Thursday, May 6th, 2010

"The House of Mirth" as a Poorly Played Game of "Choose Your Own Adventure"

CHOICES!Premise: You are an attractive, well-bred young woman in your late twenties; genteel, if shabby. You have poor impulse control, no real money, and a reasonably well-off aunt who generally bails you out of scrapes.

1. On your way to a week-long house party in Rhinebeck, you miss your train. On the platform, you encounter your true love, Lawrence Selden. He invites you to take tea with him in his rooming house while you wait. You…

A) Insist that he preserve your reputation by taking you to a public tea-room instead.
B) Rebuff him and remain on the platform.
C) Accompany him to his apartment unchaperoned, insult the dinginess of his surroundings, and inform him that his legal salary disqualifies him as a husband.

2. Upon leaving Selden's apartment, you run into the unfortunately Jewish, and hence socially dead, Simon Rosedale who asks what brings you to a street consisting entirely of male rooming houses. You…

A) Tell him the reasonably innocent truth, and butter him up by accepting his offer of a lift to the train and making friendly conversation.
B) Make up a weak story about visiting your dressmaker, and butter him up by accepting his offer of a lift to the train and making friendly conversation.
C) Make up a weak story about visiting your dressmaker, then insult him by jumping into a hansom cab and dashing off.

3. On the train, you spot the unbearably dull but extremely wealthy Percy Gryce, en route to the same party. You flirt with him successfully, and ask after his unbearably dull collection of Americana. It occurs to you that you should marry this unbearably dull man and use his money to buy many dresses. Selden arrives unexpectedly. Over the course of the week, you…

A) Maintain a meek, sedate demeanor, attend church with Gryce, avoid Selden like the plague, dress conservatively, ask more questions about Americana.
B) Behave in a reasonably neutral manner, sneak two cigarettes behind the fountain in the garden, treat Selden civilly, do nothing disastrous in public.
C) Lose tremendous amounts of money at cards, and skip church… twice… in order to continue your flirtation with Selden, who you still refuse to consider as a husband. Then, let your rival for Selden's affections, the adulteress Bertha Dorset, use your distraction as an opening to terrify Gryce away with tales of your poor impulse control and nicotine addiction.

4. Despondent at your decaying financial prospects, you go to pick up your hostess's husband, Gus Trenor, at the train station. You reveal your debts, bat your eyelashes, and play on his sympathies. He promises to take over your failing investments, and you begin receiving generous cheques as a result. His manner towards you becomes increasingly friendly and familiar, and culminates in an awkward scene in which his romantic designs are made clear. He also accuses you of having an affair with Selden. Selden sees you leaving the house with Trenor, assumes that you have become Trenor's mistress, becomes enraged. Then Rosedale proposes marriage! So you…

A) Reveal all to Selden, pledge your undying love, marry him.
B) Become either Trenor's mistress or Simon Rosedale's wife, achieving financial security.
C) Tell your horrified aunt about your gambling addiction and clothing debts, rebuff Rosedale, Selden, and Trenor, and jet off to the Mediterranean for an impromptu vacation with the Dorsets.

5. It becomes clear that Bertha Dorset has invited you to the Mediterranean to provide cover for her own illicit adultery. Spotting her chance to frame you for an imagined tryst with her husband, she takes it, booting you from their yacht, devastating you socially and leaving you literally stranded in Monte Carlo. After making your own way back to New York, your aunt dies, almost completely disinheriting you, and removing your financial safety net. Happily, compromising letters proving a previous affair between Bertha and Selden have come into your possession, allowing you to…

A) Use the letters to blackmail Bertha Dorset into restoring your social position, then reveal all to Selden.
B) Take a job as a milliner, a trade you understand nothing about, and which requires more speed and manual dexterity than you currently possess or have any hope of acquiring.
C) Marry Simon Rosedale.

6. Oh but Simon Rosedale no longer wants to marry you. You find an unfulfilling but reasonably lucrative job as a secretary to the divorcee Mrs Norma Hatch. Examining the limited options available, you…

A) Use the letters to blackmail Bertha Dorset into restoring your social position, then reveal all to Selden.
B) Remain in the employ of Mrs. Hatch, and attempt to gradually work your way back into society's graces.
C) Take a job as a milliner, a trade you understand nothing about, and which requires more speed and manual dexterity than you currently possess or have any hope of acquiring.

7. You are a terrible milliner, and find yourself fired at the end of the season. Circling the drain, you…

A) Use the letters to blackmail Bertha Dorset into restoring your social position, reveal all to Selden.
B) Try to get your job back with Mrs. Hatch, and accept Simon Rosedale's offer of financial assistance.
C) Give Gus Trenor your tiny inheritance to repay him for his earlier cheques, leaving yourself penniless and unemployed. Rebuff Selden a final time, and burn the letters that represent your one hope of salvation.

8. You've become accustomed to supplementing your sleep with a heavy dose of chloral. This particular night, sleep continues to elude you. You….

A) Take your usual dose with a mug of hot milk, count sheep. In the morning, reveal all to Selden.
B) Take a slightly higher dose, fall asleep more quickly. In the morning, accept Simon Rosedale's offer of financial assistance.
C) Think, "at least I won't have to make any more damn hats," and chug away.

Nicole Cliffe lives in Sandy, Utah. As a pending legal resident of the United States, she neither travels to Arizona nor accepts money in exchange for goods, services or blog posts about Edith Wharton. She used to work for a successful hedge fund, but was not allowed to touch the money there, either.

28 Comments / Post A Comment

Jim Demintia (#1,815)

This was amazing. Now do 'The Mayor of Casterbridge'.

Mar (#2,357)

Yes, this feature is the best. "Age of Innocence"?

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

This was fantastic. "X as a poorly played game of CYOA" should be a column!

alannaofdoom (#4,512)


Bittersweet (#765)

Thirded. Can we get an international edition with "Sentimental Education" or "Crime and Punishment"?

That movie was miscast all over the damn place.

Brian (#115)

I knooooooow. And I loved everyone, in literally anything else.

the teeth (#380)

Fair 'nuffs, but if you play it any better, where's the Mirth?

brad (#1,678)

oooo, do A Light in August. i want to know how the castration scene goes.

TrilbyLane (#1,318)

very excellent, and look, there's a (small) consensus – we demand a series!
I want Clarissa.
Except it would be the same choice over and over…
a) faint; whinge; weakly resist; go nuts
b) just fuck him already
c) actually leave town properly, and think about something else

Mar (#2,357)

Lovelace FTW. Again and again.

Mar (#2,357)

I mean, who dies of screwing a hot dude? That must have been one spicy salami.

adminslave (#3,548)

That book is like a slow burn. At first, when she keeps going on and on about how sickly she is and how she may die, I rolled my eyes. Another 300 pages in, and waterworks. Also the part where she talks about being held by her mother (who will never see her again as she is ruined)? Sob.

Mar (#2,357)

It's no "Pamela," that's for damn sure.

oudemia (#177)

I love this! xoxo

Flippanter (#4,696)

I go paragliding near Sandy! I've never associated it with Edith Wharton, though.

laurel (#4,035)

I would like to read this for the first time all over again.

TwoDollars (#2,898)

Had CYOA existed, I feel like Edith would have chosen this format for the book. It works THAT WELL.

lotsoftreble (#2,715)

Once again, Gerty Farish is simply overlooked. Why? Because she's dull? Because she's plain? She could have been helpful, dammit. She could have been helpful.


Amy Knoll (#4,786)

This is perfect. I want Henry James next! They all end with "Protagonist" realizes they will never have joy in their lives as they were manipulated by others and must wallow in their misery forever.

synchronia (#3,755)

The Golden Bowl doesn't!

Kate Croy (#973)

It does for Charlotte.

synchronia (#3,755)

True, but I never thought of her as the protagonist…

Kate Croy (#973)

Perhaps not! I have a soft spot for polyglot tramps.

Annie K. (#3,563)

Anyway, in this new age of interactive whatnots, aren't the commenters now a part of the editorial/writerly process? a dual monarchy become a triumvirate, if you will? and if the commenters want more of these, won't more now be a done deal?

Or am I in over my head again? Anyway, Lily Bart is an idiot.

Crantastical (#4,127)

This was amazing! I loved Edith Wharton in high school. I was such a bizarre teen. Also, chloral is nothing like xanax, right??

smapdi (#1,306)

I had just been formulating my own HOM game. Mine involves and xacto knife and bottle of X-anax. Whoever removed the most atteries from their right arm before Lilly dies wins!

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