The House of Mirth takes place in New York during the early 20th century. At this time in New York the prosperous and wealthy members of society lived in luxury in extravagant houses with various additional assets such as yachts and motorcars. The poor, underprivileged members of society lived in cramped, uncomfortable apartments, rather than the grand estates or the rich. Society at this time required women to be completely dependent upon their family or their husband for financial issues and economic stability. It was essential that women marry into rich families if they plan to live the luxurious life of the rich and successful. If a woman had difficulty reaching this goal of marrying into a rich family or had chosen to attempt to be self-sufficient and independent, she would practically be guaranteed a life of poverty, despair and failure. However, if men desired that same luxurious life, they were not reliant on marriage to wealthy families, and could be self-sufficient through acquiring a stable career. .
Lily Bart is a very developed character who is caught between her desire for luxury and reality. Following the loss of the family fortune, both of Lily's parents died, leaving her to live with her aunt, Mrs. Peniston. Although her remaining family is prosperous and rich, she has no income of her own. This forces her to accept the reality that she must marry a rich man in order for her to maintain her luxurious lifestyle. At her age of 29 years, she is still exceptionally beautiful and attracts many men. The lines which she begins to develop on her face serve as constant reminders to her that she must find a husband soon, before she loses her beauty. She is pressured by society to appear to be charming, beautiful and entertaining to all men who qualify for her standards of potential husbands. Her life is filled with countless social events which she attends because these potential husbands are also present there.