Sanctuary From Rich People Problems


The last Edith Wharton novel I read, Glimpses of the Moon, I enjoyed so much that Sanctuary was an unexpected disappointment.

In Sanctuary, Kate learns that her fiancé Denis is not the upstanding gentleman that she thought he was. She has high moral standards, and sometimes even imagines other people’s lives and their feelings. Wow!
Kate Orme was engaged in one of those rapid mental excursions which were forever sweeping her from the straight path of the actual into uncharted regions of conjecture. Her survey of life had always been marked by the tendency to seek out ultimate relations, to extend her researches to the limit of her imaginative experience.
I believe most people would call that empathy and it’s telling that this “habit” is considered unusual in her circle. Denis, on the other hand, is all about himself. He comes into a pile of money after of the death of his step-brother. There was an obstacle, which was the claim of a poor woman that she was married to the deceased and had his child. Lucky for Denis, the woman kills herself and her child when her claim is denied by a judge. Yay! Problem solved!

I feel the same, Mr Prince

Denis’s coldness towards this woman is disturbing enough , but he reveals something to Kate that causes her to wish to call off her engagement. While she’s considering, she receives a visit from Mrs Peyton, Denis’s mother, who is just as charming as her son.
“Of course one is shocked at the woman's crime—but, if one looks a little deeper, how can one help seeing that it may have been designed as the means of rescuing that poor child from a life of vice and misery?“…’”It does seem too unfortunate that the woman should have chosen this particular time! But you will find as you grow older that life is full of such sad contrasts.”
She’s a delight. 

At this point, Kate should have said “screw you people” and ran as fast as she could to Europe or something, but instead she comes up with a spectacular idea: marry this guy to save any other woman from marrying him. Martyr herself for womankind. She’s committing herself to a life of misery, and even planning for their future children. No, girl, no. Just, no.

But she does…

Years later, she’s a widow with a grown son Dick, who she has hovered over for decades making sure he never does a wrong thing. She’s in his business 24/7.

lucille caring mom
Literally how she thinks.

But now Dick found himself a girl. A girl with ambitions for his career. He’s an aspiring architect and preparing for a competition that could be his big break. Smother, I mean Mother, has a feeling that Dick is being astray and it’s killllllling her!

Even though Edith Wharton loves to write about immoral rich people, this is as subtle as a machine gun. These people are terrible. What is she trying to say here anyway; never leave your children alone, even into adulthood, in case they make poor decisions and gow into jerks? It’s creepy. Mother Kate made me anxious. There are pages of her hand wringing. Will Dick do the right thing? Oh, what will he dooooo? I wanted Dick to quit his job and become a riverboat gambler just to get away from her.

Published in 1903, Sanctuary one of Wharton’s earlier works. It doesn’t have her usual biting satire, and it’s wordy for what it is. It’s not at all what I’ve come to expect from her. There was  repetitiveness, like the rearranging of everyone’s furs. Those furs, they sure needed rearranging! And Kate has heard a lot about Miss Verney. A lot, I tell you! 

I’m glad that she improved as a writer over the years. This one though, skip it


  1. My sister moaned and groaned about having to read Wharton when she was in high school. Listening to her has made me avoid her work. I need to get past that.

    1. She does have some really good stuff. You can start with her short stories if you just want to get a feel for her style.

  2. Replies
    1. Pretty much all the covers I could find were terrible.

  3. Interesting. I'm glad you are weeding through all of her earlier novels to let us know what is worthwhile and what isn't. ;)


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