I’m a big fan of Edith Wharton’s more well known novels (like The House of Mirth and Age of Innocence), but I’d never heard of Summer until I stumbled across it in Barnes and Noble one day. It’s considered a shorter precursor to Wharton’s more famous work, Ethan Frome, but after devouring it myself, I think it’s definitely worth a read on its own merits. Especially as you can get the e-book for free.
The novel focusses on Charity Royall, an eighteen-year-old girl who lives with her adoptive father in the miniscule rural village of North Dormer. She feels stifled by her inability to leave the village, meet new people or have any kind of life at all, and works in the never-visited library in order to save the money needed to finally escape to the more exciting world beyond its borders. When Lucius Harney, a new lodger, arrives in town, eager to research the “quaint old buildings” of the place, Charity is eager to attach herself to him, intrigued by his knowledge of the outside world and wondering if he might provide her ticket out of the village.
Charity has something of Disney’s Belle about her. If you like your heroines falling down onto the grass, plotting and dreaming of the day they’ll be able to leave their small towns and discover something bigger in life, then Summer is a pretty good bet. Of course, as this is Edith Wharton, not Disney, Charity’s plans don’t exactly go smoothly. But the entire book is filled with a deep yearning, a need for that undefinable more, and it is wonderful read as a result. Charity doesn’t know precisely what it is that she wants, but she knows that she wants it, and that exploration, along with its inevitable pitfalls, gives the otherwise quiet book an intoxicating and gripping quality.
If you’ve never read any of Edith Wharton’s books before, I’d recommend that you start with the Pulitzer prize winning The Age of Innocence. But if you’re looking for a relatively short, readable, feminist (and free!) classic, Summer is more than worth a look.