The House of Mirth

by: Edith Wharton

Lily Bart

Characters Lily Bart

The protagonist of the novel, Lily Bart, is a beautiful young woman searching for the right husband who will give her the money and status to remain in upper-class New York social circles. While she has a streak of the romantic in her, her primary focus is on the wealth and social status of potential suitors, and she casts aside many options, believing she can do better. The novel follows a two-year period in Lily’s life as she moves from party to party, struggling to stay within the favor of the wealthy while mounting larger and larger debts. Unfortunately, her precarious financial situation forces her to try some risky investing with the help of a married man, which ends up backfiring and resulting in her being cast out of the circles she so desperately wishes to join. When her family rejects her for the same untrue rumors, Lily is forced to join the middle class, working as a hat maker. Her slide into poverty and depression continues, and eventually, Lily takes too large a dose of sleeping medication—perhaps accidentally—and dies in her sleep. Her focus on financial success never allows her to truly consider a marriage to Selden, her truest friend and most ideal match.