Sanctuary

Edith Wharton, Sanctuary - e-book

Read from December 14th to 17th, 2012 

My rating: 3/5 stars
 

For a modernist author, Edith Wharton is actually very traditional in Sanctuary, which is written almost like a classical work: with compositional equilibrium and morale and care for the metaphor. However, the novella isn’t pedantic (I don’t think there is a work of Edith Wharton that could be accused of this) and not even the theme – the power of education - would make you think so. 

Shortly, this is the story of a young girl whose illusions about “happily ever after” are shattered just before her wedding, by learning that her fiancé not only did a blamable thing, but he is unable to see the evil in what he did, and neither does her father who seems to think too that such things are meant to be rather hidden and forgotten than assumed and dealt with. So Kate Orme makes a surprising decision: instead of cancelling the wedding she decides to go ahead with it in order to prevent Dennis to marry another woman and have children who will behave like him. In other words, she takes upon herself to save the world, to build a sanctuary that will protect the next generation against the evil the society not only accepts bur even encourages. And this sanctuary is the education she envisages for her children.

Part 2 shows a widowed Kate with a grown-up child. She succeeded in teaching her son to disregard material rewards but is aware of his incapacity of accepting failure. And here comes a turning point, when Dick is lured by another inheritance (there is a deliberate parallelism between him and his father here) to forget the values his mother tried to inoculate him, and he is conflicted because both his professional future and his future happiness depend on his decision. 
 
But in the end, although he had tried to turn his back on his mother's teaching and see things from another perspective, all he had been taught takes over and wins the inner fight:

"His hands stole back into hers, and he leaned his head against her shoulder like a boy.
"I'm an abysmally weak fool, you know," he ended; "I'm not worth the fight you've put up for me. But I want you to know that it's your doing—that if you had let go an instant I should have gone under—and that if I'd gone under I should never have come up again alive.""

I know, it seems infinitely boring and irritatingly educational. Additionally, Kate is not a character easy to like - she seems lifeless like an annoying concept, rigid in her beliefs and incredibly egotistical and limited sometimes. But keep in mind this is Edith Wharton we are talking about – a younger one, true, but gifted nonetheless, so the story somehow sounds right and is worth reading since it announces her masterpieces.

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