I recently listened to Edith Wharton’s Summer on audiobook, and I must admit I was somewhat underwhelmed. Situated between two Jane Austen novels as it was in my reading list, it just didn’t compare favorably. Nor was the audiobook narrator especially fantastic, which sometimes makes all the difference for me. It wasn’t that I hated it, but I admit I never warmed much to the character of Charity, the young female protagonist in this coming-of-age character sketch set in, I believe, rural New England (though the narrator gave the characters more of a southern twang that, along with references to Charity’s origins on “the mountain”, had me for quite a while believing it was set more near the Ozarks rather than the Appalachian mountains, but never mind that.)
Charity is the ward of Lawyer Royall, the character that we suppose will be played by Mr. Armitage in the upcoming adaptation, though I don’t know if we have a definitive confirmation of that. She was given to Mr. Royall at the age of about 5 by parents (a man Royall had prosecuted and convicted and a mother who was a prostitute) from “the mountain”, a backward, violent, and uncivilized community living in abject poverty near the town of North Dormer. Charity has grown up with the benefits of an education and higher standard of living than she could ever have expected had she stayed on the mountain, yet she has always felt looked down upon by the townspeople and has never developed a close bond with Mr. Royall. To me, she showed no appreciation for the chance at a better life she has been given, and some of her behaviors, such as her lackadaisical care of the books and her propensity to show up and leave whenever she pleased from her part-time job as the local librarian, were off-putting.
As to Mr. Royall, usually I find myself able to insert RA into a role in my head, but not so easily this time. Some of the dialogue, certainly, but as to description… well, either they are going to up his attractiveness substantially for “Hollywood” purposes, or they’re going to have to do an age makeup and put him in a fat suit. He is often referred to as heavy, lumbering, aged. “As he stood there before her, unwieldy, shabby, disordered, the purple veins distorting the hands he pressed against the desk, and his long orator’s jaw trembling with the effort of his avowal, he seemed like a hideous parody of the fatherly old man she had always known.” Um… that doesn’t sound very much like Richard Armitage to my ears. “His rumpled grey hair stood up above his forehead like the crest of an angry bird, and the leather-brown of his veined cheeks was blotched with red.” Riiiight. That’s the very description of Richard.
Mr. Royall was definitely an ass at times, but I felt more empathy for his character. He did behave with lecherous intent once; I had the “Ew” vibe when he attempted to pay a visit to Charity’s bedchamber when she was but 17. I’m used to older men having a sexual interest in girls in that age range from the historical romance I’ve read on and off for many years, so that wasn’t so much a problem for me as the fact that he’s been her father figure since the age of five. That did bother me, though to his credit, he was drunk at the time, was forever ashamed of himself thereafter, and offered marriage at his next opportunity. He had another incident when he caught her on a date with her young beau, Lucius Harney, in a neighboring town. He was again drunk, in the company of prostitutes, and he loudly proclaimed, “You whore—you damn—bare-headed whore, you!” That was rude, and entirely hypocritical. (I confess, I look forward to that scene!)
However, on the whole, Lawyer Royall seemed to care deeply for Charity, as little as she seemed to merit it in my opinion. While his behavior was not wholly loving and honorable toward her, he was, in the end, willing to go after her and to marry her, perhaps even to endure a marriage of abstinence, when she found herself pregnant and abandoned by her lover. There’s definitely room for quite a bit of nice Armitage brooding action in this role, and I have no doubt RA will bring his usual depth to the character and make me care for him and understand him more than I felt in the book. Given the description of the character in the source material, I’m looking forward to seeing the look he is given… perhaps there will be a “John Standring-esque” transformation. From haggard, shabby, ill-shaven to all cleaned up on their wedding day? And will we get a first glimpse of Richard Armitage “silvered”? A burning question, indeed!
I’m always up for a period drama. So we’ll see.