Places to Go: A Trip Out on the Lake with Edith Wharton in Summer
Places to Go is a special feature that The Reader is bringing to you in the hope that it may provide some inspiration on how we can spend our time at home during lockdown. We will be posting extracts from stories which highlight special moments of travel and adventure for you to enjoy. This week Clare Ellis shares a reading from Summer by Edith Wharton.
I read Edith Wharton’s Summer this May. Perhaps I was drawn to the title because I needed some summer warmth to help get me through the stresses and strains of lockdown. I am drawn to anything written by Edith Wharton, always finding myself in good company with her as a writer, and again felt being with her for a while might give me some comfort and reassurance whilst also still challenging me at the same time – for Wharton's novels never provide a ‘happy ending’, but they are honest and demonstrate a gentle desire to understand. So, I picked up Summer.
I would highly recommend the novel as a whole, which looks at the complex tensions of self-realisation within the pressures and confines of a local community. Charity is adopted and has never visited her birth parents even though she knows they live within reach, upon a tract of land known as the Mountain. Charity is desperate to escape the confines and prejudices of small town North Dormer, and with the coming of Harney, a young architect whose ambition is to draw the local buildings on the landscape, it looks as though she may have a chance.
The passage I have chosen to read out for Places to Go, People to See, follows Charity and Harney on a trip out to the nearby town of Nettleton. Such a trip is quite a novelty to Charity, and it is a joy to follow in her footsteps, as she looks out upon the world with newly opened eyes. Everything about the trip is heightened by the fact that it is so new to Charity, it represents a moment of great beauty to her. It is a moment that has stayed with me since reading the book and I think that it because I take it as a reminder of how wonderful it can be when life surprises us with good things and what it feels like to be fully alive to that.
I never liked fireworks before reading this passage. I only ever associated them with November and certainly not the summer. But I now will always associate them Charity and her coming alive to the beauties of the world. I hope you enjoy listening to the passage and that it brightens your day.