Back to the Classics, tragic novel

Ethan Frome. The dreaded title. If you haven’t read it, and you are over 30, read it, you’d love having read it. If you were one of those who had to read it in high school, and loath it, read it again, you’ll probably change your mind.

There’s nothing in youth that inclines us to like this gem. There’s a reason why it’s short, same as The Death of Ivan Illych, and other tragic titles. I’m going to tell you that the world of literature is better because a book like this exists. Someone had to tell the story of Ethan Frome. He’s an archetype. He’s an American Aedipo Rex.

Someone at Goodreads pointed to how this book shows an America where he can’t make his dreams come true. It’s a credible tale of how a decent young man is accosted morally and existentially by circumstances and fate. Yes, we all have free will, yet, without asking us to justify Ethan, what would have we done differently? It’s difficult to be hard with him. In many ways he behaves with reproach, yet he’s also a candid man, possibly a precursor of Wendell Berry characters.

If we could put ourselves in the place of some people, we would have more mercy and compassion. Likewise, this is such a book that may strengthen our moral. We are confronted with unusually extreme dilemmas in the book, but who is to say we don’t have similar situations in our life?, and having placed ourselves in the shoes of the characters of this book, may inspire and strengthen us to act differently in some aspects, the same in others.

Don’t think it’s as if the author set herself to write a book for our moral edification either. Trust me, the quality and poetry of this story is undeniable. She had a story to tell, and it came out perfect. The length, the rhythm, the pace, she nailed it. Wharton reminded me of Cather’s love for America and her landscapes. There’s the beauty of nature, a very candid study of different bents in people, what we call personalities, and some economy of means that adds to that feeling of deprivation of basic means, that pushes to a more dangerous deprivation of the soul.

I now can tell why Wilkie Collins praised and counted this title by Wharton as his favorite book from her.

Another title that will forever stay with me.

9 thoughts on “Back to the Classics, tragic novel

  1. I appreciate your thoughts on this one, Silvia. I adore Wharton but I must admit, this one was one of my least favourites. I think her The House of Mirth is her masterpiece with The Age of Innocence a close second. I heard Wharton wrote Ethan Frome during troubles in her own marriage. Sometimes books can be a reaction to personal circumstances and there are underlying currents that make it more difficult for the reader to pick up, or they pick them up but it is hard for them to understand within the context of the novel because there is more going on outside that context than they are aware. It reminds me a little of Villette. In any case, I’m going to try to read this again with your thoughts in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are convincing me to choose her The House of Mirth soon. As a short story, EF is very well constructed. I can see how it won’t be my favorite, specially when compared to longer ones.
      It’s so interesting what you mention about her personal circumstances. Yes, Ethan faces difficulties too. I totally agree that it can be difficult for a reader. I think it is wonderful they make young people read it, at the same time, there’s a higher chance for it to be appreciated by a not so young reader.
      I thought it was going to be depressing, but I felt more the oppression of the harsh life conditions of those in the book.


  2. I, too, adore Wharton (and have read a good bit of her work) but I’ve always dodged this one. I think I’m afraid that it would just be too bleak (it’s interesting that Wharton’s many material & social advantages didn’t blind her to the dark side of life). I’ve been intending to read it (in fact, I almost made it one of my Classics Challenge selections!); maybe your review will give me the needed spark!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe because I am old, but I found it very compelling and beautiful in a way. The length helps. One reads it quickly. I hope if you decide to read it you will see the value. Its sadness is overemphasized.
      I forgot what you say, that she was in a privileged position in life yet she could envision the conditions of those less favored by their circumstances.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Carol. It’s exactly that, a book for adding to the moral imagination. It’s beautiful in its sadness, and genuine in its exploration of the human soul. Never a preachy pastiche, the total opposite.


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