Thursday, 21 February 2002
Edith Wharton: Summer (1917)
Edition: Modern Library, 2001
Review number: 1072
The companion piece to Ethan Frome, Summer has the same remote New England setting (in a town named, appropriately, North Dormer which is just like the earlier novel's Starkfield), but in the opposite time of year. It is a summer which doesn't end, even though the story is spread over several months.
Charity Royall is brought up as the ward of the only lawyer in North Dormer; she comes from the Mountain, a community of vagabonds outside the town viewed as moral degenerates. Grown up, she fends off the advances of her guardian and falls in love with Lucius Harney, a visitor to the town related to its principal citizens. The novel is basically a battle between their desire and the reactions of those around them, complicated by Charity's feelings of unworthiness because of her background.
Charity's sexuality is much more explicitly described than that of Ethan Frome, though the novel is entirely possible because of her innocence - today she would just sleep with Harney, and that would be the end of it. Things are not uncomplicated; among the aspect of sex which are mentioned is a back street abortionist. Charity's life is far freer than Frome's, as she is able to make trips away from North Dormer, but she is trapped in the same kind of way by her background and situation. The earlier novel works better, though, perhaps because the sense of suffocation is stronger.