House of Mirth


The title of the novel, The House of Mirth (1905), is derived from the Christian Old Testament, from the Book of Ecclesiastes, 7th chapter, verse 4:

“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”

—Ecclesiastes 7:4

Edith Wharton’s original title for the manuscript was A Moment's Ornament, which plainly stated the facts-of-life of the story of the socialite woman Lily Bart; and directly addressed the social limitations imposed upon her, as such, by the mores of the social class and social stratum to which she belonged by birth, education, and breeding.[4]

The manuscript title, A Moment's Ornament, refers to the Romantic imagery of the first stanza of the poem “She was a Phantom of Delight” (1804), by William Wordsworth (1770–1850), which describes an ideal of beauty of the type that narrowly circumscribed the life of Lily Bart:

“She was a Phantom of delight / When first she gleam’d upon my sight; / A lovely Apparition, sent / To be a moment’s ornament: / Her eyes as stars of twilight fair; / Like twilight's, too, her dusky hair; / But all things else about her drawn / From May-time and the cheerful dawn; / A dancing shape, an image gay, / To haunt, to startle, and waylay.”

—CLXXIV: She was a Phantom of Delight, first stanza (1804).[5]

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