|Movie version of Summer by Edith Wharton. Lucius Harney, you such a cad.|
by Edith Wharton
Besides the main character taking a trip to an abortionist, there's not much in Summer to distinguish it from a novel from the late 19th century. Summer does sound out from Wharton's other novels, in that it is set in New England, among "the little people" instead of dealing with Wharton's preferred set of upper-crust New Yorkers. Charity Royall is the 18 year old adopted daughter of a lawyer living in a small town in rural New England. She was rescued, at birth, from a colony of white-trash types who live "up the mountain."
When the novel begins, she is working in the library in her small town, bored and dreaming of a bigger life. At the library she meets visiting architect Lucius Harney, in town to sketch various buildings of interest. At the same time, Royall's ward and adopted father, Lawyer Royall, clumsily announces his intention to wed her. She rejects his (somewhat creepy and definitely incestuous) advances, and begins a sexual affair with Harney, which ends in a) her finding out he's engaged to a different girl in town and b) her getting pregnant. It's hardly an unpredictable plot twist.
In fact, I distinctly remember clucking my tongue on the very first page of the Harney/Charity interaction. There are just certain things you KNOW will happen in ANY novel where a young, naive, "country" girl hooks up with a sophisticated guy from the city. She will be seduced, and she will be abandoned. The pregnancy/abortion is a 20th century twist to be sure (even for novels written in the 20th century but set in the 19th century) but the underlying pattern remains the same.
Charity reacts to her dilemma by visiting a folksy lady abortionist, and then retreating to her ancestral home, where she discovers that 'her people' are just as degraded and vile as everyone said they were. Wharton is hardly going to win any 20th century points for her depiction of the impoverished, she is thoroughly bourgeois in her outlook and sympathies.
Yet, Summer remain memorable among her work simply because, like Ethan Frome and The Bunner Sisters, of what it isn't: A novel about New York society bitches.