House of Mirth - Edith Wharton
The novel tells the story of Lily Bart, and unmarried woman in New York society. The book begins with Lily's visit to Lawrence Selden's apartment, a man whom she has feelings for, but to keep her social standing, Lily must marry a wealthier man than Selden. She turns towards Percy Gryce, a young and timid millionaire. When everyone is convinced that Percy will propose to Lily on the next occasion, she suddenly changes her mind and steps back. This is clearly caused by an unexpected visit by Lawrence Selden, who is now convinced of his love for her, but does not want to risk marriage. Gryce soon marries another girl from the same circle. Lily's social standing erodes when her friend Judy Trenor's husband Gus gives Lily a large sum of money. Lily innocently accepts the money, believing that it is the return on investments he supposedly made for her. The rumors of this transaction, and of her mysterious visit to Gus in his city residence, crack her social standing further. One day Lily receives a note from Selden. She is sure he is going to propose and accepts the meeting the next day. Selden, frightened by this sudden change of her heart (earlier she virtually escaped when he tried to kiss her), flees to Havana, and then Europe, leaving no notice. To escape the rumors and gossip caused by her deal with Trenor, and also disappointed with Selden, Lily accepts an invitation from Bertha Dorset to join her and her husband, George, on a cruise of Europe aboard their yacht the Sabrina. Unfortunately, while aboard the yacht, Bertha accuses Lily of adultery with George in order to shift societal attention from Bertha's own infidelity with poet Ned Silverton. The ensuing scandal ruins Lily, leading her friends to abandon her and her Aunt Peniston to disinherit her. Lily tries to fight her way back to the high society, befriending Mr and Mrs Gormer, but Bertha Dorset gradually introduces them to Lily's 'scandals' and undermines her new position. Now Lily is left with but two of her friends: Gerty Farish (Selden's cousin) and Carry Fisher, who both are trying to help her cope with her changing situation. Their constant advice is that Lily marry, and quickly. Lily descends the social strata, working as a personal secretary for a disreputable woman, Mrs. Hatch, but resigns after Lawrence Selden comes to rescue her from complete infamy.