Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

‘The Cart, Snow Covered Road at Honfleur’ by Claude Monet

In a year when many are commemorating Dicken’s for his 200th year anniversary, I was prompted by a Dovegreyreader post to do the same for Edith Wharton, in homage to 150 years since her birth on 24th January 1862. A perfect winter read, this slim volume with its enticing cover featuring Claude Monet’s painting was confirmed as my choice when I spotted it in Book in Bar’s annual 50% sale.

Sainte Claire du Vieux Château

So I am making it an ‘Edith Wharton’ year which seems appropriate for many reasons, she is a woman after all, she left her country of birth and came to France which interests me (and I have just learned she had a house here in the south of France at Ste. Claire du Vieux Château) and lastly due to the timely association between Wharton’s novels and the popular Downton Abbey series, which prompted an interesting article in the NY Times discussing the era of wealthy American heiresses marrying into the English aristocracy to save them from financial ruin, some of whom are said to have been associated with Edith Wharton.

‘Ethan Frome’ is narrated by a short stay passer-by in Starkfield whom Frome transports to his place of work during heavy snows and is subsequently invited to seek refuge from a blizzard one evening in his home, an abode no one has entered or been invited to for many years. Upon hearing of his invitation, one of the villagers curious to learn more from the visitor, opens up and reveals much of the story of Ethan’s past to him.

Thus we hear how three people’s lives were paralysed by past events, simple lives complicated by forbidden love and a desperate act. It is a story of its time, an era when people of certain classes were restrained in their behaviours, though not in the intensity of their feelings, endeavouring to suppress them for the sake of saving face or fortune.

I found it interesting how Wharton portrayed the angst of the young would be lovers, drawing the reader into sympathising with them, while portraying Ethan’s wife Zeena in a shifty, calculating way, when she would have been reacting to her natural instinct to want to separate the two. Perhaps in another version of the story it may have been possible to sympathise with Zeena had her perspective been portrayed, it is easy to be lured and swayed by a writer’s deceptive tools when there is more emphasis on one side of a story or on certain characters. I also found it interesting that she decided to portray a husband suffering for having fallen in love with another woman, rather than that of a woman who falls for another man.

I can imagine reading this again, I enjoyed the writing and Wharton’s use of metaphor to depict the landscape and the barren living conditions and I look forward to reading another of her works soon.

So, do you have an Edith Wharton favourite? Have you read any of her books?