors that are inescapable in the development of the plot and the conflicts that are the result of far more complex motives and emotions of these people that come forth and lead to quite a shock at every turn. Any followings of the characters into what their motives drive them to translate to the public/societal time frame as out of the ordinary. We see that ordinary is rather a construct in this book and higher society at large than a reality and it reflects Wharton’s prying intelligence into the overarching pointlessness of it all.