Mini Reviews: Summer and Désirée’s Baby

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

by Edith Wharton

When she was 5-years-old Charity Royall was rescued from a life of poverty with her prostitute mother when a wealthy man became her guardian. Instead of growing up in the mountain community with her mother she is raised in a life of privilege by Lawyer Royall and grows up to be a librarian. When we meet her she is a grown woman just beginning to stretch her wings. After turning down her guardians’ marriage proposal (eww) she is restless and discontent in her life. She soon finds momentary fulfillment in a clandestine relationship.

The material is a bit racy for its time period (which makes it tame by today’s standards.) It gives readers a tragic look at an ambitious girl who flouts the societal restraints imposed on her. It felt like a weak precursor to The House of Mirth, though it was published more than a decade later.

BOTTOM LINE: For me, the ending was deeply dissatisfying and disappointing. It felt more like a morality lesson for settling down as quickly as possible. I was frustrated that Charity was left with so few options, though I understand that’s a realistic view of the time period.  

I read this as part of Brona's Wharton Review.

Désirée’s Baby
by Kate Chopin

From the author of the famous feminist work The Awakening comes this collection of short stories set in the New Orleans bayou. Many of the stories blend together, lost in my memory only moments after finishing them. That’s something I always struggle with when it comes to short stories.

This collection does have a few stand outs, particularly the title story Désirée’s Baby. The horrifying little tale is about a happily married couple who have just had their first child. The child clearly isn’t completely white and because of that the husband throws the wife out of the house and disowns the child, saying she must have an African American in her background. But the truth is even more shocking.

The other stand out was “The Godmother,” a short piece about a woman whose grandson commits a murder. She does everything she can to protect him and hide the truth, but the guilt of the cover-up drives a wedge between them. The collection includes: Love on the Bon-Dieu, Désirée’s Baby, A Lady of Bayou St. John, The Unexpected, Fedora, The Story of an Hour, The Godmother and At the Cadian Ball

Start with Chopin’s other work, "The Awakening” and if you’re left wanting more then check these out.


Anonymous said...

Hi Melissa,
I was awakened to Chopin's work last year when I finally read The Awakening. :-) I do want more and have read a couple other short stories of hers and also have one pending to read as part of my short story reading challenge.

Regarding short stories in general, I try to read them as they were originally intended when the format became popular - Something that could be read "in one sitting." I.e. each story I read is its own individual "reading event" for me. When you read a collection "all at once" (as I also have on occasion) they can be easily muddled and confused with each other. My two cents. :-)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

bibliophilica - That's wonderful advice. I always have a hard time pacing myself with most collections. I just read them all back-to-back and you're right, they tend to blend together.

Brona said...

I read The Awakening about 20 years ago and now have absolutely no recollection of it at all.
I have to be in the mood for short stories, but will often keep a collection by my bed for those nights I just want one complete little story to contend with before succumbing to my heavy eyelids!

After reading your review I think I may have actually read Summer also...years ago.
Your description and your reaction touched a memory somewhere.

Thanks for joining in the Wharton Review.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Brona Joy - Keeping a short story collection by my bed might be a perfect solution. Then I might pace myself a bit better and only read one at a time!