Classic of the Month: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

5246Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Published by Penguin Classics on October 25, 2005

Genres: Classics, Adult, Historical, Literature

Pages: 128 Format: Paperback Source: Library

4/5 Stars

Ethan Frome works his unproductive farm and struggles to maintain a bearable existence with his difficult, suspicious, and hypochondriac wife, Zeena. But when Zeena’s vivacious cousin enters their household as a “hired girl”, Ethan finds himself obsessed with her and with the possibilities for happiness she comes to represent.

In one of American fiction’s finest and most intense narratives, Edith Wharton moves this ill-starred trio toward their tragic destinies. Different in both tone and theme from Wharton’s other works, Ethan Frome has become perhaps her most enduring and most widely read novel.

I have a tendency of waiting until the end of the month to pick up a classic and then look for the shortest one I can find. Eventually this tactic will fail me but not so for October. Ethan Frome was my first read from Edith Wharton and I was pleasantly surprised. A story of love, loss, betrayal, suffering, and so much more under a hundred pages. Done well, it is hard to go wrong.

I found the structure of this novel to be very efficient. Learning of Frome’s misfortune from an outside party gives more depth to a straight forward tale. It reiterates the affect a community holds over stories: how they are told and how they are twisted. It adds specifically to the mysteries of humanity and how we view people from afar. Not to mention the added realization that not all is what it seems.

The dynamic between the three main characters, Ethan, Mattie, and Zeena, lets this story thrive. The questionably ill Zeena is harsh, unforgiving, and selfish while Mattie is kind, helpful, and naïve. Ethan sits in the middle of it all, torn between appeasing his wife and the desire of happiness with her cousin Mattie. The war within the soul, trying to decide what is the right course of action, strikes right at the heart of moral sensibilities. It’s not an easy question to answer.

Overall Ethan Frome was an excellent classic. Edith Wharton’s writing is exceptional, creating tension, intrigue, and desire that flows from the page. I really wish I had the opportunity to read this in school. It was a perfect mix of creativity with a shocking ending to boot. I would definitely recommend everyone to pick this book up.

Favorite Quotes

  1. If you know the post office you must have seen Ehan Frome drive up to it, drop the reins on his hollow-backed bay and drag himself across the brick pavement to the white colonnade; and you must have asked who he was.
  2. And there were other sensations, less definable but more exquisite, which drew them together with a shock of silent joy: the cold red of sunset behind winter hills, the flight of cloud-flocks over slopes of golden stubble, or the intensely blue shadows of hemlocks on sunlit snow.
  3. It was almost as if the other face, the face of the superseded woman, had obliterated that of the intruder.
  4. These alterations of mood were the despair and joy of Ethan Frome. The motions of her mind were as incalculable as the flit of a bird in the branches. The fact that he had no right to show his feelings, and thus provoke the expression of hers, made him attach a fantastic importance to every change in her look and tone.
So have you read Ethan Frome? I confess to having not heard of it before now. Did you? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
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