More than anything else, Summer is the story of a young woman’s discovery of sexual desire. At the beginning of the novel, Charity is completely inexperienced when it comes to men; she has seen other people in the village break off into couples, but the young men of North Dormer hold no attraction for her. Harney is the first man Charity feels an interest in, and as she spends time with him her feelings change and develop. But unlike the heroines of many other novels, Charity does not dream of a cozy cottage or the domestic life of a wife and mother. Her desire is for sexual fulfillment.
The Charity who opens the novel is bored with everything and everyone. Though tired and cold, when Charity steps down from the buggy after being tenderly and platonically held by Harney in the rain she feels as though “the ground were a sunlit wave and she the spray on its crest.” As she watches him through the window of his bedroom, she feels “All her old resentments and rebellions . . . confusedly mingled with the yearning roused by Harney’s nearness.” And when they have begun their affair, she feels that “all the rest of life” has become “a mere cloudy rim about the central glory of their passion.” As she waits for Harney in their secret meeting place, Charity, who has been wanting to get out of North Dormer since she was mature enough to frame the thought, feels that he has “caught her up and carried her away to a new world.” Charity does not question how sex fits into the rest of her life, or whether the relationship might last, or what its consequences might be. For her, for now, the delights of sexual experience are enough.
In Chapter 3, just after she has met Harney for the first time, Charity does daydream about marrying him. She sees herself walking down the aisle in her wedding dress and imagines him kissing her. As she pictures the kiss, she puts her hands in front of her face “as if to imprison the kiss,” and the daydream is interrupted. Beyond this glimpse of a wedding, Charity never imagines what married life might be like. In fact, once they become sexually intimate she stops wondering about marriage altogether and does not think of it again until Lawyer Royall raises the issue when he confronts Charity and Harney in the old house. When Charity finds her dress for Old Home Week laid out on her bed looking like a wedding dress, she remembers dreaming about marrying Harney but notes that “She no longer had such visions . . . warmer splendors had displaced them.”
In the early part of the twentieth century in the United States, social class was still an important factor...
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