A challenge to the moral climate of the day, The Reef follows the fancies of George Darrow, a young diplomat en route from London to France, intent on proposing to the widowed Anna Leath. Unsettled by Anna's reticence, Darrow drifts into an affair with Sophy Viner, a charmingly naive and impecunious young woman whose relations with Darrow and Anna's family threaten his prospects for success. The affair becomes the reef on which four lives are in danger of foundering: two of them innocent and two of them burdened with experience and tinged with desperation. This is a story of the drastic effects of a casual sexual betrayal and a clear-eyed assessment of the possibilities and limitations of human love.
"The novel...was most enthusiastically admired by Henry James, and one can see why, for it is most Jamesian....It marks the peak of her most brilliant period of creativity....And for us it is a chance to see what can be achieved in the pursuit of moral truths." (Anita Brookner)
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Another compelling Wharton-style dilemma