Ethan Frome

Thoughts   Ethan Frome, First pub’d 1911/Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition 2009, 99 pages

MOTIVATION for READING:    I had not yet read any Edith Wharton.    Just hadn’t gotten to her yet.      Awhile back on one of the lists/memes where people highlight books that impacted in some way, I saw Ethan Frome and didn’t recognize the title.     I believe it was Lisa of Books on the Brain (yes, found the post:  a Sticky Books meme from a year ago.)   Anyway, I got pulled to purchase this on an excursion to Borders; I was seduced by the cover.

Before anyone protests that I have in the past stated that I *NEVER* buy books for the cover, tis true.   I have said that and I rarely do buy books for a pretty cover.   But this one is so colorful and metallic and of cool paper.    It FEELS good and it has those bookmark flap things that I find really cool.

I can also count this as a book OLDER THAN ME for the Twenty in Ten Challenge.  

WHAT’s it ABOUT:    This is a mystery about what possibly could have happened in poor Ethan’s past to make him such a sad withered old man.    It’s a morality tale about dreams and happiness and these being totally denied.     It’s about life in brutally cold New England way back in the day.

Now that I reflect, I’m thinking this could also be counted for the Women Unbound Challenge – what happens to a poor girl whose father has come to ruination.   What choices does she have?      In that regard, not much has changed to describe the feelings of being trapped by a lack of cash…    And THAT is not necessarily gender-specific.    But what an interesting study in hypochondria and any/all ailments women suffered but never got specific about.

What choices does poor Ethan Frome have?    The silly idiot.   For marrying that woman because he felt desperate and she could be his way to push off loneliness.    And he thought he was rescuing her. Guffaw!

The suffocation of a life with no means of escape.     The grasping at tiny sparks of joy and happiness, the SCRAPs of a dream of a vibrant life!     oh, the suffering.

Honestly?     I don’t know why they all didn’t drink poison and end it all decades before.

WHAT’s GOOD:   I thought the writing spot on.    Spare, cold and yet vivid.     There is FEELING in this book; it’s an uneasiness and just barely noticeable unpleasantness.     Besides the damn cold and the back-breaking chores and the hard scrabble for a dollar.

and TENSION*!      tremulous, pit-in-the-stomach (gobnabbit, just kiss her already!   You haven’t done anything wrong except WANT A BETTER LIFE!    Except, unless, you count ‘thinking’ about sinning the same or worse as the sinning and I’m not here to get all technical about sin or anything…   It’s not (thank you!) MY morality tale – what a whopper this is, though, even as I wonder what I was supposed to learn besides be careful who you marry.)

WHAT’s NOT so GOOD:    (with ME, not the book.) OK, so I wish I had gone into this with a wee bit more preparation.    I noticed stuff like the red scarf but missed the red color of the pickle dish.   Sure, I recognized the weight of that darn important pickle dish but realized I wasn’t paying attention like I should.   So I stopped half-way through and read this online article on Ethan Frome’s Symbolism, Imagery and Allegory. I was much better prepared for the end of the book and no, I didn’t cry.    I was amused.    (I also read a hilarious snarky review on goodreads that had me laughing which also relieved my being overly emotional about it all.)

Thank you Christine of stacked (who mentioned Ethan Frome at the BBC panel – oh yes, I noticed it) for offering this link to a fun video retelling of Ethan Frome (~6 minutes).

RATING:    Four slices of Pie  

I’m very glad I read this.    Now I know what it’s all about.   Sometimes that’s wonderful regardless of liking or enjoying or not.

*  I read the Introduction AFTER writing this post.   Written by Elizabeth Ammons:   “stylistic elegance”, “perfectly calibrated mood of impending doom”. LOVE all the bio on EW – what a woman! Must. Read. More.

HIdeinWhitetoSkipLine

Copyright © 2010. Care’s Online Book Club. All rights reserved. This post was originally posted by Care from Care’s Online Book Club.  It should not be reproduced without express written permission.

18 Responses to “Ethan Frome”


  1. 1 Lisa Munley June 8, 2010 at 8:37 am

    Oh, my! You’ve made me want to read this again! It’s been years and I don’t remember the pickle dish.

    • 2 Care June 8, 2010 at 8:54 am

      Oh yes, the pickle dish. The one Mattie got out from its hiding spot because Zeena deemed it too valuable to ever use and then the cat knocks it off the table. Symbolizing that impending doom aka wrath of Zeena. I used to LOVE the name Zeena…

  2. 3 Eva June 8, 2010 at 9:01 am

    Hermione Lee has a bio of Wharton I totally want to read! Your tags cracked me up. :) I read this earlier this year and adored it, but I can totally see the snarkability too.

    • 4 Care June 8, 2010 at 9:40 am

      She has one on Woolf, too!? or am I imagining things again. I might have to dedicate a year to bios… Off to go check on Hermione Lee’s list.

  3. 5 Nymeth June 8, 2010 at 10:53 am

    *gasp* You laughed! You horrible human being, you!

    JUST KIDDING #luvcare

    What Eva said, really :P

  4. 7 Lightheaded June 8, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    This is one of those stories that will forever stay with me, particularly because of the ending :) I love this post because despite the story (I’ve read this years and years ago) you made me smile, especially with your comment above about steeling yourself against the anguish :)

  5. 8 Trisha June 8, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    I very much enjoyed Ethan Frome. It was so freaking disturbing.

  6. 9 JoAnn June 8, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    It’s been years since I’ve read Ethan Frome, and you make me want to pick it up again! It has a very different feel from her other books…my favorite, so far, is The Custom of the Country. The Hermione Lee bio is also waiting on my shelf (purchased at The Mount, Wharton’s home in the Berkshires). Dedicating some time to biographies sounds like a great idea!

  7. 10 iliana June 8, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    I’ve only read one Edith Wharton and keep saying I need to read more. Perhaps this should be my next one! Glad you enjoyed it. What a cover your book has!

  8. 11 KB June 8, 2010 at 5:02 pm

    Oh God…Care, this makes my list of Top 10 Worst Books of All Time.

    Ethan Frome… *shudders*

    However, I just finished “The Book Thief.” That makes my Top 10 of ALL Time.

  9. 12 softdrink June 8, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    Okay, I’ve made note of the shmoop article to read before I dive into this one. Still wondering when I might manage to get to it, though…

  10. 13 Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) June 8, 2010 at 7:10 pm

    The tags for this post made me laugh out loud :)

  11. 14 Jenny June 8, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    I am always sad that WordPress insists on alphabetizing my tags. I liked making cycles of tags that all went together, and it broke my heart to find that WordPress had split them up LIKE A MEANIE. Hrmph.

  12. 15 Thomas at My Porch June 9, 2010 at 8:37 am

    Such a great book yet so different than most of Wharton’s other great books.

  13. 16 verbivore June 9, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    I love Wharton, she’s so moody. If you liked Ethan Frome, try Summer…Wharton gets even braver with a similar theme.

    Loved your tags!

  14. 17 Lisa June 11, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    Damn–now I’m going to have to listen to this again. I totally missed most of the symbolism. I just loved the writing.

  15. 18 Lisamm November 18, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    THANK YOU for getting me to read this again, more carefully than ever before! And this is now a record holding book for me, the only one I’ve read THREE times. Still love it. Still find new things to think about. And can’t wait to discuss it with my book club! My daughter (13 yrs) started it last night too.


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