From Maureen Montgomery:
Makeshift Refuges: Edith Wharton’s Home-Building
AUGUST 24, 2020
AT FIRST, THE VISIT was like a fairy tale. In Edith Wharton’s 1912 novel The Reef, George Darrow comes to visit Anna Leath at Givré, the French chateau she inherited from her now-dead first husband. After delays and misunderstandings, the couple finally agrees to an engagement, and Givré seems like the romantic backdrop for their love. For Anna in particular it has taken on a renewed beauty with Darrow’s arrival; she sheds her impression that it is “a dull house, an inconvenient house, of which one knew all the defects, the shabbinesses, the discomforts.” On a drive through the countryside, they even discover a kind of mythical abandoned house:
[T]hey stopped the motor before a ruined gateway, and stumbling along a road full of ruts, stood before a little old deserted house, fantastically carved and chimneyed, which lay in the moat under the shade of ancient trees. They paced the paths between the trees, found a mouldy Temple of Love on an islet among reeds and plantains and, sitting on a bench in the stable-yard, watched the pigeons circling against the sunset over their cot of patterned brick.
Darrow returns to this crumbling, decaying, deserted house in his mind at the end of the day. He and Anna remain separated in the evening, both spatially and conventionally; they have not yet even announced their engagement, and Givré is populated by a cast of entangled characters, including Anna’s first husband’s mother, her daughter, her stepson, a governess, and servants. The deserted house, in a way, is the antithesis of Givré: a space known only to the couple, romantic in its desertion, the cottage complement to the fairy-tale castle. In an early draft of The Reef, Wharton even dubbed it “The Sleeping Beauty house.”