Summer Palace a palace (now in ruins) of the former Chinese emperors near Beijing.
summer solstice the occasion of the longest day in the year, when the sun reaches its greatest altitude north of the equator, on approximately 21 June (or in the southern hemisphere, south of the equator, on approximately 21 December).
Summer time time as adjusted to achieve longer evening daylight in summer by setting clocks an hour ahead of the standard time; originally introduced in the UK in 1916, from 21 May to 30 September, and subsequently adopted for daylight saving from March to October. The principle of adjusting clocks in this way was suggested first by Benjamin Franklin in an essay of 1784; the notion of daylight saving was the originator of the English builder William Willett (1856–1915).
See also the rich man has his ice in the summer, one swallow does not make a summer at swallow1.
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sum·mer1 / ˈsəmər/ • n. the warmest season of the year, in the northern hemisphere from June to August and in the southern hemisphere from December to February: the plant flowers in late summer a long hot summer | [as adj.] summer vacation | fig. the golden summer of her life. ∎ Astron. the period from the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox. ∎ (summers) poetic/lit. years, esp. of a person's age: a girl of sixteen or seventeen summers. • v. [intr.] spend the summer in a particular place: well over 100 birds summered there in 1976. ∎ [tr.] pasture (cattle) for the summer. DERIVATIVES: sum·mer·y adj. sum·mer2 (also sum·mer·tree / ˈsəmərˌtrē/ ) • n. a horizontal bearing beam, esp. one supporting joists or rafters. ∎ a capstone that supports an arch or lintel. ∎ a lintel.
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1. Lintel, e.g. over a fireplace.
2. Beam, also called breastsummer or bressumer, set on the extremities of cantilevered joists (jetty) and supporting the posts of a wall above in timber-framed construction.
3. Main beam or girder in a floor, or any large beam, called a summer-beam supporting floor-joists.
4. Large stone, the beginning of a vault, or at the extremity of a gable.
5. Stone at the top of a pier or jamb supporting a lintel or arch.
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- Aestas personification of summer; portrayed as youthful and sprightly. [Rom. Myth.: LLEI, I: 322]
- Ceres goddess of the season. [Rom. Myth.: Hall, 130]
- cricket symbol of summer; weather prognosticator. [Insect Symbolism: Jobes, 382]
- naked girl with fruit personification of summer. [Art: Hall, 130]
- sickle and sheaf of corn representational of the season. [Art: Hall, 129]
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Summer ★★★½ Le Rayon Vert; The Green Ray 1986 (R)
The fifth and among the best of Rohmer's “Comedies and Proverbs” series. A romantic but glum young French girl finds herself stuck in Paris during the tourist season searching for true romantic love. Takes time and patience to seize the viewer; moving ending makes it all worthwile. In French with English subtitles. 98m/C VHS, DVD . FR Marie Riviere, Lisa Heredia, Beatrice Romand, Eric Hamm, Rosette, Isabelle Riviere; D: Eric Rohmer; W: Eric Rohmer; C: Sophie Maintigneux; M: Jean-Louis Valero.
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Summer, published in 1917, is one of only two novels the prolific writer Edith Wharton set in rural New England. Wharton, who was both critically acclaimed and a bestselling author, was perhaps better known in her lifetime for her many novels set in New York City among the wealthy elite. In this novel, however, the author's keen attention to detail is turned away from fashion and manners and city life and instead directed at the wonders of the natural world as they echo the changes felt by the central character, Charity Royall. Summer was only a moderate success when it first appeared, but when Wharton's work was rediscovered in the 1960s the novel found a new, larger, and more appreciative critical audience.
Like the protagonist in Ethan Frome, Wharton's most widely read novel today, Charity yearns for a fuller life than the one she lives in her small town, but social restrictions and a certain weakness of character prevent her from realizing her dreams. One of the first American literary novels to deal frankly with a young woman's sexual awakening, Summer begins with a chance encounter, has a passionate affair at its center, and ends with a wedding. In this bare outline, Summer appears similar to hundreds of "sentimental" novels of the period, but critics agree that Wharton's depth of feeling and rich prose have turned a conventional plot into art. The novel's contemporary reviewers argued heatedly over the meaning of the wedding, and the question continued to interest critics in the twenty-first century.
Edith Wharton was born Edith Newbold Jones on January 24, 1862, in New York City. Her parents, wealthy members of New York's social elite, had a large home in Manhattan and another home in fashionable Newport, Rhode Island. From the time Edith was four until she was about ten, the family lived and traveled throughout Europe, avoiding the economic downturn that occurred in the United States after the Civil War. Edith developed an ear for languages and a taste for art and architecture that stayed with her for her entire life. When the family returned to New York, she did not attend formal school as her two brothers did but was encouraged by her father to study literature and philosophy on her own. Fluent in German, Italian, and French, she read widely. She also began to write, completing her first satirical fiction while she was only fourteen. Her first publication was a small volume of poetry, Verses, published anonymously in 1878 when she was sixteen.
In April 1885, Edith married Edward "Teddy" Wharton, who was fifteen years older than she. Wharton reveals in her memoir A Backward Glance (1934) that she and Teddy were friendly but not passionate with each other; the couple never had children, and Edith did not discover sexual passion until an affair decades later. The couple settled in Newport, and Edith established the morning as her time to write. In 1891, the first story published under the name Edith Wharton appeared and was followed by dozens of stories in the most important magazines of the day. By the turn of the century, Wharton was an internationally renowned fiction writer. With the publication of the novel The House of Mirth in 1905, she became a celebrity. She and Teddy divorced in 1913, and Wharton lived an independent but not lonely life thereafter.
Over the next thirty years she published more than forty novels, collections of stories, and nonfiction books. A few, including Ethan Frome (1911) and Summer (1917), were set in rural New England among people of the middle and lower classes, but she is best known for her fiction exploring the lives and values of wealthy Americans in urban settings. In 1921 she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, for The Age of Innocence, a novel about the moral conventions of the nineteenth-century New York elite. In 1930, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. As she grew older, her literary output and success increased; she was very wealthy and lived extravagantly, with lavish homes in New England and France. She died after a series of strokes and a heart attack, on August 7, 1937, at Pavillon Colombe, her home in Saint Brice-sous-Forêt, France.
It is a June afternoon in the early part of the twentieth century as Summer begins, and nineteen-year-old Charity Royall stands on the doorstep of her home, about to set off for her job at the library. As she looks over the small New England town of North Dormer, she notices a stranger, a young man clearly from the city. Something about him captures her imagination, and she feels, not for the first time, that her small-town life is unsatisfying. She is flustered when he enters the library to ask for books about the local architecture, and he appears flustered as well, struck by Charity's beauty. His questions about the library's holdings remind Charity how little she knows about books, and she is both disappointed and relieved when he leaves.
To clear her head, Charity heads for a hillside, where she lies among the wild flowers and observes the many signs of summer. She often comes here when she has thinking to do, and the scented breezes on her skin always cheer her. On this day she reflects on her life since she came to live in North Dormer. She is the legal ward, though not the adopted daughter, of Lawyer Royall, whose wife died seven or eight years after they took Charity in. Charity has given little thought to the man who provides for her. Once, when she was seventeen, he approached her bedroom at night and made a feeble attempt to seduce her, but she rebuffed him and has had no fear that he will repeat his actions. However, she has taken the library position hoping that eventually she can earn enough money to get away from North Dormer.
Over the next few weeks, Charity and the stranger, Lucius Harney, become friends. Harney lives alone down the street and has arranged to take his meals at the Royalls' home. The young architect is sketching and measuring the old houses in the area, and with the horse-drawn buggy he rents from Royall he has visited several remote areas of the region with Charity as his guide. Charity has kept the amount of time she spends alone with Harney a secret, though she is not sure why. She tells herself that she does not care what the neighbors think and that she does not care that Harney has never spoken of love. When she takes him to a house in which some of the poor Mountain folk live, she is ashamed to be reminded again of how different her background is from his.
Now hopelessly infatuated with Harney, Charity looks forward eagerly to their meetings. One evening, he does not appear for supper, and Lawyer Royall tells Charity that he will not be coming again. Impetuously, Charity storms out and walks to Harney's house. Noticing a light, she goes to the back of the house and sees through a window that Harney is packing his bags and preparing to leave. Realizing that if she makes her presence known he will invite her in and their chaste relationship will become a physical one, she remains silent until Harney falls asleep and then returns home. The next day she learns that she was seen leaving the house after midnight, and the town gossips assume that she has had sexual relations. To protect her reputation, Lawyer Royall asks Charity to marry him and leave town, but she refuses. Harney comes to say goodbye to Charity and then sends a note asking her to meet him secretly in the next town.
It is the Fourth of July, and Harney takes Charity to Nettleton for the celebrations. Everything is a wonder to Charity: the train ride, the shops and restaurants, the hotels full of glamorous and confident people, the doctor's office where an unfortunate acquaintance is said to have had an abortion. Harney shows her around the city, introduces her to the taste of wine, and even buys her a pin with blue stones—her first piece of jewelry. Later, they go to the lake where they watch a spectacular fireworks display and Harney gives Charity her first kiss. Flushed with excitement, Charity is stunned to run into Lawyer Royall, drunk and angry. He loudly calls her a whore and stumbles away.
When she returns home after the Fourth of July celebration, Charity dreads encountering Lawyer Royall, but he does not return that day. Suddenly unable to bear society's condemnations, Charity decides to run away, to join her mother on the Mountain. She sets out on the fifteen-mile walk but does not get far before Harney finds her. He persuades her not to go to the Mountain, but she insists that she will not return home. Instead, they walk to an abandoned house in an orchard, and there their sexual relationship begins.
- Books in Motion offers an unabridged audio recording of Summer read by Shaela Connor. It was published in 1992 on audiocassettes.
- Another unabridged audio presentation is available on audiocassette and CD from Blackstone Audio Books. Recorded in 1994, the novel is read by Grace Conlin. A 1999 edition includes the novel and excerpts from A Backward Glance.
At the end of August, the town of North Dormer is busily preparing for Old Home Week. Charity has been drafted to help make decorations, and Harney has returned to help design a stage for Town Hall. The two have been meeting secretly every afternoon. During the festivities, however, Charity sees Harney talking intimately with Annabel Balch, a sophisticated young woman from the city, and begins to doubt her hold over him. One afternoon, as she waits for Harney in the abandoned house, she is met instead by Royall, who has learned about the secret meetings. He urges Charity to break off the relationship before it is too late, but she refuses. When Harney arrives, Royall asks him whether he intends to marry Charity, but Harney will not reply.
As he had planned, Harney leaves North Dormer the next day to return to his work in New York. He has made a vague promise that he will return and marry Charity when his affairs are settled, but has asked her not to tell anyone of their plans. Later, Charity learns that Annabel Balch was with him when he left town and that they are engaged. Charity also discovers that she is pregnant. When a letter from Harney seems to offer no hope of their eventual reunion, she decides to go to the Mountain at last and raise her child among her own people.
With the added burden of her pregnancy, Charity finds the long trip to the Mountain exhausting. She is met on the way by the local minister, called to attend to Charity's mother, who is dying. When they arrive, Charity's mother Mary has died, and Charity sees for the first time how impoverished her existence has been. Mary's people are rough and unfeeling; they have had none of Charity's meager advantages. She knows that she cannot stay there to raise her child and heads wearily back for North Dormer. Before she gets very far, Royall, who has driven all night to rescue her, finds her. He picks her up, speaks kindly to her, and asks her once again to marry him.
Royall and Charity take the train to Nettleton and are married. They take a room at a fashionable hotel in the city and have a nice supper in the hotel restaurant. Charity goes up to their room to go to bed. The lawyer comes up hours later to spend the night in the rocking chair, and Charity understands that he knows she is pregnant and that he will protect her. The next day, Charity sends Harney a letter telling of her marriage and returns to North Dormer with her new husband.
Annabel Balch, a young woman of about the same age as Charity, stands as the ideal type of womanhood to which Charity aspires, despite Charity's claims that she does not care what others think. Annabel is wealthy, educated, beautiful, and sophisticated. In contrast to Charity, who is described more than once as "swarthy," Annabel is blond and blue-eyed. A relative of Miss Hatchard, she visits New Dormer periodically, but she is a city girl from Springfield with all of the advantages that implies. Even when Charity feels that she is at her best—when she is preparing to wear her white satin dress and be admired by her lover—the specter of Annabel Balch is present, as it is Annabel's hand-me-down satin shoes that complete Charity's outfit. In the end Annabel wins what Charity cannot: Lucius Harney's true love and commitment to marriage. Annabel never speaks during the novel, but she is often seen from afar or remembered at a distance, as is appropriate for an unreachable ideal.
Lucius Harney is a young architect from New York who has come to North Dormer to stay the summer with his relative, Miss Hatchard, while he measures and sketches the important old houses in the area. Although when Charity first sees him he is clumsily chasing his windblown hat, his clothing marks him as a man from the city, and Charity develops an immediate infatuation with him. At the same time, even before she meets Harney she cannot help but compare herself to him and her life to his, making her feel small and dull. As soon as she sees him, Charity wants to be more than she is.
Harney uses Charity as his guide and driver. She shows him around the area, pointing out houses he might wish to sketch for his publisher. In turn, he is her introduction into a wider world she has only glimpsed. He speaks of books and architecture. He takes her to the city of Nettleton, buys Charity her first taste of wine and her first piece of jewelry, escorts her to her first fireworks display, and gives her her first kiss. For Harney, these pleasures are commonplace, but even though he meets them with a hint of superiority he does seem to enjoy sharing them with Charity. Later that summer, he initiates Charity into a sexual relationship, and though the double standard for sexual behavior is strong in North Dormer and the risk to Charity is much greater than it is to Harney, she cannot or does not resist his temptation. His very name, Lucius, derives from Lucifer, a name for the devil.
Harney is never quite honest in his dealings with Charity: he denies that he has given a bad report of her to Miss Hatchard; he prepares to leave town without saying goodbye; he fails to mention even once his engagement to Annabel Balch; and he promises to marry Charity once he has had time to "settle things." Clearly, he has no intention of speaking to her of marriage until Lawyer Royall forces his hand, and after his angry and embarrassing confrontation with the older man Harney abruptly leaves town. Still, Harney is not ultimately a bad person—simply a young and a weak one.
Miss Hatchard is the elderly great-niece of Honorius Hatchard, the founder for whom North Dormer's library is named. As the town's most respected and respectable citizen, she reigns over Old Home Week. She is the very model of the unmarried innocent, who knows nothing of sex and desire and who avoids thinking or knowing about anything unpleasant. When Charity turns to Miss Hatchard for help in escaping Lawyer Royall, Miss Hatchard fails to understand the problem and can offer no assistance or advice. She is surprised when Charity asks for the position as librarian but grants the request when Lawyer Royall makes it. Still, Miss Hatchard places a great value on the library that bears her great-uncle's name, and she is ready to have Charity replaced when she believes that the library is not being well tended.
Ally Hawes is Charity Royall's best friend in North Dormer and the poorest girl in the village. The two do not exchange confidences, but they pass pleasant afternoons together making small talk. Ally, who seems content with her simple small-town life, earns money as a seamstress, occasionally helping Charity supplement her modest wardrobe with clever if not lavish designs. Ally also works for Annabel Balch, and it is she who tells Charity that Annabel and Harney are going to be married. Ally is sweet and innocent and has no idea of Charity's secret passion. And although Julia, Ally's older sister, has fallen into disgrace, Ally loyally and secretly visits her sister when she can.
Julia Hawes, a few years older than Charity and Ally Hawes, is the young woman from North Dormer who turned to the bad. Sometime in the past, before the action of the novel, Julia was seduced by a young man who did not marry her. She was forced to leave North Dormer and have an abortion, which nearly killed her; she now works as a prostitute in Nettleton. No one in town speaks her name in public. Ally Hawes, her younger sister, has maintained a secret correspondence with Julia, and the young women of the town whisper Julia's name as a warning about what can happen to a young woman who is not careful. When Charity and Lucius Harney visit Nettleton on the Fourth of July they meet Julia, with her heavy make-up, showy clothing, and "coarse laughter," on the arm of Lawyer Royall. Julia mocks Charity's innocence, hardly guessing that soon a pregnant Charity will find herself in Nettleton, visiting the same abortionist who attended Julia.
Charity Royall is the novel's protagonist, a young woman of some nineteen years. Although she lives with her guardian Lawyer Royall and uses his last name, she is in fact the child of a drunken convict and a prostitute, and this heritage, which places her in an even lower socioeconomic class than the rest of North Dormer, shames her. Lawyer Royall and his wife rescued Charity when she was five years old, but Mrs. Royall died seven or eight years later. Since then, Charity has ruled the Royall home and has grown increasingly strong-willed. After Mrs. Royall's death, Charity refused to go away to boarding school, fearing that Royall would be too lonely without her. Six or seven years later, a drunken Royall approached Charity's room and attempted unsuccessfully to seduce her. Since that time, the older man and young woman have lived essentially separate lives under the same roof, and Charity has taken a job at the town library hoping to earn enough money to leave North Dormer.
When Charity meets and becomes infatuated with Lucius Harney, her dissatisfaction with her life becomes her essential reality. She sighs, "How I hate everything!" As her relationship with Harney deepens, and she spends more and more time alone with him driving him around the countryside, she knows she is violating convention, but she does not care. For the first time, she feels sexual yearning, and she finds it thrilling and puzzling. Her infatuation for Harney is mixed with awe, and she finds herself relying on his judgment more than on her own. When he takes her to Nettleton for the Fourth of July, she lets him order her food and drink and select her jewelry. When he is ready for sexual intimacy, she follows his lead, and she does not ask for any assurances from him.
In the end, Charity's attempt to be independent fails. She finds herself pregnant and abandoned, and while she may not care what the town thinks of her, she knows she cannot hope to live as a single mother in North Dormer. In her desperation she finally becomes willing to look for good qualities in Lawyer Royall, and she marries him. She will not have the excitement or the independence she dreamed of, but she will have stability and contentment.
Lawyer Royall (his first name is never mentioned) is the guardian of Charity, whom he rescued from extreme poverty when she was five. Royall is a widower, an angry man who drinks too much, a lonely man who has too much education and experience to find close friends in the backward town of North Dormer. His only close relationship is with Charity, but the fatherly feelings he felt for her in the past have changed to feelings of love and lust. Since his one attempt to gain entry to her room, however, he has maintained an honorable distance from Charity. Knowing that she wants to leave him, he has nevertheless helped her obtain her job, hired a cook to stay in the house with them, and kept silent about his disapproval over her relationship with Harney.
Royall is the most complex character in the novel and the most mysterious. Earlier in his career, he worked in the city, but some unnamed disappointment brought him back to North Dormer. He does not reveal his thoughts and feelings to Charity—or perhaps she simply does not care to see them—so she is surprised at his depth of knowledge when he converses with Harney and at his eloquence when he speaks at Old Home Week. When he confronts Charity after she is seen leaving Harney's house late at night and again in the abandoned house where she has been meeting Harney, his concern seems to be for her welfare, though Charity cannot see it. Yet when he publicly calls her a "bare-headed whore" at the Fourth of July festivities, his concern seems to be only for his own wounded feelings.
Critics have argued since the book's first publication over the sort of marriage Royall and Charity may have. They point to his drinking, his temper, his violent changes in mood. They point also to his quiet compassion and understanding, revealed in his spending his wedding night in the chair beside Charity's bed. Royall can never be the exciting lover that Harney has been. But in the end, it is Royall, not Harney, who stands by Charity in her trouble, who goes looking for her when she is lost, and who brings her home again.
More than anything else, Summer is the story of a young woman's discovery of sexual desire. At the beginning of the novel, Charity is completely inexperienced when it comes to men; she has seen other people in the village break off into couples, but the young men of North Dormer hold no attraction for her. Harney is the first man Charity feels an interest in, and as she spends time with him her feelings change and develop. But unlike the heroines of many other novels, Charity does not dream of a cozy cottage or the domestic life of a wife and mother. Her desire is for sexual fulfillment.
The Charity who opens the novel is bored with everything and everyone. Though tired and cold, when Charity steps down from the buggy after being tenderly and platonically held by Harney in the rain she feels as though "the ground were a sunlit wave and she the spray on its crest." As she watches him through the window of his bedroom, she feels "All her old resentments and rebellions … confusedly mingled with the yearning roused by Harney's nearness." And when they have begun their affair, she feels that "all the rest of life" has become "a mere cloudy rim about the central glory of their passion." As she waits for Harney in their secret meeting place, Charity, who has been wanting to get out of North Dormer since she was mature enough to frame the thought, feels that he has "caught her up and carried her away to a new world." Charity does not question how sex fits into the rest of her life, or whether the relationship might last, or what its consequences might be. For her, for now, the delights of sexual experience are enough.
In Chapter 3, just after she has met Harney for the first time, Charity does daydream about marrying him. She sees herself walking down the aisle in her wedding dress and imagines him kissing her. As she pictures the kiss, she puts her hands in front of her face "as if to imprison the kiss," and the daydream is interrupted. Beyond this glimpse of a wedding, Charity never imagines what married life might be like. In fact, once they become sexually intimate she stops wondering about marriage altogether and does not think of it again until Lawyer Royall raises the issue when he confronts Charity and Harney in the old house. When Charity finds her dress for Old Home Week laid out on her bed looking like a wedding dress, she remembers dreaming about marrying Harney but notes that "She no longer had such visions … warmer splendors had displaced them."
In the early part of the twentieth century in the United States, social class was still an important factor in social interaction; that is, it was almost unheard of for members of different classes to become close friends or to marry. As her fiction demonstrates, Wharton believed that these conventions were especially strict among the very wealthy and among those rural people who found themselves cut off from the rest of the world. Towns like North Dormer, with no railroad station or telegraph, were likely to be conservative in regulating people with clearly understood but rarely articulated codes of behavior. In North Dormer, it is understood that the different classes do not mix.
Three different classes move through the world of Summer. Most of the residents are middle-class people who earn their living as shopkeepers and seamstresses. Lawyer Royall, by virtue of his profession, is slightly out of step with the rest of the community, and he is widely thought to be slightly above the others, but he is more similar than different. Below the people of North Dormer are the folk from the Mountain, "humblest of the humble." Charity was born on the Mountain, of a prostitute mother and a father who was a drunken criminal, and she knows she is fortunate to be in North Dormer because "Everyone in the village had told her so ever since she had been brought there as a child." She even looks different from the others, with her "swarthy" face and her yellowish eyes. The two classes do not mix. People from North Dormer do not talk much about the Mountain people but show their "disparagement by an intonation rather than by explicit criticism." For their part, the Mountain people do not tolerate any intrusion from North Dormer (with the occasional exception of the minister), and the people from town are afraid to go to the Mountain, for fear of the reception they would find. Charity, however, knows the Mountain people "would never hurt her," because she will always be one of theirs.
Topics For Further Study
- Research the tradition of Old Home Week in New England villages near the turn of the twentieth century. What purposes does this tradition seem to have served? In what ways is Old Home Week like and unlike homecoming as it is celebrated at high schools and colleges today?
- Research the availability of contraceptives and abortion in the early part of the twentieth century. What might Charity and Harney have done to avoid pregnancy? If Charity had decided to have Dr. Merkle perform an abortion, how safe might it have been?
- The pin Harney buys for Charity costs $10—the same as the fare to ride around the lake in an "electric run-about." Using 1910 as the year Harney bought the pin, calculate the approximate cost in dollars used in the early 2000s. How nice a gift did he buy her?
- Edith Wharton's original readers would have understood from the beginning that Charity and Lucius Harney would not last as a couple, because they come from different social classes. In the community you live in, what are the chances that two people from different social, ethnic or religious groups can form lasting bonds, supported by the larger community? Is the idea of sticking with your own kind outdated or still important?
- Are any old buildings in your town named after early citizens? Research the lives and contributions of one or more of these namesakes. What kinds of people are honored in this way?
The third social class, represented by Miss Hatchard and her relatives Lucius Harney and Annabel Balch, is educated, wealthy, and urbane. They read books, they have fine clothes, travel freely between the cities and the countryside, and they feel at ease moving through different communities. As her friendship with Harney deepens, Charity's greatest fear is that he will learn of her origins, that her origin "must widen the distance between them." She understands but soon forgets, that "Education and opportunity had divided them by a width that no effort of hers could bridge."
In his anger when Harney will not speak of marriage, Lawyer Royall utters the assumption that most of North Dormer has presumably been making about Charity all along: that her parentage being what it is, she cannot be expected to be virtuous. He tells Harney, "They all know what she is, and what she came from. They all know her mother was a woman of the town." Charity has feared all along that Harney would find out about her parents and think less of her because of them, and she is right to be fearful. Clearly, he has never planned to commit to Charity but has seen her as available and of a lower class, perfect for a summer romance. Charity benefits from the sexual energy that Harney would never consider expending on an unmarried woman from his own world, just as she wears the white satin shoes that Annabel Balch no longer needs. In the end, Harney does what he has intended to do all along: he marries Annabel, a woman of his own class. The novel does not explicitly challenge the notion that one's social class determines one's personality or one's place in the world. It simply shows what happens in a world where this notion is assumed to be true.
Summer is a bildungsroman (from the German for "novel about education"), the story of a young person's development into adulthood. The tradition of the bildungsroman in English literature is strong and includes such important novels as Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847) and Charles Dickens's David Copperfield (1849–1850). Typical of the form, Summer begins with Charity, a relatively sheltered young person on the verge of adulthood. Charity has no real responsibilities, and her basic needs are provided for. She is independent-minded but still rather childish, as when she murmurs, "How I hate everything!" She is not curious about books or about other people, she keeps telling herself that she does not care what anyone thinks of her but cannot stop comparing herself to Annabel Balch and the Nettleton ladies, she falls head over heels in love with the first city-born man she sees—in short, she is a typical adolescent. As she moves through the novel, Charity is forced to consider other lives than her own. As a jilted lover and finally as a wife and an expectant mother, Charity is finally forced to grow up.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, several novels had explored the maturation of a female protagonist. However, as Cynthia Griffin Wolff explains in an Introduction to Summer, Charity's story "is the first to deal explicitly with sexual passion as an essential component of that process." While Charity at first yearns, as earlier heroines had, for a safe and romantic soft-lens kind of love, her romantic fantasies pale beside her strong sexual urges, and in her passion she does not even wonder whether Lucius Harney will marry her. Knowing the difference between love and lust, or between a summer romance and a lifetime commitment, is an important lesson Charity must learn before she moves into adulthood.
Unlike Lucius Harney and Lawyer Royall, who are primarily interested in books and buildings and ideas, Charity finds her most expansive self when she is alone in nature. When she has something to think over, she leaves the library and goes to a quiet hillside; while Harney sketches a historic house, Charity waits in a field. Throughout the novel, Wharton uses vivid imagery to draw parallels between the natural world and Charity, both, in summertime, bursting with life and energy and fertility. The novel is set in summer, the time of heat and growth. Everything around Charity is growing, bearing blossoms and seeds, throbbing with life: "a tuft of sweet-fern uncurle[s]," "a small yellow butterfly vibrate[s]," there is "bubbling of sap and slipping of sheaths and bursting of calyxes." She watches all of this carefully, perhaps sensing that the same process is alive in her. As Charity's passion increases, the air temperature does as well. But by the time of Old Home Week, when Charity is already pregnant and Lucius will soon be gone, autumn is already beginning, and in the jar on the table where Charity and Harney meet are not summer flowers but "purple asters and red maple-leaves." As Charity walks to the Mountain where she hopes to raise her child, she sees more signs of autumn in the apple trees heavy with fruit and rose bushes "strung with scarlet hips" rather than the flowers that would have come before. That afternoon, the first snow of the year begins to fall. A few days later, as Charity and her new husband drive back to the red house, it is in "the cold autumn moonlight." As the imagery makes clear, summer—Charity's time for youth and carelessness—is over.
Women's Rights and Women's Literature
The first part of the twentieth century was a heady time for many women in the United States. For some thirty-five years, since the end of the Civil War, debate throughout the nation about what the new political role for African Americans would be had spilled over into debate about new roles for women. Active women's rights groups began to emerge in the late 1860s, demanding new rights for women: the right to vote, the right to attend colleges and universities alongside men, the right to work in the professions, the right to respectful and appropriate medical care, including information about birth control and abortion, the right to control property. Along with these political and economic demands, women also developed a heightened interest in literature that dealt with their lives and concerns. The bestselling novelists of the late nineteenth century in the United States were women, writing stories about women. Although most of these writers were not recognized by the literary establishment as serious or important, they served an important need in giving voice to women's experience.
Compare & Contrast
- Early Twentieth Century: In 1914, Margaret Sanger, a nurse, is prosecuted for publishing The Woman Rebel, a newsletter promoting birth control. The newsletter is banned as obscene literature. Two years later, she opens a birth control clinic in New York City, one of the nation's first. It is illegal in most parts of the United States even for physicians to prescribe or discuss birth control.
Today: Although some religious groups oppose the use of birth control, it is widely available, and generally considered safe and reasonably (but not entirely) effective. Information about sex, conception, and contraception is easily obtained.
- Early Twentieth Century: In Pittsburgh, the first American movie theater opens in 1905. Within ten years, all major cities in the United States have cinemas, showing silent spectacles, comedies, and newsreels. By 1912, five million people in the United States go to the movies each day.
Today: Most American cities have multi-screen cinemas showing full-length movies with color, sound, and big-budget special effects. Movies can also be seen on broadcast television or in various in-home video formats.
- Early Twentieth Century: Travel is difficult and expensive for rural people. Bicycles and horse-drawn vehicles are common but naturally limit the distances one can travel. Automobiles are still largely a novelty. Women are discouraged by social convention from traveling without chaperones. As a result, poor and rural women might spend their entire lives within a few miles of their homes.
Today: There are more automobiles in the United States than there are licensed drivers. Airplanes, buses, trains, and cars make it easy to get from one town to another. Millions of Americans live in one town and are employed in another.
- Early Twentieth Century: Communication is cumbersome, making it difficult to send and receive private messages. Private homes in small towns like North Dormer do not have telephones or home mail delivery.
Today: With telephones, email, instant messaging, and mail delivery, it is easy for couples to communicate quickly and privately.
In 1899, novelist Kate Chopin published her novel The Awakening, about a young woman who comes to understand that the life of a wife and mother is not satisfying to her. For Chopin's heroine Edna, there are almost no acceptable alternatives to domesticity. She would like to express herself through painting, to earn her own living, and to have passionate relationships with men. During the novel, she does have an affair with one man and feelings of love for another, in addition to her tepid relationship with her husband. The novel was met with a fury of angry criticism and accusations of obscenity, and it was banned in Chopin's hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. The novel went quickly out of print and was forgotten for more than half a century; Chopin never wrote another novel.
Like Chopin, Edith Wharton was typical of what was called the New Woman. She earned her own living from her own work (and in fact became the highest-paid novelist in the country); she divorced her husband; she traveled freely; she spent time with male friends, including the writer Henry James. Wharton did not join any women's organizations or campaign for women's rights; she preferred to keep to herself and fulfill her own dreams. In her writing, however, she created characters who had minds and hopes of their own and who frequently behaved in ways that did not conform to the rigid societal expectations for women. When Wharton published Summer in 1917, the "woman question" was still very much in debate. A minimum wage law for women existed in Massachusetts but nowhere else. Doctors could not discuss or prescribe birth control. Women were routinely denied educational and career opportunities. Women could vote in certain states but would not get the right to vote in federal elections until 1920. Young middle-class women like Charity Royall might have romantic dreams of more exciting lives, but other than by marrying above their class (something frowned upon and rarely accomplished) there were few ways to achieve these goals.
Although Summer never became as popular as some of Wharton's other novels, its author was important enough that the novel was widely reviewed when it was published in 1917. Many reviewers praised Wharton for her skillful description and characterization, while others regretted that Summer was overall a slighter work than the previous novels. Reviewers also disagreed about the ending of the novel. Lawrence Gilman, writing for The North American Review, found no satisfaction in Charity's marriage to Mr. Royall, stating that her story "ends grayly, resignedly, with long anonymous years of kindly and terrible amelioration stretching vacantly before her." An unsigned review in The Nation, on the other hand, was among those that celebrated the marriage, stating that "Mrs. Wharton permits, nay, encourages, us to hope a good measure of happiness for them both." H. W. Boynton, a reviewer for The Bookman, agreed, noting that the marriage offers, "we really believe, some chance of happiness, or at least content."
Little critical attention was paid to Summer and Wharton's other work during the 1930s and 1940s. Wharton lived in France for the last years of her life and watched her reputation decline. As she herself noted somewhat bitterly in her 1934 memoir A Backward Glance, readers during the years following the Great Depression were less interested in stories of New York and New England wealth and manners and more interested in tales of the struggles of common laborers. The 1950s saw a cluster of Wharton studies, including Blake Nevius's overview Edith Wharton: A Study of Her Fiction and Josephine Lurie Jessup's The Faith of Our Feminists: A Study in the Novels of Edith Wharton, Ellen Glasgow, Willa Cather. Critics of this period took the opportunity, some fifteen years after Wharton's death, to examine her complete output and discern major themes and techniques that carried over from work to work. They paid little attention specifically to Summer. Nevius, observing Charity's "pride, willfulness, and ignorance," concludes that "Her clash with her guardian makes it clear that temperamentally they are akin." Jessup, on the other hand, sees the novel as a "feminine triumph," one of many examples in Wharton of stories in which "woman exceeds man."
The second wave of feminism in the 1960s and the opening of Wharton's sealed papers at Yale in 1969 led to a dramatic revival of Wharton studies which continued into the twenty-first century. Critics in this last period, more willing than their predecessors to explore the frankly sexual nature of Charity's awakening, published dozens of studies of Summer. Most of these studies grew out of a more fully realized conception of feminism than previous work. Kathy Grafton's essay in Twentieth Century Literature is one of several that trace Wharton's understanding of the work of Sigmund Freud and her use of sexual imagery to suggest "Harney's need for degradation and Charity's need for forbiddenness." Wharton's possible sexual attraction to her own father and the issues of incest suggested by Harney's marriage to Annabel Balch and Charity's to Lawyer Royall have been the subject of several
studies, including William E. Hummel's article in Studies in American Fiction. A different feminist approach is demonstrated by Rhonda Skillern's contribution to The Cambridge Companion to Edith Wharton, which draws on semiotics to "trace the process by which Charity Royall, who represents the resisting feminine, is drawn into the symbolic order" but also "does manage to express her resistance to the symbolic order."
Bily is an instructor at Adrian College in Adrian, Michigan. In this essay, Bily examines how Charity Royall receives and rejects clothing and other objects of adornment from men in Summer.
At the turn of the twentieth century there were strict social prohibitions against a gentleman giving a lady clothing or jewelry. An unmarried woman who received clothing from a man was considered to be "no better than she should be," a woman of loose morals. Married men could display their worth by the way they adorned their wives; a woman with expensive clothing and jewelry and the time to study the latest fashions was evidence that her husband had enough disposable wealth to support such conspicuous consumption. These social conventions were a small part of a rigid system that worked against women having autonomy within or without the bonds of marriage. Young women like Charity Royall in Edith Wharton's Summer had few means outside marriage for leading satisfying lives: denied higher education, professional careers, even the right to participate in government, they relied on husbands to advance them socially and economically.
Charity would like to believe that she can do as she pleases without the approval of society, and it is in this spirit that she enters into an affair with Lucius Harney. But throughout the novel, Wharton shows Charity as struggling against societal expectations. Every time Charity looks in a mirror or decides she cannot bear looking in a mirror, she accepts the ideology that says her worth is in how she appears to men. If she is to find any happiness in her unhappy situation, Charity will have to learn to stop caring how men see her. Only if she can gain that much self-worth can she become a wife and a mother without losing her soul.
Charity does not read books, but she has internalized the belief that the world can be read in its appearance, and she tends to form judgments of people quickly based on what they look like. She gauges her own reception to romance based on her willingness or unwillingness to change her appearance for a particular man. As she understands, a woman makes herself appealing to a man by ornamenting herself. When she considers falling in love with the young men of the village, she puts it in these terms and realizes she cannot imagine "curling her hair or putting a new ribbon in her hat" for any of them. It is Harney's "city clothes" that first makes him worthy of attention, and she puts a great deal of thought into a new hat and dress for the Fourth of July.
In Charity's important moments with Lawyer Royall, his clothing indicates how she will respond to him. In her youth, on the day Charity decides not to go away to school, he waits for her on the porch. He is clean-shaven and has "brushed his black coat," and Charity notes that "at such moments she really admired him." She looks at him closely again on the day of the Old Home Week festivities, when his face wears "the look of majesty that used to awe and fascinate her childhood. His frock-coat had been carefully brushed and ironed, and the ends of his narrow black tie were so nearly even that the tying must have cost him a protracted struggle." As he gives his speech, Charity hears nobility in it that surprises her, and her willingness to hear the voice is connected with Royall's clothing. When Lawyer Royall looks his best, he is at his best, and vice versa. When Charity feels the most revulsion for him, he tends to be unshaven, and she attacks his appearance: "How long is it since you've looked at yourself in the glass?"
Charity knows instinctively that Lawyer Royall and Lucius Harney, the two men who want to dress her, also want to undress her. Twice, Lawyer Royall tries to dress up Charity, and twice she thwarts his attempts. The first time is when he has received payment from Harney for the use of the buggy, and he gives Charity ten dollars, saying, "Here—go get yourself a Sunday bonnet that'll make all the other girls mad." He makes the gift by "tossing a ten-dollar bill into Charity's lap," symbolically demonstrating what he hopes to buy with his money. When Charity does buy a new dress and hat with the money, however, it is to impress Harney, and she leaves home with the hat and dress covered up so Royall will not see them. On the morning after their wedding, Royall gives Charity forty dollars for clothes, telling her, "You know I always wanted you to beat all the other girls…. Ifit ain't enough, there's more where that come from—I want you to beat 'em all hollow." Royall is among those men who use women as competition; in helping Charity "beat" the other girls he hopes to "beat" the other men. If Charity uses this gift to buy stylish clothing now, she will be accepting a role for herself as an ornament, a mannequin to be dressed up for Royall's pleasure. But as we will see, she does not.
When Charity comes home with her husband to North Dormer, she is wearing the only two pieces of jewelry she has ever received in her life. On her breast she wears the blue brooch Harney bought her on the Fourth of July, and on her finger she wears Royall's wedding ring. Each piece was chosen by the man who gave it, and neither is quite right. The brooch, fond as Charity is of it, is a reminder of her dependence on Harney, her willingness to bow to his judgment even in matters that concern her more than they do him. At the jewelry store, where she sees jewelry close up for the first time, she is attracted to "a gold lily-of-the-valley with white flowers"—an understandable attraction for a woman who loves the natural world as much as she does. Harney, however, has shown little interest in the flowers and fields Charity loves; he is dedicated to the symmetry and geometry of architecture. "Don't you think the blue pin's better?" he asks her, and immediately Charity feels ashamed at her lack of perception. Why should she feel this way? The gift of the pin is meant to give her pleasure, but Harney is more concerned with ornamenting the woman he appears with than with giving her what she would enjoy.
Harney, of course, does buy sexual intimacy with the brooch, however cold-bloodedly a reader may see his intent. When Charity has her first closeup look at jewelry, she is struck by the "dark blue velvet" on which "brooches glittered like the moon and stars." A few hours later, as Charity and Harney watch fireworks that resemble "jeweled light" interspersed with "velvet darkness" (Charity absent-mindedly crushing the hat she bought with Royall's money), Harney kisses her for the first time. Charity has considered earlier that the money for the brooch might have bought an engagement ring instead, but she knows Harney will never buy her one. Nevertheless, it is not long before she becomes his lover.
The blue brooch plays an interesting role in the second half of the novel. Because she has no money, Charity must give the brooch to Dr. Merkle in order to have her pregnancy confirmed. At this time, Charity does not mind giving up the brooch, because she is still confident that when she tells Harney about the baby he will choose her over Annabel Balch. Once she realizes that he has already chosen Annabel, she decides not to tell him about the baby and determines that she must get the brooch back. Ironically, the money she uses to get the brooch back comes from her new husband, Lawyer Royall. Charity almost lets the brooch go, "But how could she leave her only treasure with that evil woman? She meant it for her baby; she meant it, in some mysterious way, to be a link between Harney's child and its unknown father." The pin "lay in her bosom like a talisman … It gave her strength." Actually, Charity's strength comes from her decision to buy back the brooch but not to take ownership of it; the brooch is for the baby, not for keeping a useless dream alive.
What Do I Read Next?
- Ethan Frome (1911) is Wharton's other short novel of rural New England. Its title character is an unhappily married man who comes to believe he has a chance at real love when his wife's cousin Mattie comes to stay.
- The Age of Innocence (1920) is Wharton's Pulitzer Prize–winning novel of social life in New York City during the 1870s. The novel's upperclass characters are just as bound by convention and just as fearful of gossip as the middle-class characters in Summer.
- The Awakening (1899), by Kate Chopin, tells the story of a young woman's gradual realization that being a dutiful wife and mother is not enough for her. The novel was greeted with anger and scorn because it did not condemn its central character for committing adultery.
- Among the most frequently borrowed material from the Hatchard Memorial Library is the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, an immensely popular poet of nineteenth-century New England. His Ballads and Other Poems (1841) included "The Village Blacksmith," "The Wreck of the Hesperus," and other favorites which were still widely anthologized in the early 2000s.
- North of Boston (1914) is a collection of poetry by Robert Frost. Published shortly before Summer, it includes several poems, including "Mending Wall" and "The Death of the Hired Man," that depict life in rural New England.
- The Ladies' Home Journal, a magazine for women readers, has been published since the nineteenth century. Issues from the early part of the twentieth century, collected and available in many public libraries, offer fascinating looks at the advice given to women about their appearance, their responsibilities for maintaining a home, and their behavior.
Charity's other piece of jewelry is her wedding ring, the sign that she belongs to Royall, not to Harney. (Unlike more recent customs, only women wore wedding rings at the early part of the twentieth century, as a sign that they—but not their husbands—were not available for sex.) Like the brooch, the ring was chosen for her, and it is only when she feels "a ring that was too big for her being slipped onto her thin finger" that she understands she is married. When did Royall buy the ring? How far in advance has he been preparing for this wedding to a woman who was not a part of the planning? Each time the ring is mentioned, it is as a symbol of loss, not of eternal love. When Charity looks out the window and sees the lake in the distance, she realizes "what she had done. Even the feeling of the ring on her hand had not brought her this sharp sense of the irretrievable." The next day, sitting down to write Harney a last letter, Charity is "possessed with a fear which had haunted her ever since she had felt Mr. Royall's ring on her finger: the fear that Harney might, after all, free himself and come back to her."
Why does Charity fear Harney coming back? Perhaps she knows now what a life with him would be like: that if he came back because of the baby or because of his desire for Charity, he and Charity would quickly grow weary of each other. He would not take her to New York and present her as his wife among his society friends, and neither would the couple be accepted and happy in North Dormer. She has known since her last meeting with Harney that "the gulf between them was too deep, and that the bridge their passion had flung across it was as unsubstantial as a rainbow." Now that she wears Royall's ring she has a chance at stability and contentment, if not passion, and she fears that she would cast it aside for one more embrace.
As the novel draws to a close, the newlyweds Charity and Royall are in their hotel room packing for their return to the red house as husband and wife. Royall cheerfully asks, "Well, did you rig yourself out handsomely? I haven't seen any bundles round." Charity, who has spent the money he gave her to get back Harney's brooch, answers that she would rather see to her own modest needs. Royall contemplates this for a moment and says, "Well, I wanted you to go back looking stylisher than any of them; but I guess you're right. You're a good girl, Charity." In rejecting Royall's attempt to dress her up, Charity has claimed for herself some control over her own role in the marriage. She will not be an adornment for Royall; she will make decisions, she will be autonomous, she will be an equal. As for Royall (who, after all, has taken on a wife who does not love him and a baby that is not his), he accepts Charity's vision. When he says, "I guess you're right," Charity knows that marrying Royall was the right choice. "I guess you're good, too," she says.
Source: Cynthia Bily, Critical Essay on Summer, in Novels for Students, Thomson Gale, 2005.
Covintree is a graduate student and expository writing instructor in the Writing, Literature, and Publishing department at Emerson College. In this essay, Covintree explores how settings and landscape mirror the emotional/moral life of the novel's main character, Charity Royall.
According to Marilyn French in her introduction to Wharton's novel, Summer, "Wharton's main theme, her deepest concern, was the emotional/moral life, especially in the area of sexuality." Wharton created a story of a young woman's coming of age through sexual experience and love. In many ways, this novel was ahead of its time. Long before essays on female identity were being written, Wharton created a female character exploring just these things. Much of Wharton's approach to the taboo subject of sexuality was brought to the reader through the imagery and environment in which she placed her characters.
When the novel's main character, Charity Royall, first visits Nettleton it is with the church youth group. At this time, the sights and sounds of such a place are overwhelming to her. They make her aware of the plain life she lives in North Dormer. What she remembers from this first visit are the "plate-glass fronts, … cocoanut pie, … and a theater [where she listened to a lecture on] pictures that she would have enjoyed looking at if … explanations had not prevented her from understanding them." With this experience, Nettleton becomes a place of newness and excitement. Wharton describes the town in an abundance of sensory images: what Charity can see, taste, and hear. It becomes a town Charity can fantasize about.
Charity needs something to fantasize about. Already an outsider because of her history with "the Mountain," she remains closed off to the interactions with the boys of North Dormer. In her essay "Development of Female Identity," Phyllis Katz asserts that "the major sex-role task of [the phase of later adolescence] involves the development of heterosexual interactions." At the beginning of the novel, Charity's history of interactions is marred by annoyance and invasion. She is annoyed at the couples who use the library to make out. She herself does not entertain male visitors there. Only her adoptive father, Lawyer Royall, shows interest of a sexual or marital nature. This, of course, is unacceptable to her, and so she is starved for real attention and affection from a man.
Wharton makes it clear to the reader that "North Dormer is at all times an empty place." Living in such an empty place, Charity's own needs and desires are stifled. She is unable to consider her own sexual needs or development. There are no men that she imagines being with. Charity's newfound dislike for North Dormer correlates with her female development. As a child, she "had long supposed it to be a place of some importance." It is only after her visit to Nettleton that she is no longer satisfied. However, North Dormer is not changing; Charity is changing. She is becoming aware of her own desires.
Until the stranger comes to the library, she can only see her own sexual power as something that appeals to her adoptive father. Her own need to be admired, then, works against her in her own home. The response to her own sexuality becomes a reaction to Lawyer Royall's propositions of marriage. Charity demonstrates this in the quick way she sends Royall out of her room and her means to gain another female in the house. She can see her own sexuality has power, but it is one that compromises the comforts of her own home. In this way, Charity's sexuality is a burden to her life in North Dormer. Both are isolated and repressed according to the strictures of the time.
If it were not for the nearby fields, it could be possible to believe that Charity had no concept of her own sexual desire. But, like the town of Nettleton that peeks at North Dormer through the train route, Charity is aware of what she is not often exploring. "She was blind and insensible to many things, and she dimly knew it; but to all that was light and air, perfume and colour, every drop of blood in her responded." The external sensory experiences are able to arouse an internal emotion. Her visits to the hillside are an escape and is one in which she can explore her own thoughts and feelings. In the introduction to her book Female Adolescence, Katherine Dalsimer explores the "possibility of pleasure, delight, or pride on the part of the female in her own genitals as they are, and in her own feminity." Above her empty town, Charity can "feel" and Wharton makes this point clear by repeating this one word four times in one paragraph. It is here, while lying in the grass, she first fantasizes about Lucius Harney.
Charity's evening ritual of washing her face becomes an opportunity to imagine "herself a bride in low-necked satin, walking down the aisle with Lucius Harney." Lucius has made it possible for her to take the feelings and desires she can experience in nature and find them within herself. Therefore, the affair between Charity and Lucius begins in her mind. It would almost seem enough that this be the resolution for Charity, that she tastes such desire and then returns to normal life, but this is not the case. Wharton pushes the emotion further. She brings the affair to fruition.
An affair so highly charged with emotion and desire cannot happen in the towns of Wharton's time, and so Wharton creates for them an environment where it is possible. The little house in the woods becomes their summer home. Though the walls are "sun-bleached to a ghastly grey," it contained, for Charity, a "secret sweetness." This sweetness is parallel to Charity's own confidence with her budding sexuality, which comes before Lucius arrives and "before [his] first kiss [blots] it out," or erases it because he brings his own sweetness. The house has a door, a table, a bed, and even a vase of flowers. This is the home that Charity wants for herself. The simple freedom her landscape allows for more freedom between her and Lucius. Though it is all done in secret, it is a better representation of Charity's inner self. Here, she finds, "the wondrous unfolding of her new self, the reaching out to the light of all her contacted tendrils." She finds that love is not "something confused and furtive," but "as bright at the summer air."
Like the detail of the Mexican blanket on the mattress of the little house, their involvement with one another is filled with little intimacies. While they do not even kiss until late into their affair, they share experiences in places that are sensual or alluring. As Katherine Dalsimer points out in her introduction to Female Adolescence, Charity is making "decisions … which will define adulthood; … with respect to sexual intimacy, to values that are expressed in ways of living." Lucius's surveying work allows Charity to rest in the grass in the kind of freedom she most enjoys. They are able to ride through the area in a comfortable silence. Though the relationship is actually tenuous, Charity makes decisions about it that demonstrate her ideal and most fulfilled version of herself.
When she and Lucius visit Nettleton, Charity is keenly self-conscious of every move they make. Wharton is also keenly aware of what sights they could see in Nettleton to allude to their desire. On this visit, the shop windows are not just reflections of "plate-glass." Now, Wharton describes the contents of the windows: "waves of silk and ribbon … hats [rising] like tropical orchids.… waxladies in daring dresses, … pink corsets and transparent hosiery." Again Nettleton is filled with sensual images, but this time they are also sexual. They mirror Charity's own sexuality, as each image applies most strongly to women. Wharton lists the exotic and the hidden, showing how Nettleton can put it all in full view. Even objects that might not initially appear sexual are sexualized as Wharton writes: "the pink throats of gramophones opened their giant convolutions in a soundless chorus."
Charity is a character who begins the novel despising her town. As the story progresses, however, she begins to move through the town with exhilarating secrecy. This is the secret of her burgeoning sexuality. Like the gramophone, she is pink-throated, waiting to open. Once Charity does open, her fulfillment brings a power and awareness that lets her finally find comfort in her own town. In an age when such ideas were not discussed, Wharton makes it clear how liberating and satisfying awareness of sexuality can be.
Source: Kate Covintree, Critical Essay on Summer, in Novels for Students, Thomson Gale, 2005.
Dupler is a writer, teacher, and independent scholar. In the following essay, Dupler discusses the role of nature and culture in Summer, with particular attention to the part played by shame in the society of the novel.
Edith Wharton's novel, Summer, is a classic coming-of-age story about a young woman. This type of story, called a bildungsroman (which translates from the German as "novel of formation"), generally contains a hero or heroine who is set in opposition to society and his/her upbringing in order to find his/her place in that society. Themes of coming-of-age novels often deal with love, with the conflict between adolescence and adulthood, and with the process of maturation and all the introspection and experimentation inherent in that process. In Summer, the female protagonist, Charity Royall, embodies many of the themes of the coming-of-age novel. In particular, Charity's character reveals a young adult's emerging individuality, or nature, in conflict with the society that has nurtured her.
At the beginning of Wharton's novel, the external world of nature plays a significant role. The story begins on a June afternoon, and the splendor of summer is all around. Wharton uses the imagery of nature both abundantly and carefully. In scene after scene, there is lavish description of the blooming summer world that serves as the backdrop for her characters' interactions. These scenes of nature may symbolize elements of the human story. For instance, in the beginning of the story, when Charity begins to fall in love, nature reflects the passion and abundance of her feelings, overflowing with life as it does in early summer. Later in the novel, when much has changed for Charity and she has experienced an "unfolding of her new self," the season has changed to autumn, When Charity becomes most distraught and has seemingly been abandoned by the world, the world is cold and wintry, and the optimism of summer is but a memory.
When Charity leaves her library job early one day and goes to lie in a summer meadow, Wharton describes the scene in great detail with smells, colors, and textures. In this verdant setting, "every drop of blood in her responded." Thus, nature is not only on the outside but on the inside of Wharton's human characters as well. Indeed, although Charity is a willful and free-spirited young woman, throughout the story there is also present an "undercurrent as mysterious and potent" as the force that "makes the forest break into leaf." Charity feels this force when she falls in love and she knows that "something transient and exquisite had flowered in her." She also experiences this force when she feels "pitted against unknown forces," and is "slipping down a smooth, irresistible current," which later feels "overwhelming."
Charity's character is influenced both by nature and by culture, and it reveals the conflict between the two. She is a natural woman who has an "animal secretiveness" about her, while at the same time she is considered to be intelligent and attractive by the community around her. She is clever enough in social roles that "in her narrow world she had always ruled." While in nature Charity becomes "absorbingly interested in herself." This suggests that she experiences an increase in self-esteem when left alone in a natural setting. But when Charity is in human society, in culture, she feels most challenged; she has a pervasive sense of shame that is revealed throughout the story.
One way that society uses to shame Charity, to motivate her to conform and to stifle her individuality and her freedom, is to belittle her past. Charity has come from the "mountain," a "bad place" and "a shame to have come from." In the beginning, Charity exclaims, "How I hate everything!" which suggests her loss of self-esteem because of the shame of her origin; her very birth is considered un-worthy by the town's arbitrary standards. Charity has been taught all her life that she should be indebted to Mr. Royall, the man who brought her down from the mountain and saved her from misery and poverty. This shaming mechanism subordinates Charity to the older and wealthier man who is her guardian.
On a number of occasions, Mr. Royall causes Charity to feel shame. When he speaks with Lucius Harney about Charity's humble beginnings, she is described as "choking with humiliation." When Charity tells Harney of Mr. Royall's presumptive advances, she is swept over by "a flush of shame." When Mr. Royall accuses Charity of improperly visiting Harney one evening, Charity's "shame weighed on her like a physical oppression." And when Mr. Royall sees Charity with Harney in the town of Nettleton, Mr. Royall shames Charity with profanity and disrespect. At the very end of the story, when Mr. Royall is trying to help Charity after she has been abandoned by Harney, his look makes her feel "ashamed and yet secure."
Although Lucius Harney at times seems to build Charity's self-esteem, nevertheless he brings out the deepest feelings of inadequacy in Charity. Next to him, Charity is painfully aware of her "ignorance of life and literature." Harney's worldly experience gives him an "air of power" that she is missing and that she is infatuated with. When attempting to write to Harney, Charity experiences an "inability to express herself." In another instance, lacking the proper words to write, Charity wonders "what a civilized person would have done," again pointing to her difficulties with culture. Harney represents a level of society that Charity, with her damaged sense of self, can only envy. Furthermore, Harney takes advantage of Charity, leading her to believe that he wants a permanent relationship with her but leaving her pregnant for another woman, which greatly increases Charity's sense of shame as a "leaden weight of shame" hangs on her, "benumbing every other sensation."
Others promote this sense of shame as well. An evangelist tells Charity that she must "confess her guilt," without having any specific reason for telling her to do so. Even the abortion doctor attempts to shame Charity, saying, "Ain't you ashamed," when Charity cannot make a payment. The community seems to be held together by the fear of shame. The town of North Dormer is described as full of "mean curiosities" and "furtive malice," ready to pounce on any citizens who dare cross its "harsh code of conduct." Even Mr. Royall is not free from feeling shame: "he despised himself" after Charity refuses his advances toward her one night.
Just like nature in the story, there are both internal and external manifestations of the shaming mechanism. For instance, Charity at different times in her relationship with Harney feels shame coming from within as a response learned from immersion in North Dormer society. There is also shame that is enforced by the other members of the community. When Charity, for example, spies on Harney one evening, Mr. Royall tells her that her reputation is ruined because the rumor that she improperly spent the evening with Harney has spread through the whole town.
Charity feels oppressed by shame and struggles to break free. She finds strength to do this from within herself, asserting her true nature over the demands of her society and its sense of shame. Charity spends time alone in nature, restoring herself away from culture's demands. Her natural intelligence gives her power in the household that she shares with Mr. Royall. The first time her guardian offends her, she gains the upper hand and demands that another female be hired in the household. It also becomes apparent in her relations with Harney that "she was the stronger" of the two. She confronts the shame of her impoverished background, when she admits to Harney that she comes from the mountain. Thus, Charity's nature overcomes the disadvantages that she finds in her position in society. In addition, she performs acts of rebellion. In spite of the warnings from the small town against men from the city, Charity chooses to pursue a relationship with Harney. She and Harney find an abandoned house, away from the rest of society, in which to spend time together.
Charity's transformation in the story comes about as she struggles with the sense of shame that her society has associated with her place of birth and with the sense of shame associated with her relationship with Harney. Although she fears "unescapable isolation" when she gets pregnant outside of wedlock and the man she loves runs away with her arch-rival, she confronts her fears and decides to go back to the mountain. On the mountain she is finds more despair, as her mother has just passed away. But when she views her dead mother's body, from what is probably the loneliest and saddest point in her life, she experiences a release of her shame. She realizes that, contrary to acting in a shameful way that tainted Charity's life, her mother acted in a way that gave her an opportunity. With this realization Charity experiences an opening, a "softness at her heart" that seems to create a shift in her character. In the end, Charity's willful nature gives way to "complete passiveness," and she accepts the marriage offer from Mr. Royall. The reader is uncertain whether this is a positive act for Charity, but Mr. Royall does rescue her from the impending difficulties of her situation. As the novel closes, the reader senses that Charity is relaxing into a new and safer fate, while retaining her fundamental freedom, as she can see the life around her with a "sudden acuteness of vision."
Source: Douglas Dupler, Critical Essay on Summer, in Novels for Students, Thomson Gale, 2005.
In the following essay, Grafton analyzes the relationship between Charity and Harney, particularly Harney's need "for a certain degradation of Charity," by referencing an essay by Sigmund Freud.
In Edith Wharton's 1917 novel Summer the relationship between the heroine, Charity Royall, and her lover, Lucius Harney, depicts a kind of feminine sexual awakening that is profoundly original in literature. As Cynthia Griffin Wolff notes in her introduction to the book, "Summer is not the first Bildungsroman to focus on this awakening to maturity as it occurs in a woman's life; however, it is the first to deal explicitly with sexual passion as an essential component of that process" (x). The precise way in which this sexual relationship is entered into by these young people has significant psychoanalytical ramifications. Specifically, Harney's need for a certain degradation of Charity to occur before he can find her sexually accessible, his subconscious need to separate feelings of sexual desire and attraction from feelings of genuine tenderness and high esteem, and Charity's own need to experience her sexuality as a forbidden pleasure, constitute driving forces in the revelation of their relationship within the novel. Freud's 1912 essay "The Most Prevalent Form of Degradation in Erotic Life" proves insightful in a close analysis of the relationship between Charity and Harney—particularly with regard to the factors that contribute to Harney's perspective and involvement.
The assumption that Wharton knew Feud's work is almost inevitable. Like Freud, Wharton exhibited great appreciation for the works of Arthur Schnitzler (Lawson 46, 129), the late-nineteenth-century "Vienna-born Jewish doctor" who is known for "epitomizing" Viennese impressionism in his literary works (Johnson 171–72), and whose stories, novels, and plays revealed a "perceptiveness with which they laid bare the inner, mainly the sensual, world of their characters" (Gay 130) As well, both Freud and Wharton admired the works of Goethe and Schiller. Freud "could quote [them] by the hour" (128), while Wharton reaffirmed "her loyalty to the older German literature and the German language" by immersing herself in the correspondence between the two (Lewis 394) "'Goethe always schillered when he wrote to Schiller, didn't he?' she observed" (394). Even more persuasive is the fact that Wharton often mentioned and discussed Freud among her friends during her excursion to Germany in 1913, as well as after her return to Paris that same year (352, 355). Freud's influence on Wharton … then, though not unequivocally documented, is apparent in that they often expressed similar concerns about cultural expectations and restrictions … and in that they were both interested in critiquing the "attitudes to premarital and extramarital sexual experience, [and] the precarious relation between parents and children" that they perceived in the societies in which they lived (134).
Summer tells the story of the romance that develops between Charity Royall, a relatively inexperienced young girl of humble beginnings, and Lucius Harney, an ambitious young man from the city. Charity is living with her guardian, Mr. Royall, in North Dormer, Massachusetts, when Harney comes to stay with his cousin, Miss Hatchard, for the summer. After their coincidental meeting in the library where Charity works part-time, Harney and Charity begin to see more and more of each other until their friendship evolves into a torrid affair. The romance of this seemingly mismatched couple "breaks, or stretches, many conventions of romantic love stories and in the process creates a new picture of female sexuality" (French xlii).
First of all, the relationship has only progressed so far as Harney's giving Charity her first real kiss when Charity is publicly degraded by Mr. Royall. The scene of the first kiss is in itself a foreshadowing of the sexual ecstasy that is soon to follow for the young couple. Having spent the day together in Nettleton, Charity and Harney are sitting in the bleachers at a Fourth of July fireworks display when the kiss takes place. As Charity leans back to view the display, she feels "Harney's knees against her head."
After a while the scattered fireworks ceased. A longer interval of darkness followed, and then the whole night broke into flower. From every point of the horizon, gold and silver arches sprang up and crossed each other, sky-orchards broke into blossom, shed their flaming petals and hung their branches with golden fruit; and all the while the air was filled with a soft supernatural hum, as though great birds were building nests in those invisible tree-tops.
The sexual imagery in this passage is important to note; Charity is about to "break into flower" or "break into blossom" herself. She is at once becoming aware of her own sexual instincts and needs in response to her growing intimacy with Harney. She will soon "shed [her] flaming petals," so to speak, and enter into an awakening that will incur all the brilliance and excitement that the fireworks symbolize. In fact, she and Harney are soon to embark on building their own secret little nest where they may covertly experience this excitement.
This imagery becomes even more explicit in the succeeding paragraphs leading up to the actual kiss:
For a moment the night seemed to grow more impenetrably black; then a great picture stood out against it like a constellation. It was surmounted by a golden scroll bearing the inscription, "Washington crossing the Delaware," and across a flood of motionless golden ripples the National Hero passed, erect, solemn and gigantic, standing with folded arms in the stern of a slowly moving golden boat.
A long "Oh-h-h" burst from the spectators: the stand creaked and shook with their blissful trepidations. "Oh-h-h," Charity gasped: she had forgotten where she was, had at last forgotten even Harney's nearness. She seemed to have been caught up in the stars.
The obvious phallic imagery of the scroll and the replica of Washington, and especially the delight and "bliss" they evoke in the audience, again suggest the sexual delight and bliss that will occur for Charity as a result of a deeper physical intimacy with Harney.
The first kissing seems to arise out of Harney's genuine affection for and attraction toward Charity. It seems spontaneous enough on his part: "With sudden vehemence he wound his arms about her, holding her head against his breast while she gave him back his kisses" However, it later becomes apparent that Harney's mental assessment of Charity and her position in society at this point in the story perhaps gives him leeway, at least in his own mind, to be so aggressive. Charity feels "herself possessed of a new mysterious power" over him at this point. What she does not realize is that this "power" is about to be lost when she encounters Mr. Royal as they are leaving.
In the next scene Chasity is irrevocably degraded in Harvey's eyes. As they are leaving, they come in contact with the drunken Mr. Royall, who, annoyed at finding them together, berates and shames Charity in front of the crowd:
He was just behind Julia Hawes, and had one hand on her arm; but as he left the gang-plank he freed himself, and moved a step or two away from his companions. He had seen Charity at once, and his glance passed slowly from her to Harney, whose arm was still about her. He stood staring at them, and trying to master the senile quiver of his lips; then he drew himself up with the tremulous majesty of drunkenness, and stretched out his arm.
"You whore—you damn—bare-headed whore, you!" he enunciated slowly.
This particular scene of degradation prompts Harney to intensify his physical relationship with Charity soon afterward. In fact, the next time he sees her is the first time they retreat to the little house that becomes their hideaway.
At this point the correlation between the scene at the wharf with Mr. Royall and Harney's subsequent seduction of Charity may be unclear. Here Freud's essay comes in handy in helping us better to understand the nature of this correlation in psychoanalytic terms. To begin with, according to Freud, the male's need to degrade the love object stems from a "psychical impotence" that has occurred due to an unacknowledged incestuous desire for his mother and/or sister. This desire is fundamentally unacknowledged because the male holds these two family members in very high esteem; thus, this type of desire seems entirely unacceptable to him. He then finds it necessary to separate feelings of desire from feelings of true affection and esteem. As Freud points out, "The erotic life of such people remains disassociated, divided between two channels, the same two that are personified in art as heavenly and earthly (or animal) love. Where such men love they have no desire and where they desire they cannot love" (207).
Freud claims that the most prevalent way in which the male then copes with his divided feelings is to create two love objects—one to love, the other to desire. He then degrades the desired love object in some way in order that his desire for her become acceptable to himself:
The principal means of protection used by men against this complaint consists in lowering the sexual object in their own estimation, while reserving for the incestuous object and for those who represent it the overestimation normally felt for the sexual object. As soon as the sexual object fulfills the condition of being degraded, sensual feeling can have free play, considerable sexual capacity and a high degree of pleasure can be developed. (208)
Although Harney does not himself degrade Charity, she suffers degradation in his eyes due to Mr. Royall's outburst. Harney also does not understand why this outburst makes her suddenly seem more sexually accessible to him in comparison to Annabel Balch, his well-brought-up fiancée. Freud also addresses this problem:
The man almost always feels his sexual activity hampered by his respect for the woman and only develops full sexual potency when he finds himself in the presence of a lower type of sexual object; and this again is partly conditioned by the circumstance that his sexual aims include those of perverse sexual components which with his well-brought-up wife, for instance, he does not venture to do. (210)
In light of this assertion, we need to examine the backgrounds of both Charity and Annabel as they are described in the novel, in order more fully to comprehend Harney's view of each.
The contrast between the backgrounds of the two young women is brought to our attention very early in the novel, even before we learn anything of significance about Harney. Charity, we discover, is from "the Mountain." She has no real family to speak of, aside from her guardian Mr. Royall, and she is keenly aware that her origins are ambiguous, her place in society mean, especially in comparison to the position of someone like the formidable Miss Balch. Charity knows that the Mountain is "a bad place, and a shame to have come from" and she feels "ashamed of her old sun-hat, and sick of North Dormer, and jealously aware of Annabel Balch of Springfield, opening her blue eyes somewhere far off on glories greater than the glories of Nettleton." Annabel, then, has undoubtedly been more privileged during her lifetime than Charity can even imagine.
For Harney, who comes from the same world of privilege as Annabel, the difference between the backgrounds and present social positions of the two women is more prevalent in his consciousness and more directive of his actions than he realizes. In applying Freud's ideas to this love triangle, we can see the way in which Harney's subconscious reasoning affects his decision to pursue a sexual relationship with Charity rather than with Annabel. For instance, I would posit that in choosing Charity, Harney, like Freud's exemplary male, exhibits his "need for a less exalted sexual object, a woman ethically inferior, to whom he need ascribe no aesthetic misgivings, and who does not know the rest of his life and cannot criticize him" (Freud 210). Indeed, Freud goes on to claim, "It is to such a woman that he prefers to devote his sexual potency, even when all the tenderness in him belongs to one of a higher type" (210). Though Harney is quite tender to Charity and finds her aesthetically pleasing and valuable, he does, in fact, unquestionably consider Annabel to be of a "higher type" than Charity.
The next time in the story that we hear of Annabel is when Mr. Miles mentions her to Harney in Charity's hearing at the library. Speaking of a garden party he has attended, he says, "I saw Miss Balch several times by the way … looking extremely handsome." The unprecedented mention of Annabel's name unnerves Charity, and we begin to understand the separate kinds of response that Harney reserves for his two love interests. Charity's intimidation and her sense of helplessness are revealed as her "restless imagination fasten[s] on the name of Annabel Balch." She notices a change in Harney's expression at the mention of this name, and though she does not fully comprehend the exact nature of a garden party she envisions "the flower-edged lawns of Nettleton" and enviously recalls "the 'old things' which Miss Balch avowedly 'wore out' when she came to North Dormer." Indeed, "Charity understood what associations the name must have called up, and felt the uselessness of struggling against the unseen influences in Harney's life." Charity then automatically "fits the bill" for Harney as a woman "to whom he need ascribe no aesthetic misgivings, and who does not know the rest of his life and cannot criticize him" (Freud 210, italics mine). In other words, Harney does not feel as if Charity could possibly encumber the beautiful future he envisions for himself because, in the back of his mind, he knows that he will end up with a more "appropriate" mate. Even Charity perceives that her relation to Harney at this point is characterized by her inferiority.
However, perhaps the most telling of descriptions is Wharton's depiction of Annabel's appearance and behavior at the North Dormer "Old Home Week" celebration: "Miss Balch, in an unbecoming dress, looked sallow and pinched, and Charity fancied there was a worried expression in her pale-lashed eyes. She took a set near Miss Hatchard and it was presently apparent that she did not mean to dance." Annabel is here delineated as an "object" completely void of any sexual inclination, indeed rather inclined against sex, in that she looks "sallow and pinched." Her asexuality is accentuated even more by the fact that she does "not mean to dance." Wharton effectively stresses here that the kind of creature held in high esteem by Harney is one of respectable origin and social position, yet one who seems to lack any kind of sensual vitality. Harney's previous decision that Charity is a more acceptable and accessible choice for a sexual affair thus becomes more clear, and the degradation of Charity that he witnesses at the wharf then only confirms the ideas that have already been collecting in his mind.
However, the scene at the wharf is only the first major occurrence of Charity's degradation. As she reveals more and more about herself to him in later stages of their relationship, she becomes increasingly degraded in his eyes. In fact, each time a new threshold is crossed in this respect, Harney's estimation of Charity drops to a lower level. For example, when Harney overtakes Charity in her flight to the Mountain, she reveals the truth about her origins to him. When he questions her about why she is going "home" in this particular direction (away from North Dormer), she replies that she is going to her home "up yonder: to the Mountain." With this utterance "she became aware of a change in his face. He was no longer listening to her, he was only looking at her, with the passionate absorbed expression she had seen in his eyes after they had kissed on the stand at Nettleton." Though Charity interprets his response to her admission as one of love, his response comes from a newly awakened sexual urge resulting from this new degradation. In fact, he immediately clasps her hands, embraces and kisses her, and leads her up to the little house that becomes their hideaway. Here the most important stage of her degradation takes place.
After they enter the little house and Charity seems to have calmed down, Harney tries to persuade her to go back to Mr. Royall's. Yet Charity vows that she will not go back, and in giving Harney her reasons she discloses an even more demeaning aspect of her circumstances. At Harney's insistence that Mr. Royall's drinking accounted for his rude behavior at the wharf, Charity replies that she understands "all that." But she also adds that Mr. Royall would not have dared to speak to her "that way" had he not wanted her "to be like those other girls" so that "he wouldn't have to go out."
[Harney] stared at her. For a moment he did not seem to seize her meaning; then his face grew dark. "The damned hound! The villainous low hound!" His wrath blazed up, crimsoning him to the temples. "I never dreamed—good God, it's too vile," he broke off, as if his thoughts recoiled from the discovery.
Again, this sort of revelation motivates Harney to express sexual attraction toward Charity even as he attempts to console her. Indeed, almost immediately after proclaiming Mr. Royall's actions "too vile,"
He came close and caught her to him as if he were snatching her from some imminent peril: his impetuous eyes were in hers, and she could feel the hard beat of his heart as he held her against it.
"Kiss me again—like last night," he said, pushing her hair back as if to draw her whole face up into his kiss.
This ultimate degradation of Charity in Harney's eyes results in further lowering his estimation of her and thus inspires powerful feelings of sexual desire in him. According to Freud, "as soon as the sexual object fulfills the condition of being degraded, sensual feeling can have free play, [and] considerable sexual capacity and a high degree of pleasure can be developed" (208). In this case, the course of Charity's degradation ends in the sexual consummation of the relationship. However, the fact that Harney chooses to pursue more intimate sexual relations with his desired love object at this particular time and in this particular place, along with the fact that Charity willingly submits, not only reveals the phenomenon of degradation in their relationship but also points toward a similar phenomenon having to do with Charity's own sub-conscious needs.
The phenomenon I refer to is Charity's over-whelming fascination with the forbidden aspect of her intimacy with Harney. In the latter part of his essay Freud asserts:
Women show little or no need to degrade the sexual object…. The long abstinence from sexuality towhich they are forced and the lingering of their sensuality in phantasy have in them, however, another important consequence. It is often not possible for them later on to undo the connection thus formed in their minds between sensual activities and something forbidden. (211–12)
Though we cannot seriously conjecture about the way it could affect Charity later, her need for forbiddenness is exemplified in several stages of the relationship.
Her desire really awakens the night she spies on Harney in his room. She is outside the window looking in and she is aroused not only by the sight and nearness of him, but also by the clandestine nature of her being there:
Her heart jumped and then stood still. He was there, a few feet away; and while her soul was tossing on seas of woe he had been quietly sitting at his drawing-board. The sight of those two hands, moving with their usual skill and precision, woke her out of her dream. Her eyes were opened to the disproportion between what she had felt and the cause of her agitation; and she was turning away from the window when one hand abruptly pushed aside the drawingboard and the other flung down the pencil.
Specific images of awakening in this passage ("The sight … woke her out of her dream," "Her eyes were opened") denote Charity's own sexual awakening. She is frustrated, "tossing on seas of woe," and she fantasizes while watching his hands move.
Nervous, yet excited, Charity continues to watch and becomes aroused by the sight of Harney's bare throat. She also continues to fantasize as he reclines on his bed. As she watches him undress, she takes in "the vigorous lines of his young throat, and the root of the muscles where they joined the chest." When he sprawls out on the bed and stares up at the ceiling, Charity recalls seeing him in the same position "at her side on the grass or the pine-needles, his eyes fixed on the sky, and pleasure flashing over his face like the flickers of sun the branches shed on it."
Yet the primary reason for Charity's stimulation is the knowledge of what could happen were she to alert Harney to her presence. This knowledge is particularly colored by her understanding of what had happened to Julia Hawes, the older sister of her friend Ally. Charity suddenly becomes afraid at the thought of what could so easily happen to her:
It was the thing that did happen between young men and girls, and that North Dormer ignored in public and snickered over on the sly. It was what Miss Hatchard was still ignorant of, but every girl of Charity's class knew about before she left school. It was what had happened to Ally Hawes's sister Julia, and has ended in her going to Nettleton, and in people's never mentioning her name.
In this passage we see that it is not just Charity's sense of secrecy but her anticipation, mixed with apprehension, that contributes so much to her feelings of titillation. The forbiddenness of her own actions, along with the knowledge of Julia Hawes's forbidden actions and fate, stirs up undeniable sensual urges in Charity. This need for forbiddenness also accounts for Charity's voyeuristic impulse to continue watching Harney and to remain, despite her "constrained position" and "weariness" even until he falls asleep. Though she is "beginning to grow numb," she felt she "could not move till he moved." She is "held there only by a vague weight of weariness" until "With a deep sigh he tossed the hair from his forehead; then his whole body relaxed, his head turned sideways on the pillow, and she saw that he had fallen asleep." Only now does she feel that she can safely creep away. Her ambivalent feelings at this point, a longing combined with a kind of fear, cause her to stay until her chances to show herself have passed. In other words, she is caught between her desire to reveal her presence and join Harney, and her knowledge of what could happen were she to do so. As she contemplates her options, she feels the need to remain until the decision is basically made for her when Harney falls asleep. This initial need for forbiddenness, however, grows increasingly stronger as the relationship progresses.
Later, the first confidential correspondence occurs between Harney and Charity in the form of a note that he sends to her by way of a young farm boy from Creston. Through this note they arrange to meet secretly at the Creston pool, giving Harney the chance to explain his previous discussion with Mr. Royall. "When Charity, in response to Harney's message, had gone to meet him at the Creston pool her heart had been so full of mortification and anger that his first words might easily have estranged her. But it happened that he had found the right word, which was one of simple friendship" (Wharton 87). Harney breaks free, here, from sexual expectations and actually reveals his sensitivity. Still, this reconciliation, made covertly, contributes to Charity's need for forbiddenness and leads to plans for another secret outing—the trip to Nettleton.
Charity's careful calculations in preparing for this trip pointedly illustrate the necessary forbidden quality of her romance. Unlike the brief meeting at Creston pool, this excursion requires much forethought. Yet it clearly excites Charity to make these secret plans and deliberately conceal the true nature of her journey:
She was determined to assert her independence, and if she stooped to fib about the Hepburn picnic it was chiefly from the secretive instinct that made her dread the profanation of her happiness. Whenever she was with Lucius Harney she would have liked some impenetrable mountain mist to hide her.
This passage clearly shows that Charity is much preoccupied with breaking the rules and doing something taboo in furthering her infatuation with Harney. Even the most trivial of preparations takes on this aspect of secrecy and forbiddenness for her: "Charity sat before the mirror trying on a hat which Ally Hawes, with much secrecy, had trimmed for her" (italics mine). Indeed, her dream of being totally secluded with Harney, hidden away from the rest of the world, soon comes true for her.
After the disastrous trip to Nettleton, the scene at the wharf, and Charity's subsequent attempt to run away to the Mountain, she and Harvey reunite and establish the little abandoned house on the road between North Dormer and the Mountain as their special meeting place. This secluded hideaway becomes very important to the progress of the sexual relationship, and definitely promotes the forbidden aspect of it. The connection in Charity's mind "between sensual activities and something forbidden" (Freud 212) is abundantly illustrated in the following passages:
She was always glad when she got to the little house before Harney. She liked to have time to take in every detail of its secret sweetness—the shadows of the apple-trees swaying on the grass, the old walnuts rounding their domes below the road, the meadows sloping westward in the afternoon light—before his first kiss blotted it all out.
Charity's heart contracted. The first fall of night after a day of radiance often gave her a sense of hidden menace: it was like looking out over the world as it would be when love had gone from it. She wondered if some day she would sit in that same place and watch in vain for her lover
For Charity the little house is a place shrouded with mystery—the mystery of the natural world and especially the mystery of sexuality that is unfolding before her.
Later Charity again delights in even the most minor clandestine actions. For instance, at "the triple click-click-click of a bicycle-bell under her window" ("Harney's secret signal as he passed on his way home"), she "stumbled to the window on her high heels, flung open the shutters and leaned. He waved to her and sped by, his black shadow dancing merrily ahead of him down the empty moonlit road; and she leaned there watching him till he vanished under the Hatchard spruces." She also tends to romanticize not only the seclusion of the place where her sexual initiation occurs but the little things that represent the secret understanding that exists between Harney and herself. The development of her sexuality is thus directly linked to the necessary condition of forbiddenness.
In drawing a correlation between Harney's need for degradation and Charity's need for forbiddenness, we must consider the standards of the society in which they lived and the ways in which they were educated by this society. In fact, Freud posits this cultural education concerning sexuality as the main catalyst for these tendencies in men and women. His sociosexual typology, dependent on Vienna, successfully maintains its validity when translated to Nettleton in that Wharton, in accord with Freud, perceives "the excessive self-denial that respectable middle-class society imposed on the sexual needs of ordinary humans" (Gay 338).
Indeed, Wharton had ample occasion to experience these excessive restrictions in her own life. For example, she "did not find out where babies came from until several weeks after her marriage" (Wolff Feast 40). Though she pleaded with her mother a few days before her marriage to explain the "facts of life" to her, Wharton met only with "icy disapproval" and the impatient reply, "You've seen enough pictures and statues in your life. Haven't you noticed that men are—made differently from women? … Then for heaven's sake don't ask me any more silly questions. You can't be as stupid as you pretend!" (Wolff 40). Wharton is, unquestionably, a perfect example of the kind of woman Freud is speaking of in his essay. Thus it is not surprising that Wharton's descriptions of the social milieu of Nettleton readily correspond to Freud's descriptions of late-nineteenth-early-twentieth-century Vienna, where "court preciosity found an equivalent in every bourgeois household, where girls were so sheltered from the fats of sexuality that many marriages foundered in frigidity"—indeed, where "[in] sex-starved young women, neuroses were commonplace" (Johnson 240). In short, Wharton seems to agree with Freud that "the unconscious … cannot escape culture" (Gay 338).
Freud wrote this essay in 1912, and Summer was published only five years later; Freud accurately describes the effects of society's standards on young people such as Charity and Harney. The class distinctions made by Freud and Wharton are also similar; both write of well-born men and lower-class objects of desire. In the following passage, Freud explains this correlation:
In my opinion the necessary condition of forbiddenness in the erotic life of women holds the same place as the man's need to lower his sexual object. Both are the consequence of the long period of delay between sexual maturity and sexual activity which is demanded by education for social reasons. (212)
However, an even more significant part of this correlation has to do with the frustration that is experienced because of this delay. "It is certainly true in a general way that the importance of an instinctual desire is mentally increased by frustration of it" (213–14). In other words, social restrictions defer sexual activity and this deferral instigates these tendencies—to degrade the object of affection in the case of the male, and to experience love as a forbidden pleasure in the case of the female.
The fact that Charity is degraded in Harney's eyes allows him to lower his estimation of her; she thus becomes sexually desirable for him. However, his fiancée, Annabel Balch, remains untainted in his mind. Although she is portrayed as sexually repressed, Harney's esteem for her remains high as he reserves for her the feelings of tenderness and regard he theoretically reserves for his mother and/or sister. Because Harney is unable to feel sexual desire for Annabel, he needs Charity.
On the other hand, Charity has been educated to understand her own sexual desires as something that must remain unacknowledged and stifled because of society's expectations. She specifically learns this through the fate of Julia Hawes. Yet she chooses to break the rules, and the knowledge that she is doing so greatly contributes to her excitement. Because her sexual relationship with Harvey is taboo in the eyes of her society, an inevitable link is formed in her mind between the fulfillment of sexual desires and forbiddenness. The application of Freud's essay to the story of Charity Royall helps us to uncover and clarify many of the underlying factors and potent forces that are the catalysts for the sexual awakening that she and Lucius Harney experience.
It is interesting, finally, that Charity and Harney's relationship does not completely fit Freud's pattern. Specifically, Harney is not at a loss for tender feelings toward Charity, as Freud's male is for his desired object. Neither does the need for forbiddenness continue to dominate Charity's sexuality, making her ultimately frigid. Instead, Harney displays a combination of tenderness and degradation in his actions toward Charity, and Charity develops an understanding of her own sexuality and affirms herself, no longer relying on forbiddenness, when she chooses to have her baby, believe in the love that she and Harney shared, and marry Mr. Royall. She becomes a powerful source of life in the end rather than the frigid woman exemplified by Freud's model.
Harney undoubtedly has feelings of tenderness for Charity, even as he desires her. Freud, however, in referring to the desired object, asserts that "It is to such a woman that he prefers to devote his sexual potency, even when all the tenderness in him belongs to one of a higher type" (210, italics mine). It becomes apparent that the situation between Harney and Charity is not quite as clear-cut as this, beginning with his words and actions toward her early in their relationship, as they begin to spend a great deal of time together after their meeting at the Creston pool:
In most of the village friendships between youths and maidens lack of conversation was made up for by tentative fondling; but [Harney], except when he had tried to comfort her in her trouble on their way back from the Hyatts', had never put his arm about her, or sought to betray her into any sudden caress. It seemed to be enough for him to breathe her nearness like a flower's; and since his pleasure at being with her, and his sense of her youth and her grace, perpetually shone in his eyes and softened the inflection of his voice, his reserve did not suggest coldness, but the deference due to a girl of his own class.
In this passage Harney's initial feelings of tenderness toward Charity are undeniable. We must bear in mind, however, that these are developing well before the scene of degradation at the wharf takes place.
Later, during the trip to [Nettleton] (again before the scene at the wharf), Harney is still showing a propensity for genuine tenderness when he buys the pin that Charity has been admiring. "'You mustn't be afraid of looking at the blue pin any longer, because it belongs to you,' he said; and she felt a little box being pressed into her hand."
In the early part of this paper, Harney's need for a degradation of Charity to occur in order for her to become sexually desirable to him has been examined; now we must look at the combination of this need for degradation and his sincere tenderness. After the scene at the wharf takes place, Harney continues to treat her with tenderness even as he begins to make sexual advances. When Charity runs away to the Mountain in shame, Harney catches up with her and tries to console her:
"Did you really think you could run away from me? You see you weren't meant to," he said; and before she could answer he had kissed her again, not vehemently, but tenderly, almost fraternally, as if he had guessed her confused pain, and wanted her to know he understood it. He wound his fingers through hers.
He leads her up to the little abandoned house; yet as he seduces her he truly tries to comfort her. In a tone of "tender reassurance" he says, "'Let us go there now and sit down and talk quietly.' He took one of the hands that hung by her side and pressed his lips to the palm. 'Do you suppose I'm going to let you send me away? Do you suppose I don't understand?'" As I have mentioned, Freud does not allow for this compromise of degradation and tenderness in his essay. Harney departs from Freud's exemplary male in that he is able to sustain tender feelings for the desired object as well as the love object "of a higher type."
Just as Harney does not completely adhere to the Freudian model, Charity also surpasses it in her behavior. According to Freud, "It is often not possible for [women] later on to undo the connection thus formed in their minds between sensual activities and something forbidden, and they turn out to be psychically impotent, i.e. frigid, when at last such activities do become permissible" (212). However, though Charity certainly enjoys the element of forbiddenness in her relationship with Harney, this need is not carried over into her later involvement with Mr. Royall, and we can assume that she does not become "psychically impotent" in any way as a result of it. In fact, Wharton seems to suggest quite the opposite. Charity's understanding of her own sexuality progresses and she becomes at ease with herself. In the end she chooses to affirm herself and she begins to enjoy the element of openness rather than forbiddenness.
Charity's decision to reject the abortion option and have the baby is her first step in acknowledging and accepting her pregnancy, as well as her sexuality. The realization of her situation dawns on her after her visit to Dr. Merkle:
On the way home, she felt an immense and unexpected quietude. It had been horrible to have to leave Harney's gift in the woman's hands, but even at that price the news she brought away had not been too dearly bought. She sat with half-closed eyes as the train rushed through the familiar landscape; and now the memories of her former journey, instead of flying before her like dead leaves, seemed to be ripening in her blood like sleeping grain. She would never again know what it was to feel herself alone.
At this point, though she still has hopes of reuniting with Harney, Charity begins to think of her pregnancy in a new way. She is no longer ashamed and discouraged; instead, she begins to understand the full potential of her own sexual maturity. More importantly, however, she begins to appreciate this potential. Through her decision to have the baby she becomes proud and affirms her sexuality, no longer relying on the secrecy linked to her need for forbiddenness, but experiencing the relief of acceptance and openness. Her outlook becomes positive as she strives to face her problems and the decisions she must make.
The next step in her acceptance of herself and her situation comes when she receives the letter from Harney confirming the fact that he is to marry Annabel Balch and thanking her for "understanding." Through all the hurt and pain she feels, Charity also begins morally to affirm her relationship with Harney. In other words, she does not regret anything with him. She refuses to feel shame or remorse or to let society project its values onto her personal experience. Though she feels anguish as she mentally relives each stage of her futile romance with Harney, she maintains a positive outlook:
All these memories, and a thousand others, hummed through her brain till his nearness grew so vivid that she felt his fingers in her hair, and his warm breath on her cheek as he bent her head back like a flower. These things were hers; they had passed into her blood, and become a part of her, they were building the child in her womb; it was impossible to tear asunder strands of life so interwoven.
Again, she affirms herself not only by accepting her pregnancy, but by accepting her relationship with Harney and believing in what they shared together. She does not feel that she should have to spell out her choices for a society which does not understand her. Rather, she owns her individual power through self-affirmation, not the affirmation of others.
Her subsequent decision to marry Mr. Royall can also be seen as a positive one. We must keep in mind that the options for a young girl of her class in such a predicament during this time were few. Therefore, though marriage to Mr. Royall may at first seem like a kind of surrender on Charity's part, it actually further reveals her maturity and clear vision. Her true feelings for Mr. Royall, which, once realized, motivate her to consent to marriage, are best expressed in the thoughts she has when he brings her down from the Mountain, where she has once again fled in her distress: "Mr. Royall seldom spoke, but his silent presence gave her, for the first time, a sense of peace and security. She knew that where he was there would be warmth, rest, silence; and for the moment they were all she wanted." Here we can see how Charity realizes that many of her thoughts about how to handle her situation (such as going to Harney, or running away to the Mountain again) are unrealistic and self-defeating. She then understands that her most rational choice, the one that will allow her to continue to own her power in spite of society's mores, is marriage to Mr. Royall.
Thus, for all the tragic limitations that Freud spells out in his essay, Charity and Harney do at least partly transcend their culture's predilections. Though Harney clearly exhibits the split between the desired object and the esteemed love object, he does not fall into the one-sided show of affection and tenderness that this Freudian division suggests. And Charity surpasses the Freudian model even more because she overcomes her need for forbiddenness and becomes at ease with her sexuality. Though Freud's model of degradation and forbidden love in the erotic lives of men and women is ubiquitous in literature, the relationship of Charity Royall and Lucius Harney provides welcome relief to the old pattern.
Source: Kathy Grafton, "Degradation and Forbidden Love in Edith Wharton's Summer," in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 41, No. 4, Winter 1995, pp. 350–66.
In the following essay, Wershoven argues that Summer is "both Charity and Lawyer Royall's story, a dual conflict and … a dual growth…."
When Bernard Berenson complimented Edith Wharton on her latest novel, Summer, and expressed admiration for its predominant male character, Lawyer Royall, Wharton replied, "of course he's the book."
Wharton's statement has been largely ignored by critics who view the book as Charity Royall's story, and who classify Lawyer Royall as an old windbag, a pompous drunkard, or worse. The popular interpretation ignores not only Royall's central position in the plot, but Royall's central role in the novel's subtle and unfolding themes. For Summer is not just Wharton's variation on the old seducedand-abandoned theme; it is a story of two protagonists, both of whom must come to terms with their destructive illusions in order to lead adult lives.
The ability to "look life in the face," to confront reality without flinching or evasion, was, for Wharton, an essential quality in mature conduct. She repeatedly traced the conflicts of characters faced with the choice of escape through evasion or a more painful but adult recognition of things as they are. In the majority of her novels, Wharton chronicles this conflict through the use of an outsider heroine, one who exposes the reality of situation and self in confrontation with a weak male. This male figure, unable to face the truths the heroine reveals, rejects her. Such is the pattern of Ellen Olenska and Newland Archer in The Age of Innocence, of Lily Bart and Selden in The House of Mirth, as well as of Wharton's lesser-known novels. (Among them: The Reef, The Custom of the Country [where several heroes are drawn to an intruder heroine but reject what she reveals], The Valley of Decision, New Year's Day.) What is unusual about Summer is, as Wharton herself noted, that a man, Royall, is at the center of the book, that the conflict between suffocating illusions and painful but liberating reality is not expressed through Wharton's customary plot structure.
Granted the traditional elements of a Wharton novel—ineffective and evasive male and outsider female—are here, Lucius Harney qualifying as the first and Charity Royall as the second. But … in Summer, Wharton departs from her usual pattern by splitting the character and conflict of the intruder into male and female, and by resolving the conflict through a union of the two. It is a union which not only satisfies the requirements of plot, but which delineates what, Wharton felt, an adult marriage must be. Summer, Wharton's most uncharacteristic book, is both Charity and Lawyer Royall's story, a dual conflict and, more importantly, a dual growth achieved through "looking life in the face."
As Blake Nevius has noted, Charity Royall and her guardian Lawyer Royall are twins. They share certain characteristics which set them apart from, and above, the stifling environment of North Dormer. Both are rebels, rejecting the restraints of village life: Royall, by his drunkenness and dissipation, Charity, in her affair with a city gentleman. Both are village outsiders: Charity, because of her ties to the Mountain; Royall, because he is too large a figure for small town life. They share a desire for more of an existence than North Dormer provides, and, in seeking that life, both resort to fantasies which are destructive and essentially paralyzing.
Trapped in a society they scorn and in lives they despise, Royall and his ward resort to a common consolation: the fantasy of escape. In a new place, they feel, they will become new persons. Royall laments his diminishing law practice and his own degeneration, but blames them both on his environment; had he stayed in Nettleton, he reasons, he would be a bigger man. He camouflages his own self-hatred by surrounding himself with younger men, men like Harney, in whom he sees his own wasted potential, and young drunkards, who will flatter him through their inferiority.
Charity has her own fantasies of escape—to Nettleton, to a larger world with Harney as guide, even to the Mountain. Anywhere is better than North Dormer, for Charity has "a childish belief in the miraculous power of strange scenes and new faces to transform her life and wipe out bitter memories." Royall and Charity both evade change from within, believing that a new place will make them new persons.
Charity's fantasy of escape from self by a change of place is paired with an even more destructive fantasy—the dream of deliverance through romantic love. Her affair with Harney is grounded on the classic feminine fantasy of romantic submission, on an abdication of will (and self) through absorption into the loved one. From their initial meeting, Charity feels inferior to Harney, and senses "the sweetness of dependence" on him. After her sexual initiation, Charity chooses a masochistic, servile role in Harney's life: "she could imagine no reason for doing or not doing anything except for the fact that Harney wished or did not wish it. All her tossing contradictory impulses were merged in a fatalistic acceptance of his will." Rather than resolve her conflicts and develop an adult identity through painful yet free choices, Charity hides in her dream of a self defined by her lover: "her own life was suspended in his absence." Their relationship becomes the stereotypical romance of patriarchy; Harney, the superior guide, educating, dominating, forming his inferior mistress, who has sold all sense of self in exchange for his protection. It is no wonder that Wharton associates Harney with a musty "vault" of a library, with decayed and empty houses, with man-made enclosure in the midst of natural, open beauty. For Harney, not Royall, represents the dangerous paternal power opposed to Charity; he fathers her child, thus making her a prisoner of her body. More importantly, he reduces her to the status of a dependent, both a child, relying on him for her very identity, and a prostitute, selling her emerging self for the security of his indulgent and patronizing care.
This destructive fantasy of love is shared by Royall. He, like his ward, seeks a way out of the prison of isolation through the avenue of romantic love. The love he envisions is, essentially, the same kind of love chosen by Charity, a relationship of master/slave, of woman submitting to man's superior will. His fantasy is expressed, grotesquely, in his drunken assault upon Charity one lonely night, yet the model of love it expresses is, at bottom, the model of Charity and Harney's romance. The paternal lust of the father for the child only parodies the dynamics of Harney, representative of money, old New York and its suffocating superiority, seducing the poor and adoring country girl.
The subtle and hidden plot of Summer, then, is the revelation of these fantasies to the two main characters. It is a gradual exposure of destructive illusions accomplished, by Wharton, through the use of mirror images. Charity and Royall, twins in their weaknesses, must come to terms with themselves by repeatedly confronting one another. When Royall makes his sexual advance upon Charity, for example, she forces him to face himself, in shame. "How long is it since you've looked at yourself in the glass?" she asks, and she mocks his appearance, his age, his lecherousness. Similarly, Royall repeatedly shatters Charity's dream of Harney. When Royall refuses to board Harney any longer, suspecting Harney's motives regarding Charity, Charity surreptitiously observes her lover, and sees "a look of weariness and self-disgust on his face: it was almost as if he had been gazing at a distorted reflection of his own features. For a moment Charity looked at him with a kind of terror, as if he had been a stranger under familiar lineaments." Royall's action exposes Harney to himself and to his lover.
Two major episodes highlight the use of mirror images. The first is the Fourth of July celebration, where Harney and Charity, who is intoxicated by the fireworks, the crowds, and her first lingering kiss, meet Royall, drunk, on the arm of the local prostitute, Julia Hawes. When Royall calls Charity a whore, she has "a vision of herself, hatless, dishevelled, with a man's arm about her," a whore confronted, ironically, by a whoremonger. The further irony is, of course, that while Royall calls her a whore, Harney will make her one.
And still the illusions persist, for Charity continues to believe in her deliverance through an allconsuming love, and Royall, though repeatedly shamed by Charity, undergoes no radical change of character. It is not until near the end of summer (the season and the book) that Royall, facing himself, reaches out to Charity, to force her to face herself.
The scene is the Old Home Week festivity, a time when North Dormer gathers to celebrate its sense of place and to welcome those who have left the village back "home." The keynote speaker for the occasion is Lawyer Royall, and his speech, delivered to the entire town, is symbolically directed at only two people—himself and Charity. It is an oral resolution of his own conflicts, an acceptance of his own shortcomings, and a plea to Charity to "come home" to reality, to abandon her fantasies and accept herself.
In a masterful speech of reconciliation, expressing his own dignity and courage, Royall confronts himself, exhorting his listeners with Wharton's favorite theme: "let us look at things as they are."
Some of us have come back to our native town because we've failed to get on elsewhere. One way or other, things have gone wrong with us … what we'd dreamed of hadn't come true. But the fact that we had failed elsewhere is no reason why we should fail here … even if you come back against your will—and thinking it's all a bitter mistake of Fate or Providence—you must try to make the best of it, and to make the best of your old town; and after a while … I believe you'll be able to say, as I can say today: "I'm glad I'm here."
For both Charity and Royall, who so closely associate self with place, the return "home," for "good," as Royall specifies, represents the return to one's self, an acceptance of one's self and of one's limitations. Royall, having faced himself, can only appeal to Charity to do likewise, to seek growth and identity in the real world of "home," rather than to escape into dangerous illusions.
Eventually, Charity does come home, to North Dormer and to herself. She begins to face the suffocating and deathlike nature of her romance: "she felt as if they were being sucked down together into some bottomless abyss"; "she had lost all spontaneity of feeling, and seemed to herself to be passively awaiting a fate she could not avert." Finally, pregnant, alone, deprived of the fantasy of a world of love apart from the real world, Charity seeks one last escape, one last place—the Mountain. It is Royall who must bring her down from the horror of the primitive place, and bring her home. And he brings her love, not particularly romantic love, not particularly passionate love, but a love that will allow her to be free of illusions and free to redefine herself.
Much has been said about the vile nature of Charity and Royall's marriage. It has been called sick, incestuous, and, superficially, it does signal Charity's return to the prison of North Dormer, where things never change, where people just get used to them. What such interpretations dismiss, however, are the changes which have taken place within the protagonists, and the subtle yet positive signs Wharton distributes through her final scenes. For what Wharton describes is not the incestuous marriage of father and child, the paradigmatic marriage of old New York, but a union of equals, of adults who have grown through confrontation and acceptance of themselves and of each other.
The marriage is, first of all, the marriage of two people who will never become model citizens of North Dormer. The pregnant girl has already scandalized the village, and the man who weds her knows full well that he is violating village norms. Both Charity and Royall will always be "too big" to fit comfortably into North Dormer, which Royall calls "a poor little place," but, as he said in his homecoming speech, a place which can become bigger "if those who had to come back … wanted to come back for good." Rather than get used to North Dormer, Charity and Royall can work to change it.
Unlike the union of Harney and his society fiancée, Annabel Balch, the marriage of Charity and Royall is not incestuous. Charity is no innocent child-bride, no ornament to be displayed and broken by New York aristocrats. When Royall offers Charity his name and his life, he does so with sensitivity and compassion, so that Charity may salvage her dignity and pride from the shambles of her pain.
The man who had attempted to rape his ward sleeps in a rocking chair on their wedding night, and exhibits delicacy and tact by asking no questions about her pregnancy. He gives Charity money to spend as she wishes, and in Wharton's world, where money represents male power and female submission to that power, the incident is noteworthy. When Charity chooses to spend that money to preserve the memory of her summer with Harney, Royall makes no comment. At home, Charity has always ruled in Royall's house and she will continue to do so. Spared the sexual violation of the traditional wedding night, spared the enslavement of economic control, Charity is given the liberty of a different kind of marriage. The young girl who "had never known how to adapt herself," and "could only break and tear and destroy," has broken herself and her romantic dreams. Now, like Royall, she must rebuild herself and must learn when to adapt, never forgetting when to rebel.
The young girl trapped in loneliness can change, and fight for good, with a new partner. Even Charity, in her misery, can see a new Royall, one from whom "all the dark spirits had gone out," and for whom she now feels "a stir of something deeper than she had ever felt." In the marriage of Charity and Lawyer Royall, Wharton proposes a new and radical union: not of father and child, but of adults, coming together without illusions but with tolerance and compassion, with appreciation of the others' strengths and acceptance of weaknesses. The marriage is nothing like a surrender to the status quo of Harney and old New York, but a coming home to a union built together out of lone-liness and pain and shame, and dedicated to working together, as equals, for good.
Source: Carol Wershoven, "The Divided Conflict of Edith Wharton's Summer," in Colby Literary Quarterly, Vol. 21, No. 1, March 1985, pp. 117–22.
Boynton, H. W., "Some Stories of the Month," Review of Summer, in the Bookman, Vol. 46, September 1917, p. 94.
Gilman, Lawrence, "The Book of the Month: Mrs. Wharton Reverts to Shaw," in the North American Review, Vol. 206, August 1917, p. 307.
Grafton, Kathy, "Degradation and Forbidden Love in Edith Wharton's Summer," in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 41, No. 4, Winter 1995, p. 360.
Hummel, William E., "My 'Dull-Witted Enemy': Symbolic Violence and Abject Maleness in Edith Wharton's Summer," in Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 24, No. 2, Autumn 1996, pp. 215–36.
Jessup, Josephine Lurie, The Faith of Our Feminists: A Study in the Novels of Edith Wharton, Ellen Glasgow, Willa Cather, Richard R. Smith, 1950, p. 23.
Nevius, Blake, Edith Wharton: A Study of Her Fiction, University of California Press, 1953, p. 170.
"Plots and People," Review of Summer, in the Nation, Vol. 105, No. 2718, August 2, 1917, p. 125.
Skillern, Rhonda, "Becoming a 'Good Girl': Law, Language, and Ritual in Edith Wharton's Summer," in The Cambridge Companion to Edith Wharton, edited by Millicent Bell, Cambridge University Press, 1995, p. 119.
Wharton, Edith, A Backward Glance, D. Appleton-Century, 1934.
——, Summer, 1917, reprint, Perennial Library, 1979.
Wolff, Cynthia Griffin, Introduction, in Summer, by Edith Wharton, Perennial Library, 1979, p. x.
Lauer, Kristen O., and Margaret P. Murray, Edith Wharton: An Annotated Secondary Bibliography, Garland, 1990.
Although no longer up to date, this volume offers the most complete information about virtually every important piece of criticism of Wharton's work from original publication through 1987.
Lewis, R. W. B., Edith Wharton: A Biography, Harper & Row, 1975.
At well over five hundred pages, the Pulitzer Prize–winning Edith Wharton was a groundbreaking biography of Wharton, written with the help of thousands of pages of letters, journal, and other documents that were sealed for thirty years after Wharton's death. Lewis's biography offered the first substantive look at Wharton's relationships with the various men in her life.
Pennell, Melissa McFarland, Student Companion to Edith Wharton, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003.
Part of Greenwood's Student Companions to Classic Writers Series, this volume is an introduction to Wharton's life and work written specifically for the general reader. Included are a biography and a critical overview of Wharton's place in American literature as well as a chapter dedicated to characters, plot, structure, and interpretation of Summer.
Singley, Carol J., ed., A Historical Guide to Edith Wharton, Oxford University Press, 2003.
This volume collects original articles about Wharton's place and time, providing a historical and cultural context for her works. Materials especially relevant for studying Summer include a brief biography by Shari Benstock, an analysis of women's fashions by Martha Banta, a narrative bibliography by Clare Colquitt, and an illustrated chronology.
Wolff, Cynthia Griffin, A Feast of Words: The Triumph of Edith Wharton, rev. ed., Addison-Wesley, 1995.
Wolff's biography is a thorough and insightful psychological study of Wharton's life and work.
"Summer." Novels for Students. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 22, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/summer
"Summer." Novels for Students. . Retrieved February 22, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/summer