The Sunday Salon Review: Summer, by Edith Wharton

This was a big week in literature, with the Booker Prize announcement on Tuesday.  I also reached a reading milestone:  reading all the Booker winners through 2009.  This inspired me to write a retrospective on Booker winners, with my view on favorites and clunkers.  I’ve ordered the 2010 winner, The Finkler Question, and plan to read it in November.

This week I also finally read a better-than-average book, so I saved up my review to share with you today.  Actually, it was also a pretty busy week, so it was Saturday by the time I sat down to write my review!  But whatever the reason, here it is …

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Charity Royall came of age in North Dormer, an isolated Massachusetts village.  Her guardian was a prominent lawyer, who gave Charity a home after her mother proved unable to care for her.  Charity has led a life of relative privilege, and has no memory of life up on the impoverished Mountain.  She resigns herself to village life, and working as the local librarian.

Then one day a young architect named Lucius Harney arrives in North Dormer, to visit his aunt and sketch local buildings.  He is much more worldly than Charity; he buys her nice things and introduces her to unimaginable experiences.  Despite lawyer Royall’s efforts, the passion between Charity and Lucius culminates in a full-fledged clandestine affair.  Although Charity lacks experience, she enters into the affair with full knowledge and intentions.  The time she spends with Lucius is memorable and idyllic, and the subsequent turn of events is not entirely unexpected.  Towards the end of the book Charity has to navigate some extremely difficult situations which show her depth and strength, and her actions in the last chapter show clearly why Wharton gave this character the name, “Charity.”

Charity Royall experienced emotions and physical sensations that women in the early 1900s simply didn’t discuss with others.   Edith Wharton was a pioneer in portraying Charity as a normal, healthy young woman, creating a new view of female sexuality.  My edition of Summer included an introduction by Marilyn French that discusses this topic at length, and greatly enriched my reading experience.

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Read more from The Sunday Salon here.

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4 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon Review: Summer, by Edith Wharton

    • Natalie, I think this is one of those books that is more of a societal commentary than a gripping story. I’d love to read it for a course just to benefit from the discussion!

    • Claire, I’m not sure how much Wharton you’ve read … if you are relatively new to her work you might want to search for articles describing her views on sexuality and on women in society. I hope you enjoy Summer !

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