Edith Wharton was a keen observer of society and a chronicler of her times. There's an elegance and clarity to her writing that makes her stories thoughtful, biting, witty, (and yes) beautifully sad.
Considered by many to be one of her finest works, Edith Wharton's The Reef is a scathing examination of the exploits and follies of the modern upper class, standing as the most philosophical of Wharton's novels, and probing the reality of an individual's evolving existence in relation to centuries of calcified consciousness.
George Darrow, an American diplomat residing in London, has remained in contact with his former love, Anna Leath, who had previously married another man.
Now widowed, Anna resumes contact with Darrow. Darrow desires to continue the relationship with Anna but remains concerned about her commitment to the relationship.
Along the way, Darrow runs into the young Sophy Viner, a woman he had previously encountered but never gotten to know. Sophy is an ambitious aspiring actress determined to start a new life in France. Enthralled, Darrow convinces her to spend a few days with him so he can show her around Paris.
During their time together, the two enter into a romantic affair.
In a one telling passage, Wharton illustrates the meaning of this relationship by comparing Sophy Viner to a child playing with a tiger's cub (standing for life). Someday the child would grow up—and so would the tiger.
Praised by critics for its realism and candor, The Reef 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