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The Fruit of the Tree Paperback – May 29 2008
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About the Author
Edith Wharton (1862-1937) is best known as a novelist of "Old New York" society. Born to a privileged family in New York City, she spent much of her life living abroad. Among her numerous novels, short stories, and travel writings are The House of Mirth, Ethan Frome, and the Pulitzer prize-winning Age of Innocence. She died in France at her villa outside Paris. DONNA CAMPBELL is Assistant Professor of English at Gonzaga University. She is the author of Resisting Regionalism: Gender and Naturalism in American Fiction, 1885-1915. She lives in Spokane, Washington. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
In book one, a young man, John Amherst, takes advantage of an opportunity to push for significant change in the Westwood Mills. The opportunity is in the form of Bessy Langhope, the recently widowed wife and now owner of the mills. On the heels of an accident where a worker loses an arm, he is in the position of giving her a guided tour of the mills. She shows initial interest in making life better for the workers at the mills, but she is easily dissuaded and distracted from making any real change by those who her husband had put in charge of the mills. The result is that John Amherst is let go by those men, and though Bessy offers to intercede on his behalf, he is against her taking any such action. Her last appeal to him is of a more personal nature, and that is where the book ends. Another key character is Justine, a nurse who helps make John aware of the severity of the accident.
Book two picks up after John and Bessy have married. In this section, John learns the true nature of Bessy. Though she can be stirred to action when confronted directly with issues, when the changes at the mills start to impact her finances, she starts to move away from letting John implement the changes he knows are so desperately needed.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Unlike other writers who tackle class conflicts, e.g., Balzac or Eliot, Wharton makes the sketchiest possible effort to depict the workers themselves. She sticks to the milieu she knows, the world of upper-class drawing rooms, although as usual she reveals them to be full of secret social and economic tensions. Unfortunately, Wharton's distance from her chosen subject-matter--we are not even told what the factory and mills produce (some kind of cloth, apparently, as there is talk of carding-machines)--distances the reader from it as well. We learn much more about the thwarted desires of the do-gooder than about the desires of the human beings whom he proposes to help. As a result, both his motives and his plans are rather suspect in a way that I am not sure Wharton intended. The novel itself becomes abstract and dull and the characters don't come to life. I found myself feeling sympathetic toward those who resist the reformer, especially his first wife (the widow), whom he expects to hand him her mills and money to manage, to reduce her lifestyle, to rent out one of her properties, etc.
The marriage fails almost as soon as it begins along with the reformer's plans. Wharton then has to devise a way for the reformer to achieve his goals while also finding him a more suitable helpmeet. Wharton does not like divorce, so the wife must die. This plot requirement leads to the only really interesting part of the book. Previous reviewers have already explained how Wharton pulls the plot off. I will just add that the last part of the book unexpectedly rises nearly to the level of Wharton's great novels as we follow the twists and turns of the heroine's moral life as she slowly, agonizingly comes to terms with the repercussions of a well-intentioned but unlawful act of mercy. But the reformer, now her husband, finally achieves his dreams without having to undergo a comparable moral awakening. The book ends, like so many Wharton novels, on a chilling note of female suffering and injustice. Read it for the last section.
1) This should not be the first Wharton novel you read. It is just not compelling from the first to last page the way her 'big 3' (Innocence, Mirth, and my fave, Custom of the Country)are. The first half drags from too much time spent with excessive ruminating in the heads of the characters as she lays out their complexities and story line. However...
2)The last third of the book more than makes up for it...and the final turn in the last chapter is right up there with her best. So it deserves 4 stars after all. Again...if you haven't read other Wharton works, don't start with this one. Not her best, but a worthwhile read if you stick with it.