Study Guide

Mrs. Bertha Dorset in The House of Mirth

By Edith Wharton

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Mrs. Bertha Dorset

"For always getting what she wants in the long run, commend me to a nasty woman." Mrs. Bertha Dorset is living proof of this statement. Throughout the novel we watch her have an affair, witness evidence of a different, earlier affair, and see her poor husband George tortured and trapped in his miserable marriage. She also ruins Lily's chances at marriage, trashes Lily's reputation, and sacrifices the girl to hide her own indiscretions.

And yet, despite her despicable actions, everyone seems to like Bertha. Why? Wharton has some answers for us:

"It's much safer to be fond of dangerous people." (1.4.42)

"She has a big house and an opera box, and it's convenient to be on good terms with her." (2.4.32)

Oh, right. Money. Money is why everyone is nice to Bertha despite her being a complete jerk. It's also fitting that, as the novel's most conniving character, Bertha is also the wealthiest woman on the block. It looks like, yet again, money and immorality are tied together. Bertha Dorset embodies the extremes of both.

Mrs. Bertha Dorset in The House of Mirth Study Group

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