Monday, June 23, 2008

SUMMER by Edith Wharton

The Book: Edith Wharton, SUMMER. Barnes & Noble trade paperback reprint, 2006 (originally published 1917). Good condition; shows some signs of exposure to damp, front and back flyleafs liberally decorated by Master Wyatt Bragdon.
First read: 1981 (best guess)
Owned since: 2008 (this copy)

The calendar says it is summer, but you couldn't tell from my living room window. Dizzy and I are just back from a walk under cloudy skies, and the weather widget on my computer says 64 degrees.

Anna gave me her copy of this book last week, because I love it and had not read it in many years.

Although I first read it in high school, my most vivid memory of this book is of reading it in a basement apartment in Georgetown during my freshman year of college. I don't know what happened to that copy.

At 167 pages, "Summer" is a novella rather than a novel. It's a simple story of first love, lost love. Charity Royall, born to a poor family in the Berkshires, lives with her guardian, a middle-aged lawyer, in the small town of North Dormer, MA. Lucius Harney, a young architect, comes to town for the summer. He is handsome and glamorous, and Charity falls in love not only with him but with the world he represents.

It's interesting to compare this book to Marjorie Morningstar, a similar coming-of-age story; in both books, the world opens, but the main character winds up with the life she might have been expected to live in any case. While Marjorie Morningstar's ending is happy, Summer's is almost unbearably sad -- or at least it was to my 17-year-old self.

Now I read it with different eyes and see the hope in it, though it's still terribly sad. At 42, I see that Wharton was writing about the power of ordinary kindness, and comparing the reliability of one kind of love with the glamorous danger of another. Summer becomes autumn, youth becomes middle age, passion becomes comfort. Why does that feel so sad?

In other news, Bye Bye Birdie sold out all last weekend, and promises to do the same this weekend. If you plan to attend, make those reservations now.

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