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Adopting America: Childhood, Kinship, and National Identity in Literature$
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Carol J. Singley

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199779390

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199779390.001.0001

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Charity Begins and Ends at Home: Edith Wharton’s Summer

Charity Begins and Ends at Home: Edith Wharton’s Summer

(p.152) 8 Charity Begins and Ends at Home: Edith Wharton’s Summer
Adopting America: Childhood, Kinship, and National Identity in Literature

Carol J. Singley (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Edith Wharton’s Summer (1917) signals the death of romantic myths of adoption and nation building. Rescued from a renegade Mountain community, Charity bears a name ironically referencing acts of child saving in nineteenth-century adoption narratives. Reflecting the novel’s World War I context, Charity’s is a refugee, then a rebel, as she copes first with adoption by and then with marriage to her adoptive father after a brief love affair leaves her pregnant. Charity’s decision to raise rather than abort or abandon her child anticipates twentieth-century issues facing birth mothers, just as her marked ethnicity positions the novel in a larger dialogue about nationhood, race, and eugenics. Charity improves the quality of her lineage and implicitly of the nation but loses her bid for autonomy.

Keywords:   Edith Wharton, Summer, Charity Royall, Lawyer Royall, Lucius Harney, realism, sentimentality, modernism, illegitimacy, birth story, temperance, incest, eugenics, World War I, irony, Bildungsroman, coming-of-age narrative

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