The Reef is a 1912 novel by American writer Edith Wharton. It was published by D. Appleton & Company. It concerns a romance between a widow and her former lover. The novel takes place in Paris and rural France, but primarily features American characters. While writing the novel, Edith Wharton visited England, Sicily, and Germany, among other locations. In a letter to Bernard Berenson in November 1912, Wharton expressed regret regarding her novel, calling it a “poor miserable lifeless lump”. She wrote, “Anyhow, remember it’s not me, though I thought it was when I was writing it—& that next time I’m going to do something worthwhile!!”
George Darrow, an American diplomat residing in London, has remained in contact with his former love, Anna Leath, who previously married another man. Now widowed, she resumes contact with Darrow. Darrow desires to continue the relationship he had with Anna but remains concerned about her commitment to the relationship.
The novel begins with Darrow preparing to join Anna in France when he receives a telegram ordering him to wait "til thirtieth" because of an "unexpected obstacle" - one of many such delays Anna has ordered. Deeply humiliated and disappointed, Darrow boards the boat regardless and runs into the young Sophy Viner, a woman he had previously encountered but never gotten to know thoroughly . Sophy, although down on her luck, is an ambitious aspiring actress determined to start a new life in France. Enthralled, Darrow convinces her to spend a few days with him so he can show her around Paris. During their time spent together, the two enter into a romantic affair.