Tim's Reviews > Novels: The House of Mirth / The Reef / The Custom of the Country / The Age of Innocence

Novels by Edith Wharton
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Sep 17, 11

Read from August 18 to September 17, 2011

I just finished reading The Reef in this collection of four of Edith Wharton’s books. I’ve previously read The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. While I enjoyed the others very much, this time I was overwhelmed by her skill at constructing long, descriptive sentences. Using a combination of commas, semi-colons, and colons, she strings phrases together like pearls.

Her writing strikes me as a mix of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. If Jane Austen’s books are comedies of manners, then Edith Wharton’s are dramas of manners. And where Dickens long strings of phrases bring to life the sights, sounds, and smells of a dreary London slum, Ms. Wharton connects the dots of emotions and thoughts of upper-class people trained to present a reserved facade to everyone.

This book confused me in two ways; the title and the ending. I’m not sure what “The Reef” refers to and I’m not a good researcher. Please let me now if you have any light to shed on how she chose the title.

(view spoiler)

This edition is published by the Library of America, “a nonprofit publisher dedicated to preserving America’s best and most significant writing in handsome, enduring volumes, featuring authoritative texts,” and at a very reasonable cost. They absolutely live up to their goals. The beautiful page layout on soft-white, acid-free paper in a cloth binding that allows the book to stay open easily without breaking made reading a visual, tactile, intellectual pleasure. After moving several times in the past year I’ve become a big fan of ereaders. But this edition has earned space on the shelf and, more importantly, in the moving box. More info at: www.loa.org.
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