Edith Wharton's insightful classic, first published in 1912, was a daring challenge to the social and sexual conventions of the time, and its penetrating look into the nature of male-female relationships is still provocative today.
When George Darrow, a young American diplomat in Paris, is slighted by the woman he intends to propose marriage to, he has a brief, seemingly inconsequential affair with a spirited young woman whom he has taken under his wing. Months later, Darrow and the widowed Anna Leath mend their relationship and make plans to wed. But before they can announce their plans, Darrow learns that the engagement of Anna's stepson threatens to have a profound effect on his own.
Edith Wharton has long been one of America's most celebrated and popular novelists. Her works include The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, The Custom of the Country, and The Age of Innocence, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize.
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About the Author
America's most famous woman of letters, and the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, Edith Wharton was born into one of the last "leisured class" families in New York City, as she put it, in 1862. Educated privately, she was married to Edward Wharton in 1885, and for the next few years, they spent their time in the high society of Newport (Rhode Island), then Lenox (Massachusetts) and Europe. It was in Europe that Wharton first met Henry James, who was to have a profound and lasting influence on her life and work. Wharton's first published book was a work of nonfiction, in collaboration with Ogden Codman, The Decoration of Houses (1897), but from early on, her marriage had been a source of distress, and she was advised by her doctor to write fiction to relieve her nervous tension. Wharton's first short stories appeared in Scribner's Magazine, and though she published several volumes of fiction around the turn of the century, including The Greater Inclination (1899), The Touchstone (1900), Crucial Instances (1901), The Valley of Decision (1902), Sanctuary (1903), and The Descent of Man and Other Stories (1904), it wasn't until 1905, with the publication of the bestselling The House of Mirth, that she was recognized as one of the most important novelists of her time for her keen social insight and subtle sense of satire. In 1906, Wharton visited Paris, which inspired Madame de Treymes (1907), and made her home there in 1907, finally divorcing her husband in 1912. The years before the outbreak of World War I represent the core of her artistic achievement, when Ethan Frome (1911), The Reef (1912), and The Custom of the Country (1913) were published. During the war, she remained in France organizing relief for Belgian refugees, for which she was later awarded the Legion of Honor. She also wrote two novels about the war, The Marne (1918) and A Son at the Front (1923), and continued, in France, to write about New England and the Newport society she had known so well in Summer (1917), the companion to Ethan Frome, and The Age of Innocence (1920), for which she won the Pulitzer Prize. Wharton died in France in 1937. Her other works include Old New York (1924), The Mother's Recompense (1925), The Writing of Fiction (1925), The Children (1928), Hudson River Bracketed (1929), and her autobiography, A Backward Glance (1934).
Date of Birth:January 24, 1862
Date of Death:August 11, 1937
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Place of Death:Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt, France
Education:Educated privately in New York and Europe
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Edith Wharton's The Reef is a story of chances-those missed, stolen, and recaptured, you could say. At the center of the story are George Darrow, who works for the American Embassy in London, and Anna Leath, the woman he has, dare I say it, adored from afar for so very long now. Already Wharton sets the tone of the novel, likely expecting the reader to sympathize with the suffering of the "aging" lovers. Darrow missed his chance with Anna long ago when she instead married Leath, to whom she subsequently bore a daughter and became stepmother to Leath's son, Owen. However, Leath has passed on, and Darrow now feels his chance has returned at last to be with the woman he loves. And so off he goes, preparing for the journey to Paris, France, only to receive a letter from Anna telling him not to come, to delay his journey a couple more weeks. You would think after waiting all this time, Darrow might have gotten used to it, but no, he is outraged by this new delay and his imagination conjures all kinds of sinister motives for being put off yet again, particularly as Anna has utterly neglected to explain in the message to him why it is she wishes him to wait. It is now, on the outset of his halted journey that Darrow meets-rather rediscovers-young Sophy Viner, also heading for Paris on the heels of a family she hopes will help her along. Sophy has not had the best of luck. Her aspirations for the stage have gotten her nowhere and her recent employment, serving a rather harsh woman, has ended brittlely. She has no resources of her own and has lost the trail of her friends, and is attractive and eager-just to make things more interesting. Embittered and gradually enchanted, Darrow takes Sophy under his wing and shows her around Paris, allowing their brief relationship to go perhaps a bit further than he had intended. But then again, he has no idea what is going on with Anna, does he? Wharton certainly knows how to create characters, how to draw scenery, how to manipulate feelings. Yet in The Reef, I couldn't help but feel that there was just not enough of a story to keep me engaged. Will Anna finally let George into her life? Will she discover what he has been up to in Paris? Will George be able to move on from Sophy and enjoy his love with Anna? Will Sophy ever make it on the stage? And what of Owen? ... After a while, I just couldn't care enough anymore. Not a bad book, certainly. Well crafted, to give credit where credit is due, but just not powerful enough for me.