Edith Wharton had written only one other full-length novel when she began The House of Mirth in 1904. Her first work, The Valley of Decision (1902), had been a historical novel set in eighteenth-century Italy. Characterised by meticulous, almost obsessively replete local detail, it had been admired but not warmly received, except by Henry James, who immediately wrote what became a famous letter to Wharton urging her to abandon remote subjects and “do New York”.
Her setting for the bestselling story was the high society of her contemporary New York. Lily Bart, nearly thirty, a celebrated society beauty who has never succeeded in attaching the sort of rich man she needs to marry in order to maintain her …
Preston, Claire. "The House of Mirth". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 09 October 2002
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