Edith Wharton Letter Sheds Light on Mirth Mystery

Readers of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth have debated the death of its heroine, Lily Bart for decades. Did she commit suicide or die of an accidental overdose? A new letter, written by Ms. Wharton herself, may have some answers.

The New York Times reports:

Only on the second page does Wharton reveal that her “friend” is in fact a fictional character appearing in the pages of Scribner’s, explaining, “I have heroine to get rid of, and want some points on the best way of disposing of her.” Later she asks: “What soporific, or nerve-calming drug, would a nervous and worried young lady in the smart set be likely to take to, & what would be its effects if deliberately taken with the intent to kill herself? I mean, how would she feel and look toward the end?”

The letter was found stuck into a first-edition copy of “The House of Mirth,” along with a poem, dated 1906, by someone apparently besotted with Lily Bart.