The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton is a novel that has failed to survive the last century. The writing style that was once declared as masterful storytelling now reads like a preachy, half-hearted effort. I screamed at the book many of the now standard writing advice slogans: “Show me, don’t tell me!” and “Relevant information only!” I found it hard to find the story anything but comical. Within the first dozen pages, the snotty, self-gratifying, and selfish “problems” of the characters wore me out and made me want to shake them and tell them that their fairy-tale problems in their fairy-tale lives don’t matter worth a damn and that the true problems existed with the maids that ran around serving them.
In many ways, I saw this as being similar to the show Downton Abbey, only instead of having the interesting stuff about the house staff, you only have the whiny girls trying to find husbands. The book wouldn’t have been quite so bad if I hadn’t tried to explain the plot to my wife early in the reading and ended up with Weird Al’s First World Problems song stuck in my head throughout the entire book. But I think that is a modern day equivalence: Young woman is distraught because her Wi-Fi doesn’t work in the kitchen because her house is too big. And the stress of this situation leads the girl to take a few too many antidepressants and ends up ODing. What a freaking Tragedy!
Even the end, when I was supposed to feel pained over the mournful events, I still couldn’t bring myself to feel anything. I think part of this was because I never saw the woman’s actions in my mind and deciphered her quirks, instead I was told exactly what she was thinking and how she did everything. It was like watching cardboard cutouts thrown around a room and told that it was a story. If this is supposed to be one of the great feminist books in American history, it surprises me that the movement ever took traction, but I am willing to admit that some of it may have been lost over time.