13. The House of Mirth (1905)
Author: Edith Wharton
Areas Featured: Midtown, Financial District, Long Island
This story of New York society takes places during the dawn of the 20th century, after the Industrial Revolution, but before World War One. (Downton Abbey gives an idea of the period.) Beautiful 29-year-old Lily Bart doesn't want to settle for prosperous marriage, though she's highly sought after. Instead, she wishes for mutual respect and love, or, if that doesn't shake out, financial independence. Her strength of will only sets her up for failure, as she loses the interest of the only man who provides any challenge for her, Lawrence Selden. She aimlessly drifts into addiction.
Nevertheless, Lily is a strong, magnetic character, braving the storm of manners and hollow propriety of the elite. This is a very different New York than most books allow you a look at: 5th Avenue parlors, trips to the beach, estates just out of town, and trips to Wall Street, where this new kind of market is selling stocks... â€”GT