Chapter

Charity Begins and Ends at Home: Edith Wharton’s <i>Summer</i>

Carol J. Singley

in Adopting America: Childhood, Kinship, and National Identity in Literature

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199779390
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199895106 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199779390.003.0008
Charity Begins and Ends at Home: Edith Wharton’s Summer

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Edith Wharton’s Summer (1917) signals the death of romantic myths of adoption and nation building. Rescued from a renegade Mountain community, Charity bears a name ironically referencing acts of child saving in nineteenth-century adoption narratives. Reflecting the novel’s World War I context, Charity’s is a refugee, then a rebel, as she copes first with adoption by and then with marriage to her adoptive father after a brief love affair leaves her pregnant. Charity’s decision to raise rather than abort or abandon her child anticipates twentieth-century issues facing birth mothers, just as her marked ethnicity positions the novel in a larger dialogue about nationhood, race, and eugenics. Charity improves the quality of her lineage and implicitly of the nation but loses her bid for autonomy.

Keywords: Edith Wharton; Summer; Charity Royall; Lawyer Royall; Lucius Harney; realism; sentimentality; modernism; illegitimacy; birth story; temperance; incest; eugenics; World War I; irony; Bildungsroman; coming-of-age narrative

Chapter.  13249 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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