"He was caught body and soul--that was it; and real loving was not the delicate distraction, the food for dreams... it was this perpetual obsession, this clinging nearness, this breaking on the rack of every bone, and tearing apart of every fibre. And his apprenticeship to it was just beginning..."The Children
, one of Edith Wharton's lesser known works, turned out to be a bit different than I expected it to be. It was better. It is the story of a 46-year-old bachelor, Martin Boyne, who finds himself tangled in the business of the seven children of the Wheater family, stepbrothers and stepsisters trying to stay together in the middle of the storm of their parents' numerous divorces and remarriages. Enchanted by the raucously endearing children, Boyne becomes their confidante and guardian and strives to help their cause.
According to the book's back cover, Martin's heart was "captured" by the eldest Wheater, 15-year-old Judith, who is the mother hen of the pack. I first thought the feeling would be platonic, but even in the beginning of the book there were hints that it was not going to be the case. And indeed, Martin slowly finds himself in love with a girl 30 years his junior. I was ready to dislike the whole business, but surprisingly I couldn't. Just like in The Age of Innocence, Wharton makes the reader understand the feelings of a man who loves someone while knowing there is no way he could ever be with her. To complicate the matter, Martin has been attached to a woman for years; a woman who couldn't be with him because she was already married (this one reminds me of my first Wharton, the novella Souls Belated). She has just become a widow and is finally free to be together with Martin, but just at that time Martin begins to develop feelings for Judith that he himself was too afraid to admit.
The little Wheater children provides comic relief in the story but otherwise it is quite a sad novel. After finishing it I am once again in awe of Wharton's consummate skill in making the reader feel what the characters feel. It makes one wonder whether she herself has gone through the same heartbreaks, the same predicaments as her characters. I highly recommend this book for the heartfelt drama and beautiful prose. Thank you Ayu for lending it to me!