In the final chapter of Edith Wharton’s The Reef, Anna Leath decides to visit Sophy Viner after finally deciding not to marry Darrow. She says that Sophy will be her “anodyne” (360); the medicine that would cure her troubles and “give her back her lost serenity” (360). However, after meeting Sophy’s sister, Anna gives up her search, not just because Sophy has run off to India, but also because of the strange encounter. A dingy hotel room sets the scene for this bizarre final chapter, which is a stark contrast to the setting of the previous chapters in Givré.
When Anna decides she must talk with Sophy, I don’t understand her intentions. She could have wanted to know the specifics of her relationship with Darro
w since Darrow himself would not tell her, or she could have decided to tell Sophy she was free to
marry Owen. In either case, the hunt for Sophy is much more complicated than Anna expected. Sophy is no longer with the Farlows because she has gone to visit with her sister, Laura McTarvie-Birch. Anna is so sure that Sophy is the answer to all of her problems that she follows this lead to a hotel near the Place de l’Etoile. Upon her arrival, Anna is thrown into a very strange situation with a very strange set of people. First there is this “mute spectator” (363) who takes a break from staring at his hat to stare at Anna in a disconcertingly similar and rude manner. Anna at first assumes that the second man in the hotel room must be Laura’s husband. He is more polite than his friend, but just lounges around chain-smoking. By the end of the chapter however, Laura reveals to us that the chain-smoker is actually Jimmy Brance (367). This means nothing to Anna, but it does mean something to the reader; Jimmy Brance knew Sophy when she worked for Mrs. Murrett a year or two before.
The bedroom scene is very surreal, especially compared to the rest of the novel. When Anna finally has the chance to talk with Laura, she must enter her “dim untidy scented room” (364) where Laura is laying in some state of undress receiving a massage. The bedroom is in a state of disarray, and everything is pink and covered in powder puffs. Laura is described very vaguely at first as “a lady with a great deal of fair hair…. [and] a thickly-ringed hand” (364). Anna is startled to realize that she is looking at “an odd chromo-like resemblance of Sophy.… larger, blonder, heavier featured” (365), but Anna also recognizes some of the same charm and grace that she admired in Sophy. This meeting serves to not only show a resemblance between the two sisters, but to also show what Sophy could become.
After Laura reveals that Sophy has returned to her job with Mrs. Murrett, Sophy and Mr. Darrow’s motives become questionable. It seems to be too much of a coincidence that the novel begins and ends with Sophy being employed by Mrs. Murrett. From the description of Mrs. Murrett in the beginning of the novel, she seems unsophisticated and maybe even unsavory especially compared to Anna Leath. Now Laura, Sophy’s only living family, is portrayed as being just as unsophisticated. The fact that both Mr. Darrow and Sophy have a history with people like Mrs. Murrett and Laura forces me question their backgrounds and characters as well. I think that earlier in the novel, Anna was able to forgive Sophy’s past and bless her marriage to Owen, but now that Anna knows that Sophy has returned to Mrs. Murrett, I think she questions Sophy’s intentions too. The setting of this final chapter, since it is so different from the rest of the book, serves to reinforce this idea. I am still left with a lot of questions at the end of the novel, mainly fueled by the last chapter, and it would be an interesting question to research further.