I read Ethan Frome as part of my 2nds reading challenge, where you read a second book by an author of whose work you’ve previously only read one book. That’s just awkward…I always have trouble explaining this challenge. Anyway, awhile ago I read The House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton, for last winter’s classics challenge. I thought it was a sad, tragic tale, and so well written, that I wanted more of Ms. Wharton. So when I saw this challenge, I thought it would be the perfect time to pick up Ethan Frome.
If you haven’t read Ethan Frome (wikipedia page, plot spoilers!), it is the story of a man scraping out his existence on a small farm in Massachusetts, and sticking around to care for his aged parents. They die, and he is so afraid of the silence born by long, cold, dark winters that he asks his mother’s caregiver, Zeena, to marry him. So, they marry, and it turns out, ironically, that she isn’t much of a chatterbox either, and what’s more, she appears to be a hypochondriac. Lovely. So, now Ethan appears doomed to live out his life, suffering through the long, dark, cold winters with a woman who will not move to a livelier town (she likes to be somewhat of a big fish in a small pond), doesn’t talk much, and is forever spending what little money Ethan can force out of the rocky soil of his farm on one worthless treatment after another for her myriad ailments. And yet, there is perhaps hope, in the person of Mattie. Mattie is Zeena’s destitute, orphaned cousin, who has nowhere to go and no money, and thus will come and care for Zeena in exchange for room and board. Mattie is a cheerful person, and gives Ethan hope that life might perhaps not need to continue on its current bleak trajectory.
If I were to tell you that the graphic I found, above, was from an operatic version of Ethan Frome, would that give you any slight indication of how things turn out? Maybe? I liked this book quite a bit, though I confess that I kind of wish I were reading it in college, for a literature class, because it seems one heavy with symbolism, and while I am perfectly capable of figuring out symbolism on my own (cold, bleak landscape…land that is barely able to produce enough crops to keep them alive…rocks, snow, bleak bleak bleak…), sometimes it’s interesting to talk about it for a little while with your classmates.