The story of Lily Bart, the main character of this novel, is one that is particular to her time, but also strangely specific. Many of the events in the novel are based around outdated social customs and mores that we don't follow or adhere to today - nor should we. On the other hand, at its heart the book is about wanting to live above or beyond your means, and how you can thereby make poor decisions that ultimately ruin you. And it's a rather wicked satire on the so-called "upper classes," who buy things just for the sake of buying things, but who are hypocrites without consciences who are actually very uninteresting, and have no interest in the world around them, despite being able to afford to see that world.
Something about this book reminded me a lot of one of my favorite novels, Frank Norris' McTeague. Both books seem to be about people wanting to escape the class their family was in, but in the end becoming trapped at the level to which they were born, incapable of escape. One main difference is that Lily Bart is portrayed as someone who refuses to surrender her principles, while some of Norris' characters are willing to toss theirs aside if it means they will get what they want (or what they think they want).
What struck me most about the book was that the real tragedy of the story is that so many people were constrained by the silly "rules" and were unable to be who they wanted to be. More than once while reading I thought to myself, why don't these characters just run off and live someplace else? Why are they so attached to this setting and these other people? Maybe I'm too much a product of my times and don't understand things as well as I should, but I feel like I'd rather be myself than have to put up with a lot of nonsense in order to have something different.
All in all I see why this book is a classic. Recommended.