Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome
Edith Wharton
Published 1911

Ethan Frome takes place about the late 1800s. It is a hauntingly desperate story about a hopeless circumstance between two people who have feelings for one another, though cannot be together, of course. It is as overcast as the Massachusetts winter, which is the setting of the story.


As depressing as that may seem, it is still a good read because Edith Wharton, like Thomas Hardy, writes tragedy quite beautifully. We read her works, not for the same inconsiderate reason onlookers slow down to scan a car wreck on the side of the road as they drive by; but rather, it is to have empathy, to understand, and to experience, maybe even to participate. Some have said that to read literature is to live, and I have felt that way after reading Wharton, including this little book, which is under 150 pages.


At the shocking climax of the story, I felt that I, too, participated in the concluding horror of the lovers' desperate decision. I was definitely dazed for a while. Recently, I discovered the author was inspired to include that final event because of an actual incident that had previously happened, which made the tragedy more genuine than it already seemed.

Prominent themes in Ethan Frome include free will and fate, which struggle against each other, yet sometimes complement one another. Often we think we are in control of every aspect of our lives but soon are reminded that we simply are not. We may make decisions about the direction we hope to go, but its ending is not as we expected or desired. Other themes are adultery and fidelity. Ethan Frome is faced with the typical moral dilemma of adultery, while he is truly aware of the ramifications of infidelity, a decision that may bring momentary pleasure would also be permanent pain and destruction, not only to others, but also to himself.

Would you want to read this?

If you accept reading misfortune written in beautiful language, then you may like to read this short novel. If you do not mind a shocking conclusion, then you shall do ok. Edith Wharton is an enchanting writer, but her stories are not always happy endings; nonetheless, they are good experiences because they cause us to walk in the shoes of someone else's misfortune, that we may know and understand and have empathy for others.

I would definitely read this book again.


Jillian said...

I love the snowy atmosphere in this one. :)

Anonymous said...

Oh you and your book choices! I've never read a single publication by Wharton, not even The Age of Innocence. Tragic misfortune runs amuck lately it would seem! And I'm afraid I've a weakness for them, especially hopeless circumstances between two people. This book sounds like it would be excellent, and uniquely short, which is good because I still have whales to conquer!

James said...

Wonderful commentary on this fine novel. I have read and reread it as well as The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence over the years. I concur with your observation that she "writes tragedy quite beautifully", along with another favorite, Thomas Hardy.

Ruth said...

It does work really well for the plot, both in negative and positive ways. Wharton knows how to manipulate the environment for the desired emotions of the readers.

Ruth said...

OK, you need to get yourself some Edith Wharton right away....I've only read House of Mirth, Age of Innocence, and now this, but there's a whole world out there. You'll definitely appreciate this author.

Ruth said...

Thank you, James. I've been thinking that, too, lately...that Thomas Hardy makes a great Edith Wharton! Those two -- I just love them so much. : D

Laurie @ RelevantObscurity said...

This is a most depressing book. It is the first Wharton I ever read, but it hooked me and now I am the biggest fan hoping to read everything she ever wrote. Of all I have read so far, I don't think she ever writes happy endings. Mostly, the main characters, who have tried to change the circumstances of their lives end up having to accept their fate. But I like what you say about the writing developing empathy or as a peek into their lives. Ah...I just find her brilliant!

Cleo @ Classical Carousel said...

Ethan Frome is my least favourite Wharton novel so far but that said, it's still pretty good. Like Laurie said, she does not write happy ending but she does write REAL endings with an insight that is amazing. I'd like to read Custom of the Country next. Great review, Ruth!

Ruth said...

Thanks! It was a crazy ending, and the whole story emotionally draining. I'll have to add Custom of the Country to my list, too.

Ruth said...

That's how I feel about Hardy...so depressing, but I keep going back for more. LOL!

Wharton IS brilliant! Yes!!

Silvia said...

Well written review. I was nodding my head the whole time. I had only heard how depressing the book is, mainly by those who read it at high school. I read it earlier this year and I am glad I did. There's this idea of decorum. When violence or tragedy is presented there can be goading or this which Wharton does. I felt the conflict, the tragedy, the humanity and goodness, the problem of sin when sin wasn't in the heart of Ethan. There's beauty and dignity in how this story is told.

Ruth said...

Great points! The plot is such a difficult circumstance; it is hard to know how to digest.

By the way...I designed a button for the proposed One Hundred Years of Solitude Read Along. I wanted to share it with you, to see if you like it and want to use it, when we are ready to advertise it. Can I email it to you? or is there some other mode of sharing something w/ you? You can contact me at grllopez@yahoo.com .