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Edith Wharton's Summer is a timeless piece of literature that critiques the double standards in society, which haven't changed all that much from 1917.
Edith Wharton’s Summer is a timeless piece of literature that critiques the double standards in society, which haven’t changed all that much from 1917.
Edith Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1920, and one of the first female novelists to explore, depict and portray women’s sexual awakening in her novel Summer. However, why was Summer termed a controversial text after its publication in 1917? Why is Summer one of Wharton’s less popular novels?
Wharton hailed from an affluent aristocratic family, but the social restrictions for women existed irrespective of one’s social class. Her family, despite realising her brilliant writing skills, did not encourage her, as writing was considered an ‘unsuitable’ profession for women.
From rejecting the prevalent social standards to writing and publishing anonymously during the early years of her career, Wharton did not let society tame her. During the times when women were restricted to the home and hearth, Wharton penned a glass-shattering novel on women’s sexual desires for the world to read and learn.
The novel’s protagonist, a 21 year old Charity Royall, is attracted to a young, handsome and ambitious architect Lucius Harney, and when he reciprocates, their love blooms. Lawyer Royall is a titled man who is also Charity’s guardian. He is a parental figure in the novel till his wife dies and he wishes to marry Charity to satisfy his sexual needs.
Charity fantasises about Harney, and soon, these fantasies transform into reality. But, Summer is not a story of love, roses, and all things pretty. Harney leaves soon after satisfying his sexual longing, leaving Charity pregnant out of wedlock.
Drawing parallels between 1917 and 2020, what happens when a woman fails to follow society’s diktats on marriage and pregnancy? While the scenario has altered in many European and American societies, we Indians are still clutching hard to our stereotypical and orthodox outlook towards women.
Making her way through the ruthless society with a wailing baby in her arms is a reality for many women in our country. What will be the baby’s last name? How will s/he make her/his way through childhood? A single mother out of wedlock acts as an alarm bell for us to protect our ‘decent’ people from her. For others, a single mother is a vulnerable and inviting lady, who is “asking for it.”
Charity becomes the talk of the town after being spotted late at night outside Harney’s place. A young woman of 21 spotted outside a young man’s house becomes an instant hit for condemnation and gossip.
‘Shameless, dishonourable, disgraceful’ woman but what about the man? Why can Lucius Harney or any other man get away so easily once his sexual longing is met and fulfilled? Lawyer Royall, despite being a parental figure in Charity’s life, breaks down the wall and views her in a sexual light but easily gets away with it. But why does a woman’s sexual desire need to haunt her for the rest of her life?
Wharton observed the society closely and moulded her work around it. In our society, women do not exercise any sexual autonomy and even if they do, they face the distaste of society. Many people argue that marrying early “keeps the girls in check” and those who don’t – eventually face Charity’s fate.
Picture Credits: Pexels
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Anamika is an English literature student with a strong inclination towards feminist literature, feminist literary criticism and women's history. read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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Homeschooling in India is having a moment. As families become increasingly weary of traditional schooling thanks to cookie-cutter policies and high costs, parents are opting for alternate methods of education
Homeschooling in India is having a moment. As families become increasingly weary of traditional schooling thanks to cookie-cutter policies and high costs, parents are opting for alternate methods of education.
Come Monday morning, homes with young families across the country are in a chaotic yet familiar dance. Ceiling fans are turned off, and lights turned on with a vengeance.
Teeth are cleaned, and breakfasts are shovelled down. Uniforms and shoes are thrown on, and heavy school bags are picked up as parents and kids alike make a mad dash for the door.
But if you look closely, the underlying reason for anger and frustration in both groups of women is the same. It is the anger amongst women in being told what (or not) to wear.
A twenty-two-year-old Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, was detained by the morality police for breaking the country’s strict dress code. While in custody, Mahsa passed away. It was alleged that Mahsa was beaten in custody, leading to her death. An allegation, the Iranian police have dismissed as baseless.
The incident has sparked protests all over Iran. Women are taking off and burning their headscarves. They are chopping off their hair in public squares. These acts of defiance are against a regime that makes the hijab mandatory for women.
Closer home, in Karnataka, a few months back, young girls in PUC colleges were protesting against the administration’s decision to ban headscarves in the colleges. They were demanding their right to education while following the tenets of their religion. The matter was taken to the Karnataka High court, where the women lost. The matter is now sub-judice in Supreme Court.