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Wharton's Ethan Frome: A Timeless Novel


Wharton's Ethan Frome: A Timeless Novel

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									The writing in the novel, Ethan Frome is fantastic. The love of Ethan Frome is crystal clear. Ethan and
Mattie are both believably in love and Ethan's desperation grips the reader. Zeena, I think, is the most
well described of them all. She is reality itself--beyond love, beyond fate, and it is she who outlasts them
all. Although I think I fell in love with both Mattie and Ethan in this story and was feeling that intense
love and pain of impending separation in their last moments together, the realist in me loved the
ending! Zeena, the old witch, the nagging and cunning negative hag, is the one who is the rock in the
moving stream. It's so 20th century. There is something black about the ending that you have to like.

I like the way Zeena's image keeps popping up for Ethan:

Zeena's empty rocking-chair stood facing him. Mattie rose obediently, and seated herself in it. As her
young brown head detached itself against the patch-work cushion that habitually framed his wife's
gaunt countenance, Ethan had a momentary shock. It was almost as if the other face, the face of the
superseded woman, had obliterated that of the intruder.

And as he's trying to enter into eternity with his beloved . . .

But suddenly his wife's face, with twisted monstrous lineaments, thrust itself between him and his goal,
and he made an instinctive movement to brush it aside.

Here are some example of the accurate description that I love in this story:

Through the obscurity which hid their faces their thoughts seemed to dart at each other like serpents
shooting venom. Ethan was seized with horror of the scene and shame at his own share in it. It was as
senseless and savage as a physical fight between two enemies in the darkness.

All the long misery of his baffled past, of his youth of failure, hardship and vain effort, rose up in his soul
in bitterness and seemed to take shape before him in the woman who at every turn had barred his way.
She had taken everything else from him; and now she meant to take the one thing that made up for all
the others. For a moment such a flame of hate rose in him that it ran down his arm and clenched his fist
against her. He took a wild step forward and then stopped. Ethan's long strides grew more rapid with
the accelerated beat of his thoughts . . . It seemed to Ethan that his heart was bound with cords which
an unseen hand was tightening with every tick of the clock.
This is an untypical story of Wharton's and the material with which it deals is out of her range of
experience as an author. In an introduction to this story in my book, Mary Gordon gives credit to Edith
Wharton in this respect:

The reader should marvel--and I mean marvel literally, as in a response to a genuine mystery--at the fact
that a woman who spent all her life among the rich and powerful knew to the marrow of her writerly
bones how a young man who had had one year at a technical college felt when he was cold, and what it
was like at a country dance for New England farmers.

Ethane Frome penetrates to the very soul of the reader – and leaves a gaping hole.

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