#100WomenNovelists: Edith Wharton

Blog Post 27: Summer (1917).               

A girl came out of lawyer Royall’s house, at the end of the one street of North Dormer, and stood on the doorstep.

This is the earliest novel I’ve read in this series of #100WomenNovelists of the 20th Century, written during the First World War in the USA. 

‘Summer’ is probably better classed as a novella. It covers a few months in the life of nineteen year old Charity Royall, from June to October. As a young girl she was adopted by Mr and Mrs Royall, taken from the poverty of the Mountain and brought up in provincial, conservative North Dormer in New England. 

Charity’s adopted mother died a few years previously and she has a difficult relationship with Mr Royall. ‘Summer’ is all about the metaphor of the seasons.  Charity awakens in June and by August she has embarked on an affair with an architecture student. By the time autumn comes, the passion has dwindled. And Charity is left with a problem she must solve on her own. 

Charity knows she is different to the other young girls in the town. She yearns to escape but the option to go back to the Mountain is no better than if she could save the money to go to New York. So she is trapped with Mr Royall and the threat of a near-incestuous relationship.  

Wharton describes the changing landscape in a way that reflects Charity’s state of mind. It’s vivid and sensual. It also feels quite daring, describing a young woman’s passion at such a time, albeit with allusion and subtext. 

What struck me most was the sense of threat that hovers over every page, like the tension before the storm. Wonderful.