Ethan Frome

Cover of "Ethan Frome"
Cover of Ethan Frome

By Edith Wharton; @ 2012 by Vintage Books a Division of Random House; First published in 1911; 103 pages.

Oh my goodness. Shocking, simply shocking. Edith Wharton really knew how to create opposing characters. And nice twist at the end. I did not see that coming. Wow.

I had no idea what to expect with Ethan Frome. This is the first time I have read anything by Edith Wharton.

The story begins with the observance of what has happened to Ethan, a man who in our present is broken beyond all repair. We observe him in his fifties, and he is already an old man. Then we travel to his past to when he was 28 years old. He has lost his parents and has inherited the family farm but no money.

Ethan’s wife is Zeena. She is seven years older than he and hasn’t aged well. At 35, she already has false teeth! She exaggerates her health problems and isn’t pleasant to be around. Ethan is miserable. Then Ethan falls in love with Mattie, one of Zeena’s relatives who has fallen on hard times and has come to help care for Zeena and the housework.

Even though this novel was published 101 years ago, it is really readable. Not much has changed—it still seems much easier to feel sorry for the man who is mismatched than for the woman. I suppose that things were not too fun for Zeena either.

Edith Wharton was born into high society. I thought I saw a glimpse of this world view in the restrictions Edith places on Mattie, a seemingly vibrant and healthy young girl who could not sustain standing up as a store clerk all day. Since I have had the experience of working while standing all day, and while I didn’t like it one little bit, I felt this was an unworthy and perhaps an uneducated excuse for what happened as a result of this “impossibility.”

The ending was just chilling—a real testament to the choices that money gives or rather that the lack of money takes away.

Edith Wharton also wrote The Age of Innocence, The Custom of the Country, and the House of Mirth.

 

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