"The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth"
Like many Americans, I've become hooked on the BBC series, 'Downton Abbey'. Although it is reminiscent of another BBC classic, 'Upstairs Downstairs', it is a fantastic chronicle of privileged life in pre-WW1 England. And that brings to mind Edith Wharton, and how much I love her novels. She skewered 19th century society so thoroughly as only one who has lived it can. Although I loved 'The House of Mirth', Lily Bart's ultimate demise distressed me. But that was that time; that was how upper-crust society functioned in the late 1800's-early 1900's.
But times have changed. Or have they?
Claire McMillan's new novel, 'Gilded Age', is not so much a reworking of Wharton's famous novel, but more of a contemporary satire of love gained, love lost, and the ultimate end. It is a story of society's demands; once you reach the top, you can only fall back down. And Ellie Hart has done it all. She has survived an infamous divorce and a stint in rehab, and is now back in her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Of all the characters in this novel, I love Ellie the most. She is brash, out-of-control...but I expected more from her. But then, this is a reworking of 'The House of Mirth', and we all know how that ended.
I did not feel sorry for the other characters; I felt rather...set apart from them. Marry for money and security? Ha! Money and society's approval equals happiness? I don't think so. But I applaud Ms. McMillan's well-written story. It makes me appreciate how far women have come; how we don't need to 'marry for money' in order to survive. We can start our own businesses, use our own brains. We can live alone and like it. But I enjoyed reading 'Gilded Age'. It was well-written, but the narrator did not earn my sympathy. But perhaps she wasn't supposed to earn it.
For one who has no money and societal 'approval', I was rather amused to read about the chronicles of a contemporary woman who was considered a 'nobody' without marriage, money, and prestige. The novel is pure entertainment, although the ending was expected, as in Ms. Wharton's much-heralded novel.
Poor wealthy women. Poor wealthy men. Boo-hoo.
I'm crying in my champagne.
Claire McMillan's wonderful novel will be released in June 2012.