Considered by some to be among her finest work, Sanctuary follows the life of Kate Orme, a hopeless romantic who, when we first meet her, has experienced life as a bird living in a gilded cage.
Kate is radiantly happy with her fiancé Denis Peyton, at the start of this tale, but then discovers that he is morally flawed, and that he has told her a devastating, all too convenient lie.
It shakes her deeply and she quickly falls out of love with him.
Nevertheless, she decides to marry him so that he will not marry and father a child with someone else (from whom he is likely to conceal his moral turpitude).
Kate reasons to herself that by taking on his ‘sin’ she can prevent it from being passed on unknown to another generation.
Determined that no child of hers should inherit such character traits, she does everything in her power to instill in their son the highest moral code. Yet, when her son is faced with a moral choice of his own, she can only watch to see if history repeats itself.
Critics have seen this as an illustration of the Jocasta Complex, which may be described as ‘different degrees of attachment, including domineering but asexual mother love – something particularly prevalent with an intelligent son and an absent father figure.
Praised for its realism and candor by such writers as Joseph Conrad and Henry James, Sanctuary—the story of young woman who inexorably discovers ‘the moral sewage that surrounds her’—was one of Wharton's personal favorites, and remains as relevant today as when it was first published.
EDITH WHARTON (1862-1937), one of the greatest American authors, transformed the art of fiction. The Pulitzer Prize winning author of numerous novels and short stories, including The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, The Age of Innocence, and The Descent of Man, she is considered to be a literary colossus, and a central figure in the development of the modern novel.
"Perhaps, the greatest female novelist that America has yet produced."
—Cynthia Griffin Wolff
"Sanctuary is a striking little book, striking in its simplicity and penetration, its passion and restraint."—Times Literary Supplement