Ethan Frome = 68 down, 32 to go

24 Jul

Ethan Frome
Edith Wharton
128 pages

This short novel was released in 1911 and is situated in turn-of-the-century New England. It features Ethan Frome, a man struggling to make a life for himself and his hypochondriac wife, Zeena. When Zeena’s relative, Mattie, comes to live with them, Ethan’s acceptance of his difficult, uninteresting life is challenged. In Mattie’s pleasant ways and smiles, he sees what his life could have been like.

The story, told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator, starts with Ethan in the present.

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…

Through the narrator’s interaction with him during a frozen New England winter, he learns the story of Ethan and Zeena and Mattie. After Maggie comes to live under their roof, Ethan finds himself fantasizing about Maggie, imagining that certain looks are meant just for him, hoping that she shares his feelings.

Ethan learns that his feelings are reciprocated when Zeena takes an overnight trip to an out-0f-town doctor. Without sharing a single touch, Mattie and Ethan share an evening of dinner and companionship. He sees what his life could be with a spouse who adores him as much as he does her. When Zeena returns the next day, she informs Ethan that she is sending Mattie away to be replaced with a hired girl to take care of her, per doctor’s orders.

Ethan is desperate to claim his life with Mattie, but as he runs scenarios through his head on making it reality, he continues to be met with brick walls. Initially accepting that it cannot be, he insists on taking Mattie to the train. On the way, they stop to go coasting, and in conversation, declare their affections for one another. With the conversation comes a suggestion to commit suicide, as they cannot live in the world without one another, by sledding into a large tree.

They both survive the accident. The narrator finds them – Ethan, Zeena and Mattie – all living in the farmhouse 20 years later.


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