Season Of Discontent: Edith Wharton’s “Summer”

A girl rescued from awful parents living on “the Mountain,” Charity is raised by a lawyer, Mr. Royall, and his wife in the small New England town of North Dormer. She is secure there until, long after his wife’s death, lonesome Mr. Royall enters the teenaged Charity’s bedroom one night looking for intimacy. Charity demands that he leave, which he does, and thereafter she hates him. There is very little talk between them, but Charity does find a friend in smart Lucius Harney, presently falling in love with him. Their relationship, complete with copulation, goes well until somehow it doesn’t.

This is what is proffered in Edith Wharton‘s novel, Summer, from 1917. Written clearly and gracefully, in an apparently ageless style, the book is about people living in an almost dead (and provincial) sphere where they mightily hope for the love of someone of the opposite sex. I won’t reveal the ending but, truth to tell, there is a kind of compensation for Mr. Royall after Charity withholds all sympathy and forgiveness for him. Really, a sad charity emanates from sad Charity.

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