When "The Reef" appeared in 1912, reviewers found Edith Wharton's story of American expatriates in France sordid and even shocking; but Henry James considered it unequivocally her finest novel. Obliquely but intensely autobiographical, "The Reef" explores Wharton's ambivalent sense of both her newly adopted country and her unexpectedly awakened sexuality. The story focuses on George Darrow, an American diplomat in love with the recently widowed Anna Leath. On his way from London to visit her in France, Darrow finds himself accompanying Sophy Viner, a young American he has known in the past, on the way to Paris. The prologue to the novel is a novella in itself, a minutely rendered anatomy of social ambiguity, and one of Wharton's greatest achievements. The implications of those ten days in Paris inform the remainder of the novel, as Darrow's, Anna's and Sophy's lives become increasingly and intricately interdependent.