Set at the turn of the twentieth century, the novel The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton offers a complete and insightful view to the varying degrees of classes that made up the women's society at the time. Each female character portrays a different part of society, ranging from the powerful rich, to the disrespected poor. Every character's personality and decisions were based around their desire, or lack there of, to fit into a certain social class. If this novel were the only source of information on women's society at the turn of the century, it could be concluded that society and its various levels of reputation served as a chief effecter of a female's actions. .
The character who was most affected by society was Lily Bart. Lily's entire life, and then even her death, revolved around social expectations. At the start of the book, Lily was constantly forced to act falsely to keep up the appearance of being high classed. She in fact came from a poor background and was now living with her Aunt Peniston. Facing tremendous gambling debts, she was always in financial upheaval. Yet she was required to act as though she belonged in the highest social class, because that is where she wished to be. Also, the fact that Lily loved Lawrence Selden, and could not marry the man she loved, was due to the fact that it was not socially acceptable. Selden was not as wealthy as she wanted and so she could not marry him. To be accepted into the high social circle she wished to continue to be included in, she needed a husband who was rich and prestigious. As the book progressed, Lily spiraled farther and farther into social and financial depression. Rumors were spread about her, mostly set up by Bertha, who was influenced by her own greed and jealousy, and debts from Gus Trenor could not be repaid. Little support was offered to her, and so Lily was gradually pushed out of the high social circle that she once associated with.