House of Mirth

Economy of Risk

The society in Edith Wharton's House of Mirth is immersed in an economy of risk. The men work as businessmen, trading on the fluctuating stock market; the women spend their time at the bridge table wagering their family savings. Wharton makes a comment on the extent to which this economy pervades the society when she describes the conversational skills of the banal Percy Gryce: "Mr. Gryce was like a merchant whose warehouses are crammed with an unmarketable commodity" (23). By making reference to Gryce's words as a "commodity," or saleable object, Wharton connects money to things beyond goods and services; in this description Wharton creates a connection between money and words. While this is one of the few explicit connections Wharton makes between money and words, the association pervades the novel. Wharton does not bombard the reader with this association, instead she suggests the association at a few points on each level of the novel, the literal level, the level of people and decisions, and the level of plot movement. The association is most apparent in societies use of the telegram - a device that literally makes words worth money. The connection then extends to the social relationships in the...

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