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Summer, Edith Wharton


Now that I’ve finished my online class this summer, it’s time to dive into the stacks of books that have been piling up in my to-read list. Edith Wharton’s “Summer” landed in that pile after I saw an article on NPR about summer-themed books.

Eighteen-year-old Charity Royall, the ward of the town lawyer, has grown up the quiet, dull little town of North Dormer. Only a recent trip to the town of Nettleton opened her eyes to just how small and insignificant her town, and her life, is, and that knowledge was pushed to the back of her mind after returning home. But the intrusion into her life of a young man named Lucius Harney is about to reawaken her longing for life beyond the small town.

One of the things that caught my attention in this book was Charity’s work as a librarian, and her lack of enthusiasm for it: “She liked well enough to have a friend drop in and talk to her when she was on duty, but she hated to be bothered about books. How could she remember where they were, when they were so seldom asked for… unexpected demands came so rarely that they exasperated her like an injustice.” Also, this particular passage seemed to capture Charity’s naivety at the beginning of the novel: “She was blind and insensible to many things, and dimly knew it; but to all that was light and air, perfume and colour, every drop of blood in her responded.” I was, and am still, not quite sure how to react to her character and its development throughout. She seems by turns to be spoiled and selfish, independent and searching, strong and willful, and weak and dependent. By the end of the novel she does not seem to have grown much beyond who she was in the beginning, despite the changes in her life.

One of my pet peeves about reading classic literature is that there is often an explanatory essay prefacing the original text, and these essays contain plot spoilers. This particular Signet Classic edition has an introductory essay by Candace Waid which contains discussion and analysis of many key plot points, which is all well and good after you’ve read the novel, but not to be read beforehand.

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