Review: Summer by Edith Wharton
“These things were hers; they had passed into her blood, and become part of her, they were building the child in her womb; it was impossible to tear asunder strands of life so interwoven.”
I’ve decided that now when people ask for my recommendation of which Wharton book to read first, I will answer Summer.
This evocative tale of societal constraint, forbidden love, and sexual awakening is known as Wharton’s most risqué. Considered the “hot” counterpart of Ethan Frome, it is rich in detail, beautiful exposition, and emotion, while being short and to the point.
Wharton was not afraid to expose forbidden topics in her works. Summer explores issues that are culturally relevant even today – consent, premarital relations, unplanned pregnancy, abortion, and more – in a way that was unprecedented for the time period in which it was written (1917).
In this reread (my 4th time), what grabbed me the most was Charity’s strength to protect her unborn child, even after she realized there was no hope of her lover returning to her. Though by today’s standards her sacrifice would be scorned – or touted as weak, perhaps – her choice to give up her ultimate dream (escaping North Dormer) to marry a person she always looked down on – in essence choosing a life for her child rather than for herself – is laudable. Her situation is heartbreaking, and yet she still has the strength to do what is right. I appreciate that so much in a story.
This novel, like Ethan Frome, is set in the lush countryside of the Berkshires. Though starkly different than her works of New York high society (Age of Innocence, House of Mirth, etc) the themes remain consistent and the writing itself is impeccable.
Featured are my favorite vintage paperbacks ever. If you’ve ever seen another title in this set please let me know!
PS I was thinking the other day about the two books I was reading – Summer and David Copperfield – and having read many books by each author now, came to this conclusion: reading Dickens is like walking through a muddy field on a rainy day, and finally coming upon a beautiful castle. The destination makes the journey worth it. Reading Wharton is like walking through a field of wildflowers in perfect weather, with no destination in mind. It is enjoyable in it’s essence, though her books are often sad.