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A Son at the Front: A Library of America eBook Classic

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Inspired by a young man Edith Wharton met during her war relief work in France, A Son at the Front(1923) opens in Paris on July 30, 1914, as Europe totters on thebrink of war. Expatriate American painter John Campton, whose only son George, having been born in Paris, must report for duty in the French army, struggles to keep his son away from the front while grappling with Inspired by a young man Edith Wharton met during her war relief work in France, A Son at the Front(1923) opens in Paris on July 30, 1914, as Europe totters on thebrink of war. Expatriate American painter John Campton, whose only son George, having been born in Paris, must report for duty in the French army, struggles to keep his son away from the front while grappling with the moral implications of his actions. A poignant meditation on art and possession, fidelity and responsibility, A Son at the Front is Wharton’s indelible take on the war novel.


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Inspired by a young man Edith Wharton met during her war relief work in France, A Son at the Front(1923) opens in Paris on July 30, 1914, as Europe totters on thebrink of war. Expatriate American painter John Campton, whose only son George, having been born in Paris, must report for duty in the French army, struggles to keep his son away from the front while grappling with Inspired by a young man Edith Wharton met during her war relief work in France, A Son at the Front(1923) opens in Paris on July 30, 1914, as Europe totters on thebrink of war. Expatriate American painter John Campton, whose only son George, having been born in Paris, must report for duty in the French army, struggles to keep his son away from the front while grappling with the moral implications of his actions. A poignant meditation on art and possession, fidelity and responsibility, A Son at the Front is Wharton’s indelible take on the war novel.

30 review for A Son at the Front: A Library of America eBook Classic

  1. 5 out of 5

    Duane

    Edith Wharton lived in Paris during World War I, and with her incredible talent she paints a picture of the city and the people, and how they adapted to the the changes the war imposed on everyone and everything. One young man goes off to war and his parents pride for his bravery and horrible fear that he may not return is a scene played out countless times with families everywhere. Wharton was a correspondent and a homefront volunteer and her insights and descriptions give the reader a feel for Edith Wharton lived in Paris during World War I, and with her incredible talent she paints a picture of the city and the people, and how they adapted to the the changes the war imposed on everyone and everything. One young man goes off to war and his parents pride for his bravery and horrible fear that he may not return is a scene played out countless times with families everywhere. Wharton was a correspondent and a homefront volunteer and her insights and descriptions give the reader a feel for the emotions of the time and the people who lived through it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Faith

    I don’t believe that Edith Wharton wrote this.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Edith Wharton’s pet subjects — failed marriages, social minefields, and stymied dreams — play out against the backdrop of the Great War. As always, Wharton’s prose beautifully combines criticism with compassion, lyricism with clarity, and subtlety with wrenching drama. I found myself re-reading passages and just sighing. The set up for this novel hooked me before I even read it: In the summer of 1914, a divorced expatriate father living in Paris is anticipating a month’s travel with his son, Geo Edith Wharton’s pet subjects — failed marriages, social minefields, and stymied dreams — play out against the backdrop of the Great War. As always, Wharton’s prose beautifully combines criticism with compassion, lyricism with clarity, and subtlety with wrenching drama. I found myself re-reading passages and just sighing. The set up for this novel hooked me before I even read it: In the summer of 1914, a divorced expatriate father living in Paris is anticipating a month’s travel with his son, George. Adding a rosy glow to the prospect is the father’s recent success as an artist after years of struggle, which means he’ll finally be able to support his son financially. After all, he wants George to be “independent” and not have to work in some soul-destroying business such as the son's stepfather owns — such a nice touch to combine class snobbery and whiff-of-Bohemian artistic snobbery! Anyway, war breaks out and prevents the father/son vacation, but the big crisis is that George can be drafted into the French army because he was born while his parents were visiting France. Oh, the twists of fate. This danger forces the ex-husband, ex-wife, and her second husband (who essentially reared George) into an uneasy collaboration to protect the son, without his knowing it, from active duty. The three parents scramble and scheme to pull every string they have to get George behind a desk, but, to everyone’s amazement and horror, George enlists. The mother is devastated; the fathers are secretly proud. (And the reader isn't surprised as that's the title of the novel.) The bulk of the story concerns the agonies of parents waiting on the home front, a situation more complex because of the divorce and the weirdness of being foreigners in a country at war. Wharton explores the human psyche with such unrelenting perception that it’s almost painful. So many times I wanted to reach into the book and shake the characters even as I ached for them. You yearn for these people to rise above their petty concerns, but, as in real life, people usually fall short. However, Wharton is a genius at portraying the moments of connection that offer transcendence. For instance, both men know the wife isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and needs to be handled carefully (though they can’t say it aloud), both have a father’s love for George, and both have a conflicted admiration for George’s willingness to fight. I wanted the characters to burst into soulful, lushly orchestrated duets about their differing roles, but Wharton doesn’t provide musical theatre, just realistic insight, and so the result is more exploratory than cathartic. Edith Wharton lived in Paris during the Great War and drove an ambulance to and from the front, so she writes with nuance and authority on the issues of being American in Paris during the years before the U.S. entered the war. Mostly, though, I enjoyed a personal and family saga that gives insight into both a vanished social context and universal experiences.

  4. 5 out of 5

    El

    [image error] (Courtesy: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library) Way back in forgotten times, when the world was still all black and white, Edith Wharton lived in Paris. She was in Paris during World War I and through some connections was actually one of the few foreigners to be able to be on the front lines for her work as a war correspondent for Scribner's Magazine. In addition to her correspondent work she also did oodles for refugees of the war, found [image error] (Courtesy: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library) Way back in forgotten times, when the world was still all black and white, Edith Wharton lived in Paris. She was in Paris during World War I and through some connections was actually one of the few foreigners to be able to be on the front lines for her work as a war correspondent for Scribner's Magazine. In addition to her correspondent work she also did oodles for refugees of the war, founding hostels and hospitals for the infirm. She was a regular do-gooder and received the Legion of Honor for her efforts. ♥ A Son at the Front is one of the rare books by Wharton that deals specifically with the war. (The other being its precursor, The Marne, 1918, which I have not read or, honestly, even seen.) It's not that much of a removal from her other books, however. Readers aren't taken to the front line for this book, we don't get to see the action. We do get to see the experience through the eyes of George Campton's father, John, who is forced to give up the idea of traveling with George due to the outbreak of the war. Though American, George was born in France while his parents were visiting, and therefore became the property of the French army. Considered an anti-war novel, A Son at the Front is the story told from a parent's perspective on war and covers the pride, the fear, the horror, and the guilt that comes with it. In classic Wharton fashion there are different layers of wonderfulness here. George's parents are divorced, so not only do we share John's feelings and emotions, but also those of his ex-wife, Julia, and her current husband. The complexities between those relationships set this book apart from other war novels of the same period.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jay

    In this story of the home front, Paris, in World War I, we are introduced to the son who becomes a soldier, against his parents wishes. Those parents are divorced, the father an artist and the mother remarried to a rich banker. I found the portrayals of the two fathers the most interesting here. Wharton’s artist is a stereotypical artist of the working, non-genius type. He thinks about his work when he shouldn’t be, he wastes a lot of time, and he gets involved in situations to massage his ego. In this story of the home front, Paris, in World War I, we are introduced to the son who becomes a soldier, against his parents wishes. Those parents are divorced, the father an artist and the mother remarried to a rich banker. I found the portrayals of the two fathers the most interesting here. Wharton’s artist is a stereotypical artist of the working, non-genius type. He thinks about his work when he shouldn’t be, he wastes a lot of time, and he gets involved in situations to massage his ego. The banker father is played much more broadly. He is shown as caring and capable, though appears bumbling at times. The banker is there to learn from. I found the descriptions of the events in the city during wartime interesting in the kinds of things that went on, and what appears to be the same as normal times – most everything – as well as what is different – the topic of conversations is the war. It reminded me of the way much of what we talk about now in general conversation relates directly to COVID. Not a great book, but I enjoyed the historical aspects.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dee Miller

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Audible.com 10 hours 55 min. Narrated by Richard Poe I've read most of the reviews on Goodreads on A Son at the Front by Edith Wharton and some were less than positive. To me, this is the best of her five books I've read. Richard Poe was an excellent reader, and I really felt the conflicting emotions the father, John Campton, felt about his son George's experience as a soldier serving during WWl. So many of you as reviewers are very insightful, more eloquent and knowledgeable about analysing stor Audible.com 10 hours 55 min. Narrated by Richard Poe I've read most of the reviews on Goodreads on A Son at the Front by Edith Wharton and some were less than positive. To me, this is the best of her five books I've read. Richard Poe was an excellent reader, and I really felt the conflicting emotions the father, John Campton, felt about his son George's experience as a soldier serving during WWl. So many of you as reviewers are very insightful, more eloquent and knowledgeable about analysing stories than I can ever hope to be. I don't even this as an anti-war book. I will remember it as a story about the personal cost of war to parents. I also understand the insecurities Campton felt about being less than a father because as a painter he had not been able to provide the financial support that Mr. Brant, George's step-father and a very successful banker gladly gave. I've read numerous books about the World Wars fought in Europe, but none as poignant as A Son at the Front. How go parents deal with unrelenting stress of not knowing if a son away at war is living or dead? How do parents deal with the loss of a son upon whom they have pinned their hopes and dreams for good marriages, grandchildren, or the passing on of a business or farm? Can one parent love a child more than the other parent? How does an affluent, well-intentioned but awkward step-father deal with the jealous father of the only son for whom they both share abundant love? Can and do attitudes towards war change during the course of war? Should well-placed, infuential parents pull strings to keep a son away from serving on the front lines? Do sons owe parents the obligation of obedience in choosing where to serve? Why do young men in the prime of life rush headlong into military service without full comprehension of what their deaths will cause to parents and grandparents? Would George have lived out a normal life span in America had it not been for the unfortunate timing of his trip to Paris? Or would he have just died later serving as a U.S. soldier? How do we handle the grief of losing a child? World War I caused the deaths of a whole generation of young men in Europe and the deaths so many Americans also. Edith Wharton saw first-hand as volunteer at the front the devestation that we as readers cannot begin to comprehend. As a writer Wharton tried in her own way to create a story that would open the possibility of more than one "right" answer to the above questions? For those you who have already read this book, I suggest you listen to it as read by Richard Poe. I think this book would be great for opening any dialogue on war.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jayne

    the first Edith Wharton novel with a character that I disliked so much it colored my judgement of the entire novel, John Campton, in my opinion, is a self-centered and disagreeable character. If Wharton intended this kind of reaction, I would consider the novel a success .. If not, I will just retreat to 'Ethan Frome'...and delight in the obvious. the first Edith Wharton novel with a character that I disliked so much it colored my judgement of the entire novel, John Campton, in my opinion, is a self-centered and disagreeable character. If Wharton intended this kind of reaction, I would consider the novel a success .. If not, I will just retreat to 'Ethan Frome'...and delight in the obvious.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I think what pissed me off most about this book is Campton randomly taking up an interest in clay at the very end, but trying to act as if he's liked it this whole time. I think what pissed me off most about this book is Campton randomly taking up an interest in clay at the very end, but trying to act as if he's liked it this whole time.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

    John Campton is an American artist who has long lived in Paris and become famous for his portraiture. It is August 1914 and his son, George, is arriving so the two of them can travel together to Spain. John has felt estranged from his beloved son since he and his wife divorced and she has remarried a banker who has actually raised his son. His jealousy of this colors many of his actions throughout the novel as he refuses to see that Mr. Grant cares as much for his son as he does himself. Almost a John Campton is an American artist who has long lived in Paris and become famous for his portraiture. It is August 1914 and his son, George, is arriving so the two of them can travel together to Spain. John has felt estranged from his beloved son since he and his wife divorced and she has remarried a banker who has actually raised his son. His jealousy of this colors many of his actions throughout the novel as he refuses to see that Mr. Grant cares as much for his son as he does himself. Almost as soon as the young man arrives, war breaks out and all of their plans must be canceled. Because of a twist of fate, the young George was born in France and now is subject to being called up for duty. Campton and Grant, the stepfather, begin to do everything they can think of to keep him from serving in the trenches at the front, and his mother, Julia is nearly hysterical over the thought that her son may die. Unbeknownst to all of them, George realizes what they are doing and manages to transfer to an infantry battalion almost immediately but keeps this knowledge hidden from his parents. A Son at the Front is not the usual expectation of an Edith Wharton novel although it is an examination of society. In this case, it takes a close look at all the people who are left behind especially the parents who are now paying for the war and its ideals in the flesh of their own bodies, so to speak. Many are doing what Campton and the Grants have tried, anything to keep their progeny out of the line of fire. Others are silently and stoically waiting for the inevitable word of their loss. This is a novel that looks closely at the ways the rest of society dealt with the upheaval the war caused in all lives at the time. Edith Wharton was known to believe that Culture and Beauty could save the world and that theme runs throughout. She paints an interesting picture of the way American/French society conducted itself throughout the war years. The story of John Campton and his son, George, goes through many iterations. From jealousy over his relationship with the stepfather that he, John, comes to admire, to debilitating fear for his life, to pride in his determination to serve France we watch him grow to accept the inevitability of the end. I can understand why this was not well received when published. It has none of the glamour of earlier books and none of the "war action" of the memoirs and novels being published at that time. It all takes place behind the front. Still, it is a true gem of human personality.

  10. 5 out of 5

    David Allen Hines

    It is indeed a shame that this wonderful novel by such a great writer is so little known today. I have read many of the World War I era novels, but I had never hard of A Son at the Front until I chanced across it and I am glad I did. Instead of being the typical 1920s novel about the war or a soldier in it, this novel focuses instead on the families back home. Campton, a now famous artist, whose ex-wife remarried a rich banker before his art took fame, is concerned about his only son George, bein It is indeed a shame that this wonderful novel by such a great writer is so little known today. I have read many of the World War I era novels, but I had never hard of A Son at the Front until I chanced across it and I am glad I did. Instead of being the typical 1920s novel about the war or a soldier in it, this novel focuses instead on the families back home. Campton, a now famous artist, whose ex-wife remarried a rich banker before his art took fame, is concerned about his only son George, being sent to the front. Campton, and the step-father, who despite his remoteness, cares deeply for his step-son, conspire to keep George in a safe headquarters job, away from the trenches. Along the way a panoply of other characters appear, giving a rich depiction to the social life in France as the war continued to rage and expand. Despite his family's efforts, George feels the young man's need to serve in the action, and manages be assigned to a mission at the front, where he is badly wounded. His step father and father rush to return him to a hospital and recover, stunned to find the boy had been involved with an older married woman. While the book's ending is predictable, and the weakest part of the story, overall this is a very good work. There are many rich sentences and passages that presage how good of a writer Wharton was. The fact that Campton is such a disagreeable character adds tremendous realism to the novel. Not every character is heroic in real life, and too many novels are too idealistic. Anyone who enjoys the literature of the first world war will enjoy A Son at the Front and it really is a shame this book is not more widely known and read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dell Taylor

    My rating: 3.5 A compelling story about the effects of war on those who are left behind. This is Wharton's anti-war statement, but she does it in the guise of a novel which raises questions/issues to ponder. Not well received at the time of its publication, it certainly does provide a thought provoking look back in time. My rating: 3.5 A compelling story about the effects of war on those who are left behind. This is Wharton's anti-war statement, but she does it in the guise of a novel which raises questions/issues to ponder. Not well received at the time of its publication, it certainly does provide a thought provoking look back in time.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Sutch

    A fine novel, under appreciated for too many years (even now, almost twenty years after its republication). Wharton writes about the part of World War I she knew the best, the life at the rear of the conflict, in Paris, including the charity work, the many, many people who continually receive news that their sons have died in the conflict, and artistic and social life. The editor of this edition, in her introduction, says that in this novel Wharton lays out her idea of the role of intellectuals A fine novel, under appreciated for too many years (even now, almost twenty years after its republication). Wharton writes about the part of World War I she knew the best, the life at the rear of the conflict, in Paris, including the charity work, the many, many people who continually receive news that their sons have died in the conflict, and artistic and social life. The editor of this edition, in her introduction, says that in this novel Wharton lays out her idea of the role of intellectuals in wartime and, I think, this is partly true. But I also think she misreads the text by using as her main example the "Friends of French Art" charity as depicted in the book. Much of Wharton's subtle satire is, in fact, directed at this group even before it switches hands and aims toward the end. The artists and intellectuals surrounding the protagonist Campton, she makes clear, are more interested in following fads and fashions than in actually doing war work (and this includes the protagonist, who is not shown wholly in a positive light). It is this tension in the plot that provides the story arc and the eventual shifting of Campton's thoughts and opinions about the war as he experiences the agony of having his son serving at the front. This is not a novel that is on a par with some of Wharton's others, but it is a good book that deals with issues that don't often appear in the "canon" of World War I literature.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Resa

    Very rarely do I come along such a beautiful novel. I loved the author's style. She was very clear and it flowed well. This novel is about a father's priorities for his son, but once he enters WW11, those priorities explode and the father is devastated. The father is very pessimistic and anti-war and his attitude reminds me of the current feelings concern the Iraqi war. I am in love with this one :) Very rarely do I come along such a beautiful novel. I loved the author's style. She was very clear and it flowed well. This novel is about a father's priorities for his son, but once he enters WW11, those priorities explode and the father is devastated. The father is very pessimistic and anti-war and his attitude reminds me of the current feelings concern the Iraqi war. I am in love with this one :)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Donald

    This did not quite have the punch that I was hoping for. Fully cognizant that almost every man in France between the ages of 18 and 40 died in World War I, I was prepared for a sad outcome. While well written, it seemed like the characters were kept at a distance. You never really get to know them or care about them. It did not even provoke a tear at the end, a requisite for me to give four or five stars.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    I love Edith Wharton. There are not enough stars to reflect what a beautiful book this is. I wish I could have experienced the gift of being in a conversation with Edith Wharton. She is, in my view, right there with Dickens, Garcia Marquez, and, yes, Steinbeck. I love them all, and am so grateful they took the time to write. The world, certainly my life, is better place for their work.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Angelina

    I liked her characters (for the most part) and her plot, but something about her writing just does not grip me. I've been coming back to this book off and on for over a year, and I've finally managed to plow through it. Still, I'd take this over "House of Mirth" ANY DAY. I liked her characters (for the most part) and her plot, but something about her writing just does not grip me. I've been coming back to this book off and on for over a year, and I've finally managed to plow through it. Still, I'd take this over "House of Mirth" ANY DAY.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Christine M. Kelly

    Heartbreaking and Real I last read Wharton in college. Found this novel by chance and remembered how I loved Ethan Frome. A perfect picture of a father's love and struggle with the man his son becomes. Too many memorable lines to cite just one. Much of a time, but not dated. Heartbreaking and Real I last read Wharton in college. Found this novel by chance and remembered how I loved Ethan Frome. A perfect picture of a father's love and struggle with the man his son becomes. Too many memorable lines to cite just one. Much of a time, but not dated.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michele

    It takes a while to get into the story since the writing style is very different than that of modern writers. But I am a fan of Edith Wharton and she does a good job of depicting Europe, World War I and the friends and family on the home front.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Cecilia

    Very dry read, but overall an okay read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    I love Edith Wharton but this is an awful, awful book. "An anti-war masterpiece", says the back cover. More like a call to arms: 1. It reflects strong nationalism and anti-German sentiment which is often propaganda (Germany as "a nation of savages who ought to be hunted off the face of the globe like vermin"). 2. It calls repeatedly for America to join in the war, which at one point leads Campton to say "Can't we let our government decide all that for us? What else did we elect it for, I wonder?" I love Edith Wharton but this is an awful, awful book. "An anti-war masterpiece", says the back cover. More like a call to arms: 1. It reflects strong nationalism and anti-German sentiment which is often propaganda (Germany as "a nation of savages who ought to be hunted off the face of the globe like vermin"). 2. It calls repeatedly for America to join in the war, which at one point leads Campton to say "Can't we let our government decide all that for us? What else did we elect it for, I wonder?" which is completely at odds with earlier statements (which resonated for me) about not wanting doddering old statesmen deciding to throw away young men's lives while in the comfort of their cigars and easy chairs. 3. The mindset of George and others evolves from indifference to believing that war was a moral necessity, and that they must not only go to war, but fight on the front line. The plot is completely predictable and plods along behind the front amidst the rich who we care nothing about. There are coincidences such as the Spanish clairvoyant appearing in Paris which are absurd. Repeated references to George having been a Frenchman accidentally by birth and hence bound unjustly to fight in the war are overdone - here Wharton should have made the point once and deftly, and let the reader reflect on its irony. The father, Campton, is self-centered and shallow, and yet he is the character with whom Wharton would like us to empathize. His feelings of isolation on a "desert island" as travel war restricted, his need to "jog on without a servant" which was "very uncomfortable", and his need to have to "paint all the unpaintable people" because of the war all are ludicrous, as are his angst at selling sketches and later his difficulty in immersing himself in his painting. My, what hardships! They are completely uninteresting and ring hollow. Wharton "writes what she knows": life in Paris among the well-to-do while World War I raged, but the reader longs to have the narrative transported to the front. She "writes what she knows", but in this case she knows very little about war, and did not create a novel with any significant emotional impact. Quotes, starting with my favorite which appeared early on and which I took great delight in: "Aeroplanes throwing bombs? Aeroplanes as engines of destruction? He had always thought of them as kind of giant kite that fools went up in when they were tired of breaking their necks in other ways. But aeroplane bombardment as a cause for declaring war?" On isolation: "His misfortune had been that he could neither get on easily with people nor live without them; could never wholly isolate himself in his art, nor yet resign himself to any permanent human communion that left it out, or, worse still, dragged it in irrelevantly." On the history of civilizations rising and ultimately falling: "All civilizations had their orbit; all societies rose and fell. Some day, no doubt, by the action of that law, everything that made the world livable to Campton and his kind would crumble in new ruins above the old. Yes - but woe to them by whom such things came; woe to the generation that bowed to such a law! The Powers of Darkness were always watching and seeking their hour; but the past was a record of their failures as well as their triumphs." On Beauty: "But after all there is the same instinct in us, the same craving, the same desire to realize Beauty, though you do it so magnificently and so - so objectively, and I ...' she paused, unclasped her hands, and lifted her lovely bewildered eyes, 'I do it only by a ribbon in my hair, a flower in a vase, a way of looping a curtain, or placing a lacquer screen in the right light. But I oughtn't to be ashamed of my limitations, do you think I ought? Surely every one ought to be helping to save Beauty; every one is needed, even the humblest and most ignorant of us, or else the world will be all death and ugliness. And after all, ugliness is the only real death, isn't it?" On saying good-bye: "They clasped hands in silence, each looking his fill of the other; then the crowd closed in, George exclaimed: 'My kit-bag!' and somehow, int he confusion, the parting was over, and Campton, straining blurred eyes, saw his son's smile - the smile of the light-hearted lad of old days - flash out at him from the moving train. For an instant the father had the illusion that it was the goodbye look of the boy George, going back to school after the holidays."

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I read the free version available on Gutenberg. The publisher's description calls this Wharton's "anti-war masterpiece." Really? I didn't find it to be all that anti-war, it was, and it was certainly anti-rich folk who run the world in a stupid way and cause pointless death for their own petty amusements (her basic theme in everything). Anyway, I have lots of thoughts on this - and I really didn't like it much at the beginning because I thought it all too simple and predictable and boring. I've r I read the free version available on Gutenberg. The publisher's description calls this Wharton's "anti-war masterpiece." Really? I didn't find it to be all that anti-war, it was, and it was certainly anti-rich folk who run the world in a stupid way and cause pointless death for their own petty amusements (her basic theme in everything). Anyway, I have lots of thoughts on this - and I really didn't like it much at the beginning because I thought it all too simple and predictable and boring. I've read enough Wharton, that I should have known better. The main characters were all so well done, and the somewhat unlikeable Campton struggled and grew and changed on pretty much every page. He starts out thinking that he's better than the other rich folk in his ex-patriot circle, but its made clear to the reader that he is every bit as shallow and self centered. And then, instead of just making him a jerk, he starts to realize it. And he tries to do better -- and has a real hard time. And then Wharton goes on to show all the problems that crop up with charity work. The petty squabbles and competitions of those who are trying to run the programs for their own glory, and sometimes ineffectiveness of those who are doing the work for the best of reasons, but are simply incompetent. I guess this is why I've come to love Wharton - nothing is every black and white. Nothing is simple. The wealthy Mr. Mayhew, is a shining example. Starts out as a delegate for the Peace Commission, then he milks a (not very) harrowing experience with the German army, becomes a chief agent to get the US to get involved. To accomplish his ends, he and his other incredibly wealthy friends take over a charity that was doing excellent work (albeit in a small and quiet way), and basically turns it into a club for the rich who want to feel that they are doing something. I think perhaps one of the funniest lines was when Mr. Mayhew, who has no actually employment and never has, tells Compton how important it is that he (Mayhew) "rests" (or vacations) regularly so maintain his power to advocate for US involvement in the war. Its kind of like Peloton telling us that we need to buy their $1500.00 exercise bike, we owe it to ourselves to be our best selves. Was it Dove chocolate that had the advertising tag line that was something like, what have you done for yourself today? Somehow marketing has sold us the idea that we cannot be unselfish until we have first been selfish. Hmm. So, was this an anti-war novel? Well, Wharton in no way disrespects the troops on the ground, their sacrifices or their ideals. Its clear that she has nothing but admiration for the dedicated men dying on the ground (and the dedication of the families supporting them at home). She certainly finds some of them naive, but she doesn't mock them. Do the 'leaders' get taken down? Not so much the military leaders -- but the government bureaucracies and the rich folks that lean on them -- they surely don't get any love. That's part of the complexity of Campton -- he doesn't mind using his ex-wife's $$ to wring benefits for his wounded son, but he also realizes how wrong the whole system is. He just decides he doesn't care. Wharton was in France during WWI, she did a lot of real work with the Red Cross (according to a documentary I saw). She saw the raw side of the war first hand.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gregory

    (My rating is more of a 3.5) One of Wharton’s less popular novels, the book was apparently out of print for many years until the Northern Illinois University Press put out a paperback edition with a useful introduction by Shari Benstock in 1995. I guess the book was still not popular, as I found my copy in a $1 bin. In many respects, it is a strange book. Although the topic, of a family with a son in the army during the horrific first world war, seems familiar enough to gain a readership, the deta (My rating is more of a 3.5) One of Wharton’s less popular novels, the book was apparently out of print for many years until the Northern Illinois University Press put out a paperback edition with a useful introduction by Shari Benstock in 1995. I guess the book was still not popular, as I found my copy in a $1 bin. In many respects, it is a strange book. Although the topic, of a family with a son in the army during the horrific first world war, seems familiar enough to gain a readership, the details of the story probably didn’t attract American readers. The family depicted are American ex-pats in Paris: a father who has become a successful artist, his divorced wife who re-married a very wealthy and prominent banker, and the titular son, who is required to join the French army due to his birth on French soil. The main conflict arises from his parents’ attempts to keep him safe back in headquarters rather than in the trenches, nominally due to his weak lungs. The son’s view, only gradually revealed, is very different. The novel is good at exploring the psychology of the father, who is the protagonist, and in particular the conflict he feels between protecting his son at all costs and his knowledge that his son should do his part along with all the others who are suffering and dying. There is a parade of dead sons throughout the novel, from those of prominent citizens to those of the poor concierge in the father’s apartment building. He begins to question why they should suffer and not his own family, which is obviously in conflict with his desire to protect his son. The agonies of wealthy ex-pats in this peculiar situation (being Americans when the US was not yet in the war) probably did not speak to American readers very well. And when the novel came out, the interest in reading “war novels” was low (the introduction informs us). Nonetheless, the book is worth reading even if it is not Wharton’s best. She makes the wise artistic choice not to make the boy’s parents very sympathetic (though this may also have hurt sales). Even so, you can’t help sympathizing with their love and concern for their only son and understand the conflict between this and their evolving understanding of joint dedication and sacrifice. It is worth noting that Wharton was actually in Paris during this period and received awards from the French government in her work helping war refugees. She knew what the city was like and recreates people’s varying reactions to the horror, ranging from throwing themselves into war activities to becoming completely numb to deciding that “normal life should go on” and resuming their usual social activities. I also found it useful to be reminded how much people felt at the time that the German attacks were uncivilized and illegal, requiring a response to end all that. Of course, the novel displays no inkling that all that would not be ended, but it is useful to remember what people thought as they told themselves they were fighting the war to end all wars.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    I can see why this novel is less popular than other Wharton novels. The main character is difficult to like and the world of Paris in WWI is not nearly as well drawn and dazzling as her New York novels. I will admit that I had a very difficult time keeping characters straight throughout this novel. Other than the main character and his son, others moved in and out through a fog and weren't particularly memorable. I did appreciate the story more and more as it went on though. While Campton is not I can see why this novel is less popular than other Wharton novels. The main character is difficult to like and the world of Paris in WWI is not nearly as well drawn and dazzling as her New York novels. I will admit that I had a very difficult time keeping characters straight throughout this novel. Other than the main character and his son, others moved in and out through a fog and weren't particularly memorable. I did appreciate the story more and more as it went on though. While Campton is not always a likable character, I think Wharton wrote a very real character who has some admirable qualities and also exhibits some miss judgement, prejudice, and unlikable qualities. His investment in how dramatically the war should be affecting all lives in contrast with much of the rest of his connections who find they are living as if nothing is happening is certainly a quality that reminds me of how very often we can ignore major world events or injustices because our own lives are unaffected. Wharton was certainly in the thick of the action surrounding WWI, so this is a world and era she knows well. I suspect that, were I to know many of the key French personalities of that era I would see reflections in many of her characters. I don't think I will ever enjoy Wharton's war novels as much as her society novels and stories, but I am learning to value them a great and thoughtful writing from someone who's work has endured.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    Actually I didn't finish this; thus, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and 3 stars. It isn't a bad book at all; Edith Wharton writes too beautifully and with so much insight into people that she isn't going to have written a bad book. And all of her books move slowly with a great deal of character development and detailed settings and time periods. But this book just bored me. I can uderstand why it had been forgotten and out of publication for many years, and was not at all popular at the time Actually I didn't finish this; thus, I gave it the benefit of the doubt and 3 stars. It isn't a bad book at all; Edith Wharton writes too beautifully and with so much insight into people that she isn't going to have written a bad book. And all of her books move slowly with a great deal of character development and detailed settings and time periods. But this book just bored me. I can uderstand why it had been forgotten and out of publication for many years, and was not at all popular at the time she wrote it either. They felt that her readers were simply tired of the War and wanted to move on and that was the reason for the low readership. I don't think so. I was interested while I was actually reading it, but I could walk away from it for days at a time without wanting to pick it up.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Rod

    The war was three months old--three centuries. By virtue of some gift of adaptation which seemed forever to discredit human sensibility, people were already beginning to live into the monstrous idea of it, acquire its ways, speak its language, regard it as a thinkable, endurable, arrangeable fact; to eat it by day, and sleep on it--yes, and soundly--at night. The war went on; life went on... A really good--if lesser known--Wharton novel that captures great truths about war and how we adapt; father The war was three months old--three centuries. By virtue of some gift of adaptation which seemed forever to discredit human sensibility, people were already beginning to live into the monstrous idea of it, acquire its ways, speak its language, regard it as a thinkable, endurable, arrangeable fact; to eat it by day, and sleep on it--yes, and soundly--at night. The war went on; life went on... A really good--if lesser known--Wharton novel that captures great truths about war and how we adapt; fathers and sons; divorce and its legacy; and a bunch of things I'm not remembering right now, all tackled with Wharton's insightful and beautiful prose.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Linda Kenny

    WWI story of father and son I had to search for this book, hearing about it first in a course I took on WWI. Instead of being a story of a soldier son at the front, it tells the story of his family in Paris. Wharton brings together the struggle of divorced parents, the impact of the war on daily life, and in the forefront a father coming to terms with his son's decisions and his own art. I recommend it to anyone who reads Wharton these days or is a student of WWI? WWI story of father and son I had to search for this book, hearing about it first in a course I took on WWI. Instead of being a story of a soldier son at the front, it tells the story of his family in Paris. Wharton brings together the struggle of divorced parents, the impact of the war on daily life, and in the forefront a father coming to terms with his son's decisions and his own art. I recommend it to anyone who reads Wharton these days or is a student of WWI?

  27. 5 out of 5

    David

    A different perspective of the great war. I've never read a book about a divorced couples son going to war. What seemed almost a contest in concern. It also portrayed a mindset about war that was so different from now but she gave an insight into another time. How in the world could you get people into those trenches? I am now going to re-read Helprin's "A Soldier Of The Great War". A different perspective of the great war. I've never read a book about a divorced couples son going to war. What seemed almost a contest in concern. It also portrayed a mindset about war that was so different from now but she gave an insight into another time. How in the world could you get people into those trenches? I am now going to re-read Helprin's "A Soldier Of The Great War".

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jeslyn

    I had a hard time with this read - Campton Sr was so self-absorbed, oblivious to his own hypocrisy in his jealousy and bitterness toward Brant, and for the vast majority of the book was borderline (or not so borderline) repellant. A few moments of decency, but most of them were still clouded by his pettiness toward Mr. Brant. In the end, I just wanted it to be over. I wouldn't rate this as a "masterpiece" for Wharton, frankly. I had a hard time with this read - Campton Sr was so self-absorbed, oblivious to his own hypocrisy in his jealousy and bitterness toward Brant, and for the vast majority of the book was borderline (or not so borderline) repellant. A few moments of decency, but most of them were still clouded by his pettiness toward Mr. Brant. In the end, I just wanted it to be over. I wouldn't rate this as a "masterpiece" for Wharton, frankly.

  29. 4 out of 5

    MaryKate

    Set during WWI in Europe with an artistic back drop beginning in Montmarte, reading between the lines, the book has an antiwar theme, while the privileged continue as they have always but with the nuisance of war.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Review to follow.

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