I must have read it a loooong time ago. I don't truly remember, but re-reading it yesterday in these times of 'selfies', was an eye-opener. It constantly amazes me how little society has changed over the last century.
The importance of being "the right kind, rich, thin, young looking" was as important in Wharton' tony times, as it is now in these times of immediate self aggrandizing.
In Wharton's book the protagonist, a formerly rich, now pretent-to-be rich-to fit-in Lily Bart finds out the hard way, that beauty alone is not enough, regardless of the right 'family' connections. She learns that trying desperately to match "the Jones", when one has only limited monetary resources even with the 'asset of beauty' eventually does not work. Despite the fact that she realizes that the lifestyle she has followed relying on her beauty and connections has turned out to be very wrong, she is incapable to cut back successfully her life style. She is, in the end, aware of her debts and makes good on them. Despite offers to become a kept woman, or betray a perceived friend, her newly re-found morale will not let her. She takes the only way out she can imagine! She is, after all, addicted to being known as beautiful, young and no-longer marriage material.. Sadly.
Now I am sure, others may read something different into this novel. Some will heap hatred on the 'robber barons' of that time, disdain on the vast wealth some garnered by hook or crook, or sneer at the 'empty headed' society women with their French couture and their ostentatious life style. And laugh at the desperate need to fawn on perceived 'betters' as long as they have a title or even more money!
But is this time any different?
We have the silicon barons; we have men who made their money by sailing close to the law, or even outside the law (drugs); we have wealthy 'trophy wives' who travel to Paris or Milan for their clothes; shop at boutiques for overpriced things; and we have the 'nouveaux riches' Justin Bieber and his ilk, the likes of 'A Rod' and his ilk, the Oprahs of TV, and her ilk! We have cosmetic surgery to keep artificial youth. And we have the "health watchdogs" who seem intent to prohibit which ever is the "current fad" of "Food bad for you" and dictate how one ought to look. Regardless of what talent one has, vide the recent storm over reviewers' critiques of opera singer's looks instead of voice!.