The beautiful Lily Bart lives among the nouveaux riches of New York City - people whose millions were made in railroads, shipping, land speculation, and banking. In this morally and aesthetically bankrupt world, Lily, age twenty-nine, seeks a husband who can satisfy her cravings for endless admiration and all the trappings of wealth. Her quest comes to a scandalous end when she is accused of being the mistress of a wealthy man. Exiled from her familiar world of artificial conventions, Lily finds life impossible. Lily Bart is the embodiment of woman as a passive creature, as the ultimate 'consumer item.' In her introduction, Cynthia Griffin Wolff relates the genesis of this character to the circumstances of Edith Wharton's own life.