Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.

"I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story."

This was probably my 6th or 7th time reading Wharton's slim little volume, but that didn't make it any less exciting or interesting or heartfelt.

In short, this book tells the tragic tale of Ethan Frome's life in Starkfield and the accident that determined the course of his life. And while I probably have passages memorized from reading it so many times, the novella still gets me every time.

Poor Ethan Frome is married to Zeena, a woman with chronic medical problems and a bit of a temper problem. Because of Zeena's health, the Fromes have taken in young Mattie to help. Mattie is full of youth and cheer and is the only bright spot in Ethan's dull life. And when Zeena leaves for medical treatment, Ethan and Mattie realize that there could be more....

On this most recent read, I paid particular attention to Wharton's description of the setting, which very much foreshadows and reflects the emotions Ethan struggles with throughout the course of the story. The very name of the town-Starkfield-reflects just as much. The cold, oppressive winter definitely reminded me of Zeena and her hold over Ethan and Mattie. It's a relentless, bitter control that doesn't even offer a glimpse of light or hope. And while I certainly made that obvious in discussing it, Wharton does it with skill-the setting looms as another character.

This is definitely a story of a doomed man, and a decision that altered what he wanted and needed most. And even though I know it's coming, I always wish he would change his mind (if only books worked that way, right?).

Anyway, just small thoughts for a small book with a big impact. If you're new to Wharton, this is a great place to start!

“But at sunset the clouds gathered again, bringing an earlier night, and the snow began to fall straight and steadily from a sky without wind, in a soft universal diffusion more confusing than the gusts and eddies of the morning. It seemed to be a part of the thickening darkness, to be the winter night itself descending on us layer by layer.” 


  1. I'm with you regarding the desire for the doomed man to somehow escape his fate, but the story is beautiful anyway for many reasons including those you noted in your fine commentary. It reminds me why I love reading Edith Wharton and her fateful characters whether Ethan or Lily Bart or Newland Archer. Thanks for reminding me why I enjoy reading this amazing author.

  2. One of my favorites -- Wharton's books are so tragic, but so beautiful. She was the master of dramatic irony. I've also read it four or five times and it's always just wonderful. I think I need to reread House of Mirth again, soon.

  3. I looove this one so very much more than the other Wharton's I've read. It's such a wonderfully stark novella.

  4. I read this one for a readathon a couple of years ago and still remember it very vividly (rare for me). I would love to re-read it again with fresh eyes, though it is quite tragic!! Chris from BookaRama just mentioned a Wharton book that ISN'T full of grief and tragedy, but the name escapes me. I didn't know there was such a book. ;)

  5. For a little book, this one packs a HUGE punch.You are correct. The atmosphere of this one perfectly foreshadows what is going to happen. Now, I feel the need to reread it.