An expert chronicler of upper class American society at the turn of the twentieth century, Edith Wharton was born into a privileged New York family and married into money in the form a Boston banker, leaving her free to pursue a comfortable life of leisure. Her first novel was published in 1902 but it was the publication three years later of The House of Mirth that set her on a path of unparalleled creativity and literary acclaim. Examining the high society milieu that she understood intimately, her novels frequently involve star crossed lovers forced apart by social convention. Subsequent work includes the novella Ethan Frome, Summer and The Age of Innocence, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1920.
'…to all that was light and air, perfume and colour, every drop of blood in her responded. She loved the roughness of the dry mountain grass under her palms, the smell of the thyme into which she crushed her face, the fingering of the wind in her hair and through her cotton blouse, and the creak of the larches as they swayed to it.'
Filled with all the bittersweet promise of frustrated desire and forbidden love discovered and undone, Edith Wharton’s Summer has too long languished as an overlooked classic.
Written in bursts whilst Wharton performed charity work in France during the First World War, Summer drew an equal measure of fame and scandal upon first publication for its defiant depiction of female sexual awakening. Subsequently overshadowed by the success of her Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece The Age of Innocence, Summer exemplifies Wharton’s biting social critique and her sympathy for women imprisoned by convention and circumstance.
One of only two novels set in Wharton’s beloved sometime home of small-town New England but layered with the sensibilities of nineteenth-century European fiction, Summer follows the progress of Charity Royall. Frustrated by the limitations and petty-mindedness of home and the unwanted attentions of her adopted father, Charity begins a passionate affair with a charismatic outsider. Unlike Wharton – recently escaped from a stifling marriage to a new life in Europe - her heroine is not so fortunate.
Hailed by the New York Times in 1917 as a story ‘as old as civilization itself’, Summer remains a timeless read: moving, insightful and deeply human. Newly re-issued by Penguin Classics, with beautiful cover art, it is ripe for re-discovery.