cover image A Son at the Front

A Son at the Front

Edith Wharton. Northern Illinois University Press, $16 (223pp) ISBN 978-0-87580-568-9

Largely criticized or ignored by a war-weary public when it was originally published in 1922, A Son at the Front is an extraordinarily poignant novel chronicling the effects of WWI on painter John Campton and his only child, George. Because his American parents were visiting France at the time of his birth, George is called to duty in the French army. Campton, his ex-wife, Julia Brant, and her husband, wealthy banker Anderson Brant, immediately butt heads over how to keep George safely at a desk job. Fate intervenes in the person of George himself, who transfers to an infantry regiment--to the horror of Julia and the secret admiration of Brant and Campton. As the war rages on, Campton learns not only the value of his son, but empathy and sensitivity: ``never before, at least not consciously, [had] he thought of himself and the few beings he cared for as part of a greater whole.... But the last four months had shown him man as a defenceless animal.... That was what war did; that was why those who best understood it in all its farthest-reaching abomination willingly gave their lives to put an end to it.'' Wharton movingly portrays those left behind during war--not the wives and children but the devastated parents, who are forced to go on living at the cost of their own flesh and blood. Heartrending, tragic, powerful, this is not to be missed. (Dec.)