History: The book was published in 1917.
Plot: Eighteen-year-old Charity Royall is bored in the small town of North Dormer. She is a librarian and ward of North Dormer’s premier citizen Lawyer Royall. While working at the library she meets visiting architect Lucius Harney.
When Harney’s cousin Miss Hatchard left the village, Harney became Mr. Royall’s boarder, and Charity his companion while he explores old houses. Mr. Royall notices their growing closeness and tries to put a stop to it by telling Harney he can no longer accommodate him in his house. Harney makes it seem as though he left town but in reality he only moves in a nearby village and continues to communicate with Charity.
In a trip to Nettleton Harney kisses Charity for the first time, and buys her a present, a brooch. Afterwards they run into a drunken Mr. Royall, accompanied by prostitutes. Mr. Royall verbally abuses Charity, and Charity becomes overwhelmed with shame.
Sexual relations between Charity and Harney begin after the trip to Nettleton.
During North Dormer’s Old Home Week, Charity sees Harney with Annabel Balch, a society girl she envies.
After the dance Charity as usual goes to the small house where she meets up with Harney. Mr. Royall suddenly shows up and, when Harney arrives, Mr. Royall asks him if that is where he intends to live after he marries Charity.
After an angry Mr. Royall leaves, Harney promises Charity that he is going to marry her, but that he has to go away for a while first.
After Harney has left, Charity’s friend Ally lets slip that she saw Harney leave town with Annabel Balch. Ally says that Harney and Annabel are engaged to be married. Charity writes a letter to Harney telling him to do the right thing and marry Annabel.
Charity has been feeling sick so she goes to Dr. Merkle, who confirms her suspicion that she is pregnant. After the examination Dr. Merkle charges five dollars and Charity, not having enough money to cover it, has to leave the brooch Harney gave her. When she gets home she reads a letter from Harney, stating that he will do his best for them to be together.
Charity makes her way to the mountain, intending to look for her mother. On the way she sees the minister Mr. Miles, and her friend Liff Hyatt. They are on their way up the mountains because Charity’s mother is dying. When they arrive Charity’s mother has already died, and they bury her.
Charity stays in the mountain overnight, where she sees the abject poverty and resolves not to raise her child there. She decides that she is going to be a prostitute, and with the money she earns she will hire someone to take care of her child. Amidst her journey she sees Mr. Royall, who has come to pick her up. Mr. Royall offers to marry her.
After Charity marries Mr. Royall in Nettleton, she realizes that he knows she is pregnant and that is why he married her. He gives her forty dollars to buy clothes, and she goes to Dr. Merkle to get her brooch. Dr. Merkle has heard of her marriage to Mr. Royall, and refuses to give the brooch for less than forty dollars. Rather than paying the forty dollars, Charity quickly grabs the brooch and rushes from the office. She returns to Lawyer Royall's and writes to Harney, telling him that she has married Mr. Royall and has returned to North Dormer.
Review: Summer, Wharton's only country novel besides Ethan Frome is not as well known as some of her longer novels. At first, the plot reminded me a great deal of Kate Chopin's The Awakening, but the story is actually quite different. It reminds me more of Ethan Frome (well, at least the New England setting does). Summer is considered to be "the most erotic fiction Edith Wharton ever wrote." The erotic undertones in this story shocked early twentieth century readers, but are quite mild for today's standards.
Opening Line: "A girl came out of lawyer Royall's house, at the end of the one street of North Dormer, and stood on the doorstep.
Closing Line: "Late that evening, in the cold autumn moonlight, they drove up to the door of the red house."
Quotes: "How I hate everything!" she murmured."
"A mile or two farther on they came out on a clearing where two or three low houses lay in stony fields, crouching among the rocks as if to brace themselves against the wind. They were hardly more than sheds, built of logs and rough boards, with tin stove-pipes sticking out of their roofs. The sun was setting, and dusk had already fallen on the lower world, but a yellow glare still lay on the lonely hillside and the crouching houses. The next moment it faded and left the landscape in dark autumn twilight."