Summer Summary

Edith Wharton


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Summer Summary

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Summer is a 1917 novel by American novelist Edith Wharton. While most of Wharton’s novels dealt with New York’s upper-class society, this is one of her only novels set in New England, along with the more famous Ethan Frome. Dealing with themes such as social class, the role of women in society, destructive relationships, and the sexual awakening and desire of its protagonist, Charity Royall, the book was rather controversial for its time and was not one of Wharton’s more popular novels due to its subject matter. However, beginning in the 1960s it was rediscovered and is now considered one of Wharton’s lesser-known gems.

When the story begins, eighteen-year-old Charity Royall is bored with her life in the small town of North Dormer. Born to poor parents in the mountains who couldn’t keep her, she now works as a librarian and is a ward of the town’s most prominent citizen, Lawyer Royall, but she dreams of a more exciting life. That exciting life finds her in the form of a visiting architect named Lucius Harney. She first meets the charming young man when he comes to the library, and soon he finds himself boarding at Mr. Royall’s house when his own living arrangements fall through.

Charity immediately finds herself attracted to Lucius, and becomes his companion as he explores the town. He’s putting together a book on colonial houses and is using the town’s buildings for research. Mr. Royall, who lost his wife years ago and has designs on Charity for himself, notices the two of them growing close and quickly moves to evict Lucius from his house, eliminating what he sees as competition. Lucius leaves town, but in fact has only relocated to a nearby village. He continues to communicate with Charity on the sly, and the two grow closer.

The two visit a nearby town named Nettleton, where they kiss for the first time and Lucius gifts Charity with a brooch. However, before their outing is concluded, they run into Mr. Royall, who is drunk and patronizing prostitutes in the town. He verbally attacks Charity, causing her to feel intense shame and fall into Lucius’ arms. After the events of the day, Charity and Lucius grow closer and have sex for the first time.

However, soon after this, Charity sees Lucius at a social event with Annabel Balch, a local society girl. When she goes to meet Lucius at an abandoned house where they normally meet, Mr. Royall is waiting and confronts Lucius when he arrives about his intentions. Lucius promises to marry Charity, but says that he has to leave town for a while first. However, a friend of Charity’s tells her that she saw him leave with Annabel and the two are engaged. Brokenhearted, Charity writes a letter to Lucius telling him to marry Annabel.

Soon after, Charity begins feeling sick, and a doctor confirms that she’s pregnant. Charity doesn’t have the money to pay for the visit, so she pays the doctor with the brooch Lucius gave her. Upon returning home, she receives a letter from Lucius that confirms that he’s going to marry Annabel. Deciding she can’t stay at home, she decides to make her way to the mountain to look for her long-lost mother. She makes the journey with the local minister and her friend Liff, but they arrive too late. Charity’s mother has passed away, and the three work together to give her a proper burial.

While staying on the mountain, Charity observes the poverty of the people living there and vows that she’ll do whatever she needs to do to ensure her child doesn’t grow up in this way. She returns home, intending to become a prostitute to support her child. However, along the way she encounters Mr. Royall, who gives her a ride home and offers to marry her. Although she soon realizes that he has only married her to protect her from the shame of an unwed pregnancy, she is still grateful for the help. She gets her brooch back from the doctor, who attempts to blackmail her now that the town knows she’s marrying a rich man. In the end, she writes one final letter to Lucius Harney to tell him about her marriage, and returns home to North Dormer to live with her husband.

Edith Wharton is a three-time Nobel Prize nominee for Literature who is considered one of the most successful and accomplished American novelists of her era. In an era where female novelists were still rare, especially in the United States, her novels achieved success and many are considered American classics today. She was also an extremely prolific writer despite not publishing her first novel until she was 40, writing twenty-three novels in her life including Pulitzer Prize winner The Age of Innocence, as well as three collections of poetry, sixteen short story collections, and nine volumes of nonfiction, the majority based around interior design and architecture.