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Party Girl: Lily Bart

Gillian Anderson in the 2001 film-version of House of Mirth. 

In honor of our party theme this month, we're taking a look at some of history's notorious party girls. Here, meet Lily Bart.


The heroine of Edith Wharton's 1905 novel The House of Mirth, Lily Bart might have been the first modern-day party girl. The story takes places against the backdrop of New York high-society in the 1890s. Long before Carrie in Sex and the City, before Mary in Party Girl and even before Holly Golightly in Breakfast and Tiffany's, Lily Bart was the prototypical single girl in New York, the last one at the party when everyone else has moved on. 



For the past 11 years, the lively and beautiful Lily has been a fixture in the fast crowd and on the social scene. Though once wealthy, a series of misfortunes changed that, a situation worsened by gambling debts that she has accrued. Lily decides that her only way to escape the fate that is rapidly closing in on her is to find a wealthy husband.

Author Edith Wharton

Lily's plan for finding one is to say yes to every social engagement she's offered, but she soon finds that she can no longer afford the fashions that she once considered so important. "If I were shabby no one would have me: a woman is asked out as much for her clothes as for herself. The clothes are the background, the frame, if you like: they don't make success, but they are a part of it," she says. 


But now, at 29 Lily's beauty is fading, and she's forced to come to terms with the fact that "younger and plainer girls were being married off by the dozens." It doesn't help matters that, in the past, Lily turned down several marriage proposals because she considered the suitors weren't good enough for her. "I have been about too long," Lily complains, "People are tired of me."


Sadly, The House of Mirth is not a story that ends happily ever after and Lily never does find her prince, and it's a true tearjerker. 

But, in no way should that keep you from going out tonight, and you're probably going to need something to wear.