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The Reef by Edith Wharton
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The Reef (1912)

by Edith Wharton

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Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Wharton doing what she does so well, exploring the human condition and how the classes interact with one another when the artificial lines collapse. I loved this complex story that asked so many moving, and always pertinent, questions. A gentleman has a brief encounter with a girl who does not rise to his level, he is motivated by good intentions, but things become much more complicated than he expects. When she resurfaces in his life, will he have to pay too high a price for his mistake? Or, will she?

The depths to which Wharton can plumb the soul always amazes me. She seems to see beneath the skin and know that what goes on on the outside is sometimes a total disconnect from what is going on inside. I felt for every single character. Another theme that seemed to run through this story was whether it is ever better to lie or to hide something from your lover that you know will hurt or harm the relationship, particularly if the event in question lies in the past and is over and done. Can a man ever be absolved from a betrayal of trust? And is forgiveness impossible if you cannot put the event from your mind? There is not one of three main characters who is not struggling to understand how they find themselves in this situation or how they can be extracted from it. One thing, for sure, you cannot put the genie back in the bottle.

The one thing that did bother me about this story was the title. What does it mean? Signify? I cannot think of one single reason that would tie this title to this story. Did she pick it out of a hat? If anyone can enlighten me, I would be much obliged.

UPDATE:
Goodreads friends are the bomb! PirateSteve, who I proudly call one of mine, has answered my question regarding the title. His answer is too perfect not to be shared with the world, so here it is:

"But that title would not leave my thoughts. To reef the sails is to roll them up from the large end making the wind catching area smaller. When I go offshore fishing, I fish the reefs because that's where most of the fish are.

An offshore reef is a busy place. Fish are laying eggs, eggs are being fertilized, young fish are hatching. Small fish hide within the structure of the reef, large fish come to the reef in order to feed on the smaller fish. Yet when viewing from the waters surface, one never knows the reef is even there."


What a PERFECT explanation for why Wharton chose this title. If there were ever a story about what is going on beneath the surface, this is it. My thanks to Steve for putting this into perspective for me and with all this reflection...that 4-stars just became a 5.
( )
  phantomswife | Jul 6, 2018 |
Gah! Really? That's it?! I thought surely BBC4 must be performing it's abridged audio of this in a series, and that they'll continue the story next month or next year or whenever. But on reading other reviews, it seems what I got is all there is. It ends mid story, unresolved, unexplained, and uninspired. What a slog! Whiny, high-strung, obsessive, and neurotic Anna wants to ruin everyone else's lives because she can't get it together. George seems competent, so why would he fall in love with the b*tch? Sophie is confused and weak; her character never came together for me at all. And Owen is a mere shadow.

This is a case of a novel resting on its laurels. Or, perhaps resting on its author's laurels. I'm sure it was considered scandalous and ground-breaking in its day, which no doubt carried it forward through successive generations, buoyed by Wharton's reputation as an accomplished author. (The House of Mirth came out 6 years earlier, Ethan Frome the year before, and The Age of Innocence 8 years later.) People also seem inclined to regard highly novels in which the characters suffer pitilessly, and/or stories that are not resolved. This one contains both. But it just drags on with much contemplation and little action. It relies on the standard theme of romantic classics: the observation of mere slivers of information by the female protagonist leads to gross assumptions and thereby enormous misunderstandings, which then lead the self-sacrificing heroine to throw herself on the proverbial pyre for the betterment of her fellow neophytes. (See Jane Austin: bibliography.) The only difference here was that Wharton didn't tidy it up with a neat ribbon; hence the raving popularity.

I'm not buying it. Like, literally not buying it. Not even borrowing it. It's always a huge risk for an author to leave a story somewhat unformed. When it works, it's spectacular, but when it fails, it falls with a dull thud. Not so much as an echo on this one.

P.S. Where does the reef come in? That the characters have all figuratively been thrown up on it, bloodied and battered? More likely that would be the readers. ( )
  Lit_Cat | Dec 9, 2017 |
Young diplomat George Darrow is on his way to meet Anna Leath, an old girlfriend who is now a widow with a young daughter and a grown stepson. When Anna abruptly postpones their rendezvous without explanation, Darrow concludes that she is no longer interested in him. A chance meeting with Sophy Viner leads to their brief affair. Unfortunately, the lives of Darrow, Anna, Sophy and Anna's stepson Owen become linked and the extremely discreet sexual relationship between Darrow and Sophy complicates their lives.

This story might have been easier to take if it had been written as a romantic comedy, but instead it's a soap opera. Everyone in this book is so ernest and humorless and they just yammer on endlessly about their feelings. The women change their minds on every other page. Anna's jealousy and obsessive indecisiveness was particularly annoying. The book also had a ridiculous non-ending. As far as I know, Anna is still obsessing.

This is not good Edith Wharton and if you have not read her before do not start here. These characters are tedious and the book lacks the social commentary that often adds an edge to her books. The narration by Kristen Underwood of the audiobook was ok, but she didn't do a very good job with the male voices. ( )
  fhudnell | Aug 11, 2017 |
French countryside — most autobiog. of her novels
EW a snop — real classes — artistic / cultural interests
Sophie Viner — name — clinging vine
Darrow — lover — floundering in hi life on the Reef
Anna — widow, angel in the house, perfect / ideal woman, never questions
Termine Hotel — the end — finished w/ all
Givre — home french world — for Frost
OK for Darrow affair / not Sophie — not good enough for Owen — Owen + Anna — stepmother / son — little incestuous
Modern Bk Club + Film Clubs today most like Salons of long ago — artistic cultural interests

When George Darrow, a young American diplomat in Paris, is slighted by the woman he intends to propose marriage to, he has a brief, seemingly inconsequential affair with a spirited young woman whom he has taken under his wing. Months later, Darrow and the widowed Anna Leath mend their relationship and make plans to wed. But before they can announce their plans, Darrow learns that the engagement of Anna's stepson threatens to have a profound effect on his own.
  christinejoseph | Jul 11, 2017 |
But Ross says THEY WERE ON A BREAK! ( )
  Citizenjoyce | Apr 1, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edith Whartonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brookner, AnitaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
French, MarilynIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Underwood, KristenNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'Unexpected obstacle. Please don't come till thirtieth. Anna'
In an introduction to The Reef published some years ago, a critic suggested that Edith Wharton should have called the novel The Chateau because of its brilliant evocation of a French country manor. (Introduction)
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Anna Leath is a young widow, an American living in France. Behind her lies an arid marriage and a life deeply influenced by the rigid code of Old New York. The novel opens as Anna awaits a new and fuller life: a chance encounter with George Darrow, the first love of her youth, has left her awakended, disturbed, filled with new hope. Anna returns to her beautiful country chateau, Givré, to await her future: between two short distances can anything happen to disrupt such promise? But the charming Sophie Viner, governess to Anna's young daughter, holds the key to a secret which comes to reveal that Anna's future - and the very foundation of her life - is fragile where it appears most strong.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0684824442, Paperback)

"I put most of myself into that opus," Edith Wharton said of The Reef, possibly her most autobiographical novel. Published in 1912, it was, Bernard Berenson told Henry Adams, "better than any previous work excepting Ethan Frome."

A challenge to the moral climate of the day, The Reef follows the fancies of George Darrow, a young diplomat en route from London to France, intent on proposing to the widowed Anna Leath. Unsettled by Anna's reticence, Darrow drifts into an affair with Sophy Viner, a charmingly naive and impecunious young woman whose relations with Darrow and Anna's family threaten his prospects for success.

For its dramatic construction and acute insight into social mores and the multifaceted problem of sexuality, The Reef stands as one of Edith Wharton's most daring works of fiction.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:43 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

George Darrow, a young diplomat en route from London to France, is intent on proposing to the widowed Anna Leath. Unsettled by Anna's reticence, Darrow drifts into an affair with Sophy Viner, a charmingly naive and impecunious young woman whose relations with Darrow and Anna's family threaten his prospects for success.… (more)

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