Thursday, December 15, 2016

"Ethan Frome" by Edith Wharton

I have a head cold.  Not a terrible one, but still, enough to make me want to sit and rest a lot these last couple of days.  Cowboy had today off from work, and he built us a lovely fire this afternoon.  I made everyone hot chocolate (mine in one of my favorite mugs from The Ring and the Lion -- it says "Forth now, and fear no darkness" in Elvish) and settled down with a book I've been meaning to read for over a year:  Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.  

Way back when I started the Women's Classic Literature Event last December, I said that Edith Wharton was the author I was most excited to read for the event.  Well, I've finally managed to read a book by her, my very last for the event.  

I did not love this book.  It's not a book one loves, I think.  It's a book one reads and ponders and learns from, a hard look at hard people living a hard life.  And yet, not a bitter book, somehow.  Tragic, sad, and poignant, but not bitter, which is astonishing to me.

Ethan Frome ekes out a bare living for himself and his ailing wife from their Massachusetts farm and mill.  He married his wife Zenobia out of duty and gratitude for the way she nursed his mother before she died.  Zenobia then turned into an invalid herself, the kind that delights in her many ailments and the importance it gives her.  The sort of character I want to slap.  Ethan trudges on through life until his wife's poor relation, Mattie, comes to stay and help.  Ethan comes to care for Mattie, and she for him, but they both come to realize they can never be together.  They make a desperate bid for freedom, tragedy strikes, and their lives are ruined forever.  All this told with a kind of emotionless detachment that never judges them or their behavior, but simply presents it as a story to experience and perhaps learn from.

While I didn't enjoy this book so much as find it interesting, I do want to read more of Wharton's novels!  I could probably say more intelligent things about it if I wasn't doped up on Advil Cold & Sinus, but I want to write about this while it's fresh in my head, so I'll just leave it at that.

Particularly Good Bits:

He seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface; but there was nothing unfriendly in his silence (p. 14).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  G.  There's no cussing, no violence, no adult situations.  A bit of kissing between unmarried people, but nothing lurid.

This has been my twentieth book read and reviewed for the Women's Classic Literature Event, and my fifty-second for the Classics Club.


  1. I had to read this book when I was in high school. I hated it. In fact, I hated it so much that I (a painfully shy teenager) got in an argument with my English teacher about it. It just made me so angry. I haven't read anything by Edith Wharton since. It might be time to give her a second chance. I do wonder sometimes about the books that are assigned to high school students. Maybe I could read it now and appreciate the writing and maybe even the message behind it. I don't think I will ever know though because I have no desire to reread it! It is interesting how that visceral reaction to a book can stay with us years later. I suppose that means she is a good writer but I can still feel my frustration and anger with the book.

    1. Jennifer, I was actually wondering if you'd have read this, since I associate you with books about New England. You sound like me reacting to Of Mice and Men -- I loathed that in high school (and still disliked it upon rereading it recently).

      I think that, too often, books are assigned to high school students based on length rather than content. This, The Great Gatsby, and The Old Man and the Sea all come to mind as examples. Just because they're short doesn't mean they're something high schoolers are ready for. Certainly some are, but not all that many.

      A lot of people speak highly of Age of Innocence, so I'm hoping to try that at some point.

  2. Aww, feel better soon!
    Ps. That mug is the coolest thing!

    1. Thanks, Natalie! I actually felt much worse yesterday and much of today :-o But after a good nap this afternoon (and getting like 9-10 hours of sleep for three nights in a row), I'm finally feeling like there's hope. And like I might make it to church tomorrow!

      I love my mugs from that store -- I have four, all different. And a vase. And I've given some of her mugs to people as gifts, too. Just gorgeous work.

    2. Yay! I hope you're completely healed now. :)

      Ooh, really? That's so cool. I really want a "special" mug of my own and I've been eyeing one on her store--the lamp post Narnia one. We'll see. :)

    3. Natalie, I like that lamp post Narnia mug too! Because my son is into Narnia right now, I've considered getting it for him, but... he's only 9 and drops things. So I haven't yet.

      I still have the cold. Thought Tuesday and Wednesday I was nearly through with it, then it roared back on Thursday. Today I'm feeling more like my old self, so hoping this is about it. Ten days of blowing my nose is enough, already!

      Anyway, Merry Christmas!

    4. Haha! Hopefully someday you can get it for him. :)

      Aww, I'm sorry. I actually have a cold right now, too. Hopefully yours is over, though!

      Thank you! Happy 2017!

    5. Natalie, what a bummer you're sick too now! I have had this wretched cold for 3 weeks now and it is still clinging to me. Enough already!

    6. Thanks. :( Is yours gone now? I hope so. I've had mine for about a week, but it's finally easing up. I still have a persistent cough, though.

    7. Natalie, I still have my cough, but mostly just in the mornings now. And then I caught the stomach flu from my kids, oh joy! But I'm on the upswing from that at last. Hope you feel all better soon! There seem to be some particularly nasty bugs going around this winter.

  3. I'm reading a biography of Edith Wharton right now, it's very interesting!

    1. Abby P, interesting! I really don't know much about her -- I should remedy that. What's the biography called?


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