65 pages 2 hours read

Edith Wharton


Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 1917

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Summary and Study Guide


Summer, written by Edith Wharton, is a novel set in rural New England and was published in 1917. The work was unusual for Wharton, who usually set her novels in New York City and populated them with members of the privileged upper class. The author was born to wealthy New York socialites on January 24, 1862, and raised in luxurious style in Manhattan and Newport, Rhode Island. The family traveled through Europe during the years of the American Civil War, thereby avoiding the economic downturn that occurred in the United States as a result .Encouraged by her father, Wharton studied literature and philosophy independently, read a wide variety of works, and developed fluency in German, Italian, and French. She published a volume of poetry, Verses, at the age of 16.

Though she married an older man in 1885, Wharton later revealed that she had not enjoyed romantic passion until engaging in an affair decades afterward. She achieved celebrity status upon the publication of her novel, The House of Mirth, in 1905; she and her husband divorced shortly afterward. Wharton published over forty novels, stories, and nonfiction books over the course of thirty years. In 1921, she became the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for The Age of Innocence, which dealt with the New York City elite.

Summer, conversely, deals with a far less privileged group living in an unidentified rural area of New England. Charity, a young woman living with her adoptive father, Lawyer Royall, in the small town of North Dormer, is desperate to escape the tedium of her environment. Although she purports an attitude of disdain as to the opinions of others, she constantly compares herself to the more educated and privileged Annabelle Balch, an inhabitant of the more sophisticated city of Springfield. She prevails upon Lawyer Royall to exercise his influence to help her attain a part-time job in the local library, and hopes to save her earnings in order to relocate.

Lucius Harney, a young New York City architect visiting an elderly relative in the area, serves as the catalyst that changes Charity’s world. She becomes infatuated with him, and the two have an affair, although he is secretly engaged to the worldlier Annabelle Balch. He leaves the area for what he promises will be a short time and promises to wed Charity upon his return; however, it becomes clear that he will fulfill his engagement to Annabelle instead. Pregnant and desperate, Charity attempts to return to an impoverished area called the Mountain, which is where Royall adopted her from. Royall finds her in a weakened state, marries her in order to preserve her reputation, and brings her home to North Dormer.

The subject matter of the novel is unique for its time. Female sexual passion and the specific problems of unwed pregnancies were not popular topics; Wharton analyzes the distinction between love and lust from the feminine perspective. Similarly, the dearth of professional opportunities available to women of this era, and their ultimate economic dependence upon marriage, is emphasized heavily. These issues would have resonated with an audience aware of the emerging battle for women’s suffrage, the limited availability of birth control, and the demand for enhanced educational opportunities for women.