Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Welcome to Sparks' Notes, Edith Wharton! I'm very excited and honored to host you for today's stop on The Classics Circuit. If you're not familiar with the Circuit, make sure to check it out to read all about Wharton's other stops on her blog tour.
Today we get to discuss Summer. I recently picked this up a Half-Price Books and so decided to review it for the circuit.
I was surprised as I started reading Summer. It's not like the other two Wharton novels I've read - The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. It's been a while since reading them so my memory might be a little off, but I feel like in both of those Wharton writes in a very refined style. Maybe it just seems that way because of her characters. Also, since both of those took place in NYC, I think I was surprised that Summer took place in such a small, hick little town. I had read from that back that it took place in the country, but I pictured an idyllic countryside where the rich go for the summer or something. Charity, the main character, also surprised me. Wharton did a good job of capturing her hillbilly accent, something I wouldn't have that Wharton would have excelled at. I actually felt like I was reading Willa Cather instead of Wharton for a little while, or an odd mix between Cather and Henry James. Bit of an odd combo. But it ended up feeling like Wharton by the end.
The back of my copy mentions that Wharton wrote it while in Paris, while WWI was raging right outside. I think that might be why some of the text seems fractured, like it was written by someone who was trying to distract themselves from something. You can see that something was hovering over her as she wrote, not allowing her to giver herself as fully to work her as she seems to in The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence.
Something else I found interesting is that the book seemed much more modern than it is. It could have easily have been written in the 1950s. Maybe it's the fact that rural communities haven't changed nearly as much as the cities have over the last century, so it's not as obvious a difference as there is when reading her books set in NYC.
Although Summer seemed unlike Wharton's other works to me, in the end it did have that same tragic ending with that small glimmer of hope to it. The novel is sad, not in a people dying, tearjerker kind of way, but in a pitiful kind of way. I feel sorry for the characters because they all seem destined to be unhappy. Although, the ending could have been much darker than it was, and there was a slightly hopeful feeling at the end that Charity can have a good life, or well, at least a not miserable life. Okay, it's still depressing, but at least she doesn't have to end up like her mother. The depressing part and the fact that the book is also about how your choices are bound by your social station, does connect it to the other two books of Wharton's that I've read, so it ended up feeling more Wharton-like by the end.
The thing that shocked me the most about this book wasn't exactly the racy parts, but that abortion is alluded to several times. She never comes out and says it, but I'm still surprised she got away with what she did. This book made me thankful for birth control!
Overall, I did enjoy Summer, although I liked The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth better. I didn't really like Charity, so I think it was harder for me to get as into the story, and the narrator was a little uneven. There's a third-person narrator, who sometimes speaks as Charity would and sometimes speaks at a much higher level, more psychological. Even when the narrator is speaking more as Charity, there's something slightly condescending about it, so it just sounds somewhat fragmented. I'm not sure that I'm explaining it very well. There was just something off for me. But again, overall I still enjoyed the work. I plan on reading more Wharton in the future.


  1. "I feel sorry for the characters because they all seem destined to be unhappy." It seems that's always Wharton's focus, at least in the few I've read. Her commentary on the people around her. We're all unhappy, to some extent, in her eyes.

    Sounds like a modern novel and an interesting one. I always associate Wharton with NYC so it would be strange to read of a small hick town!

  2. I'd like to read this one eventually because it seems different from most of Wharton's other works, even if it may not be one of her stronger ones. The cover seems a little misleading to me compared to the storyline!

  3. Rebecca-
    That definitely seems to be a big theme of Wharton's. We're all miserable, some of us just bear it better than others. And it was strange to read her writing in a new setting.
    I do recommend it. I think it shows her range as an author, even though it's not her strongest book. It's still good though. And all of the covers I've seen are really misleading. My version is different from the cover I posted - it has a rich-looking woman in a pretty white dress in front of a pretty white house. Not exactly accurate.

  4. I'm planning on reading this sometime this year--I read Ethan Frome for the Classics Circuit, and Summer was described as its companion piece.

    I think I also prefer Wharton's city stories over her country ones.

    Interesting review.