Summer by Edith Wharton

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Cannonball Read IV: Summer by Edith Wharton

By Sophia | Book Reviews | October 11, 2012 | Comments ()


I am a big fan of Edith Wharton, even when her characters are driving me crazy. Her writing is beautiful, insightful and relatable--although it was written almost 100 years ago. I think it was another cannonball reviewer who recommended Summer (1917) to me and I've just now finally gotten around to reading it.

Summer revolves around Charity Royall, a young woman bored by her small-town, Massachusetts life and lack of opportunities. She yearns for something more but her ignorance and lack of options holds her back. She resents and is disgusted by her guardian, Mr. Royall, the town attorney, who wants to marry her. Charity is a fascinating character who is often selfish, ignorant, and at times both snobbish and concerned with her own inadequacy. Charity meets Lucius Harney when he comes visiting, and she is immediately swept away by his intelligence, elegance, and symbol of things she's looking for in life.

What follows is one of the most realistic love stories I have ever read. SPOILER? Times and circumstances have changed, but as far as feelings go, Wharton could have been talking about the first guy I ever fell for. "Her heart was ravaged by life's cruelest discovery: the first creature who had come toward her out of the wilderness had brought her anguish instead of joy." Wharton's novel also felt remarkably modern in the way it frankly addressed sex and even abortion.

"In a flash they had shown her the bare reality of her situation. Behind the frail screen of her lover's caresses was the whole inscrutable mystery of his life: his relations with other people--with other women--his opinions, his prejudices, his principles, the net of influences and interests and ambitions in which every man's life is entangled."

I was haunted by the end of the book. On the one hand, Mr. Royall doesn't hold any grudges, treats Charity kindly, and saves her from a much worse life. On the other hand, Mr. Royall is a dirty old man and everything that Charity wanted to get away from. She was never able to make any choices about her own life. Her relationship with Lucius felt like predetermined fate--not something that she could possibly have resisted, leaving her with no choice at the end of the novel except for that which disgusted her at the beginning. "Even the feeling of the ring on her hand had not brought her this sharp sense of the irretrievable. For an instant the old impulse of flight swept through her; but it was only the lift of a broken wing. She heard the door open behind her, and Mr. Royall came in."

(Header image: Madame Roger Jourdain by John Singer Sargent)

For more of Sophia's reviews, check out her blog, My Life As Seen through Books.

This review is part of the volunteer Cannonball Read IV. Read all about it.

(Note: Any revenue generated from purchases made through the affiliate links in this review will be donated in entirety to the American Cancer Society.)

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • marya

    Edith Wharton hurts my heart, in a good way. Poor, doomed gilded age ladies. Nice review!

  • jennp421

    I loved Summer, and it is by far my favorite Wharton novel. It helps that I had an absolutely amazing professor who taught this novel, and some of her interpretations were definitely interesting (she taught a class called Sex Expression in Modern Fiction so it was a lot of fun). She basically suggested that Wharton didn't believe that there was such thing as a gift and that any gift was always part of a contract, pointed out that losing one's hat was code for loss of virignity and also suggested that the guardian may have been Charity's father since why else would he have picked her up after her mother's death (which of course makes the ending even worse). I also think the language is more straighforward in this one than Age of Innocence, if that makes any sense (and doesn't make me sound like an idiot).

  • Captain_Tuttle

    Wharton is one of those authors that I keep meaning to read, and then don't. Maybe I'll start with The Heiresses.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Ouch. Poor Charity. Sounds like a good read.

    I picked up The Heiresses by Wharton a few years ago and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, considering I remembered reading one of her books in high school as a chore. But that was probably my idiot high school self.

  • Maguita NYC

    Felt the same about Edith Wharton and high-school lit obligations. But The Heiresses did surprise beautifully.

    Great review Sophia! Although I am a tad weary of picking a book that feels too close to a cheesy romance novel, I am quite sure that E. Wharton would stir clear of the genre, and give it more of a rebellious Jane Austin-ish destiny.

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