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Summer by Edith Wharton

Summer (1917)

by Edith Wharton

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People refer to this as Wharton's most erotic book. I disagree with that characterization - I think that The Age of Innocence, with its unrequited, simmering passion between Countess Olenska and Newland Archer is much more erotic.

Charity Royall is a young woman who has been raised by Lawyer Royall in North Dormer, a small New England town. Her family comes from the mountain, a poverty-stricken area. At some point, Lawyer Royall finds himself attracted to the young woman and proposes to marry her. This is squicky as all hell, since he has basically been her father since she was a small child.

Charity understandably turns him down, being attracted to Lucius Harney, man about town, photographer, and the nephew of another one of New Dormer's finest citizens. He is clearly above her in social position. Charity, recklessly, falls for him, and the two of them embark on a sexual relationship. This is a Wharton book, however, which means that the reader pretty much has to guess what has happened.

It isn't just the lack of explicit sex that wasn't erotic. It was the shallowness of the connection between Charity and Lucius Harney. There is no reason to believe that Harney wasn't absolute rubbish as a lover, self-absorbed and concerned with neither Charity's pleasure, nor her plight. (Did I just accuse a fictional character of being crap in bed. Why yes, yes I did. And I stand by the accusation. There is no chance that poor Charity had an orgasm. None at all.) It is easy to sympathize with Charity, and to deplore her poor choices, but it was so obvious that Harney was just exploiting her, and it made me want to shake her.

Wharton's books explore the border between social expectation and human agency. I have read three of them -[b:The House of Mirth|17728|The House of Mirth|Edith Wharton|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328729186s/17728.jpg|1652564], [b:The Age of Innocence|53835|The Age of Innocence|Edith Wharton|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388248423s/53835.jpg|1959512], and now Summer, and all of them consistently decry the way in which individuals, especially women, but not only women, are oppressed by society. She lived in a time when the social customs were extremely restrictive - people behaved in specific, rote ways, dependent upon their social classes, and the upper classes, in particular, were required to maintain certain standards that were very limiting. Wharton's books explore what happens when the individual steps outside of those lines.

Usually, it is pretty much a disaster. In this book, actually, Charity managed to pull out a win for herself. While the twenty-first-century independent romantic in me was pretty much completely grossed out by the way it ended, by 1917 standards, Charity does pretty well, with a solid, middle-class existence. She fared a lot better than Lily Bart, from The House of Mirth. Interestingly, she doesn't share Lily Bart's honorable qualities. That's probably sort of the point - when hunger conflicts with honor, hunger must, and usually will, win. Or, you die.

Anyway, Wharton is depressing as hell, but always worth reading. ( )
  moonlight_reads | Dec 11, 2016 |
When she was a young child, Charity Royall was rescued from “the Mountain” by Lawyer Royall, who is now her guardian. Now she’s eighteen, feeling bored in the small town of North Dormer, and itching to spread her wings. When she meets Lucius Harney, an architect from the city who is visiting his cousin, her eyes are opened to possibilities she hasn’t dared dream about. Their mutual attraction garners some unwanted attention and results in gossip that Charity ignores until it is too late.

Wharton wrote this circa 1917 when she was living in France. When published, it shocked readers; they were not used to reading about a young woman’s awakening sexuality. I wonder if they would have been so shocked if Wharton had set the novel in France, rather than in the Berkshires.

Charity is head-strong and passionate, but also naïve. As frequently happens in Wharton’s novels, the principal characters never come out and say what they mean. They are frequently acting based on assumptions, rather than on a true understanding of the facts. Wharton knew the social makeup of turn-of-the century America, and used her novels to explore the nuances of the “rules” – spoken and unspoken – by which people, especially women, had to live. In this, as in other novels, the social fabric of the community is as much a character as any of the people in it.

It’s a slim novel, and a great introduction to Wharton’s writing. I still prefer House of Mirth, but this was an enjoyable read. ( )
  BookConcierge | Dec 7, 2016 |
A sweet, sad story of a young girl in a small town who gets herself into a bad position and then just has to live with it. Nothing unexpected or surprising, really. Just Wharton's beautiful writing to take you through it. I liked it. But I'm not sure that I'd recommend it, unless you're just a big Wharton fan and want to read all that she's written. ( )
  TerriS | Nov 22, 2016 |
A hundred years old but the novel still reads like a modern take on the slow-burning, sensual passions of a young woman trapped by her 19th century small town milieu with no opportunities but the glimmer of a more hopeful future offered by the potential of love. Harshly but also justly realistic, the unhappy characters are deeply flawed, petty and unwilling to better themselves or helpless due to circumstances, seemingly a trait of Wharton characters.

The author captures the uncertainties and thrills of a burgeoning affair, but also the depressing reality of the time. The novel is a departure from the usual Wharton setting of high society but as demonstrated here, privilege is relative to your surroundings but the theme of well-developed female characters carry throughout her novels. Recommended for Wharton fans and beware of the hypocritical, misogynistic cads. ( )
  kitzyl | Jun 26, 2016 |
I adore Edith Whartons writing and was pleased to finally be reading Summer as I have heard that it is her most controversial, shocking... Unfortunately the biggest disappointment comes from the build, but if I set that aside as I should, and allow the book to stand on it's own merit, it is a good read with interesting conflict, but in no way her best work. ( )
  StephLaymon | Mar 12, 2016 |
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A girl came out of lawyer Royall’s house, at the end of the one street of North Dormer, and stood on the doorstep.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0553214225, Mass Market Paperback)

Considered by some to be her finest work, Edith Wharton’s Summer created a sensation when first published in 1917, as it was one of the first novels to deal honestly with a young woman’s sexual awakening.

Summer is the story of Charity Royall, a child of mountain moonshiners adopted by a family in a poor New England town, who has a passionate love affair with Lucius Harney, an educated man from the city. Wharton broke the conventions of women’s romantic fiction by making Charity a thoroughly independent modern woman—in touch with her emotions and sexuality, yet kept from love and the larger world she craves by the overwhelming pressures of heredity and society.

Praised for its realism and honesty by such writers as Joseph Conrad and Henry James and compared to Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Summer remains as fresh and powerful a novel today as when it was first written.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:47 -0400)

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A young girl's rite of passage into adulthood is evoked in Wharton's classic novel.

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4 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0451525663, 0140186794

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