Ethan Frome

Edwardian Era
This edition printed in:

A calico tabby with pale green eyes sits on a pile of blankets beside a book.

The End of Vacation

Monday marks the first day back to work after a week off and, wow, I am not ready for the hectic schedule to once again descend. I think I can acknowledge that for the last month we’ve both been bordering on burnt out. My reading has been suffering, work has been suffering, chores seem extra difficult. The time off has helped but, when we’re on the eve of it ending, I always have this burst of bittersweet feeling of enjoying the week but wishing I had about six more of them.

A calico tabby sits beside a book. The book's cover features a pastel sunset over a bleak and snowy landscape.

One of the hardest parts of working freelance is having to decide when to take a break and if you can financially afford it. There’s no paid vacation and no one is there reminding you that you are human and need a break. I’m particularly bad at deciding when I’m getting tired enough that my productivity is suffering. My lovely spouse tends to overwork too. This year, I think we let ourselves get a bit overtired. Next year, I’m going to pay more attention and hopefully we’ll get a bit of vacation when we feel less exhausted.

The black back of a book has text that reads, "The classic novel of despair, forbidden emotion, and sexual undercurrents set against the austere New England countryside."

A Small Book

Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome is one of the shortest classics you can read. My Penguin Classics edition clocks in at only ninety-nine pages. However, despite the length it is a powerful and sharp narrative full of symbolism, depth, and atmosphere. While I found that Age of Innocence had moments of slower than ideal pace, I found myself wanting more out of Ethan Frome. The slower pace here is essential to the plot and to the sense of setting. The landscape is frozen and, similarly, Frome finds himself frozen as well. But I wanted something further to unfold, or perhaps a bit more time to revel in the quiet of the insular story.

A calico tabby sits beside a copy of Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.

Frome is a man that finds himself trapped in the results of his several complacent decisions. He marries a woman he doesn’t love and then falls in love with her cousin who comes to stay with them. He’s also working land that he doesn’t feel any connection to, but remains on after the deaths of both his parents. Frome gets desperate and that desperation leads to several acts which result in lifelong consequences.

Atmosphere is Important

A calico tabby can lifts her nose over a book. The pastel pink and blues of the cover complement the cat's pale green eyes.

I think what I liked best about Ethan Frome was the weight and beauty of the atmosphere that Wharton carefully crafts. I grew up partially in the countryside and no other book in my recent memory has brought me back to the winters I experienced quite like this one did. The reader can feel the snow and the cold and the quiet of the rural setting with a salience that is nearly unbelievably wonderful.

Perhaps that’s why I’m left with the feeling that Ethan Frome could have been longer — because so much time is spent on the setting and less time is spent on developing the events of the novel. Instead of cutting the atmosphere, I would rather add more to the novella’s word count. However, it is true that one is inextricably tied to the other. Ethan Frome could not have been written as a summer story.

Symbols, Symbols, Symbols

Edith Wharton's Edith Frome sits on a chair with a calico tabby cat.

Wharton is just as painstaking when it comes to the symbols present in this masterpiece. The snow, the setting, the pickle dish, and the sled — everything has a meaning, and everything is connected together is a flawless way. Though it doesn’t take long to read, the novella lingers in your mind and can easily be re-read for themes and symbols alone. There’s lots to chew on and lots to think about and that is a difficult thing is accomplish in something with so few pages.

You can only do that by paying attention to every word and by having an ironclad grip on structure. As a structuralist, I can only admire the work that Wharton put into writing this.

A calico tabby cat lounges on a pile of blankets next to a copy of Ethan Frome.

This Week Spring, Next Week Winter

I chose to review Ethan Frome this week because I find myself dreaming of the snow of winter even while the weather can more easily be compared to that of late spring. I’m still seeing geese flying south even though most of the leaves are gone.

Snow is supposedly coming by the end of the week so I’m looking forward to the chilly nights ahead. I hope that once it gets cold, it stays there.

A calico tabby cat with many whiskers and pale green eyes and a short, pink nose.

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