Book Review: Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome

Edith Wharton

Penguin Classics

128 pages

It is my pleasure today to host Edith Wharton for The Classics Circuit.  Edith Wharton is one of my favorite classic authors.  Prior to signing up for this tour, I had read Summer, The Buccaneers, The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence.  I enjoyed them all and The Age of Innocence is one of my favorite books.  I love the ornateness of Wharton’s subjects and time periods.

Because I have enjoyed Wharton so much in the past, I jumped at the chance to participate in her tour.  I have been meaning to read Ethan Frome for the longest time now, and while I figured it would be a popular choice for other tour members as well, I decided I needed to go for it anyway.  Calling Wharton one of my favorite authors seemed a little disingenuous to me considering I had yet to read one of the works she is most well known for!

Right off the bat it became clear to me that, in terms of backdrop and society, Ethan Frome is not like the majority of Wharton’s work.  Instead of dealing with the high society rollers and the gilded age, the reader is transported to the farms of New England .  Ethan Frome is a middle aged farmer who looks older and more jaded than his years.  He is a secretive man who keeps to himself.  The unnamed narrator of Ethan Frome immediately sets out to discover what grief has affected Ethan to such an extent.  We are told right away that Ethan has been involved in some type of accident roughly a quarter century before, but the narrator is convinced it is of a deeper nature than what the other townsfolk seem to be aware of.  With that assumption in place, the narrator sets out to find the truth about Ethan Frome.

In terms of Wharton’s other works that I have read, Ethan Frome reminded me more of Summer in regards to the characters and the backdrop.  Although I like Wharton’s work for her general aesthetic, I didn’t mind the change that took place in Ethan Frome.  It was a very simple, engaging story.  I read in the afterword that Wharton actually wrote the story as a French exercise to try to improve her language skills.  I wish I had known that from the very beginning because it would have lent an entirely new angle to the story.

Weather and scenery played a very symbolic part of the story.  Much was made as to how Ethan had grown cold like the stark winters he endured.  Generally, I am not one to relish descriptions of landscape.  And I wouldn’t say I overly appreciated this aspect of the book on its own, however it did lend itself to the state of Ethan’s emotions.  On the other hand, the descriptions didn’t grate on my nerves as they may have in other stories.  I believe this had to do with the fact that Wharton displayed a fine balance between dialogue, character interaction and descriptions.

When I had been there a little longer, and had seen this phase of crystal clearness followed by long stretches of sunless cold; when the storms of February had pitched their white tents about the devoted village and the wild cavalry of March winds had charged down to their support; I began to understand why Starkfield emerged from its six months’ siege like a starved garrison capitulating without quarter.

Overall, I was charmed with Ethan Frome.  I don’t think it is Wharton’s best novel, but I think it is nice to read something a little different.  Ethan Frome is the embodiment of tragic love, which is a popular theme with Wharton, but other than that the book is very different from Wharton’s usual style.

Other Reviews:

Educating Petunia

A Striped Armchair

Caribou’s Mom

Trish’s Reading Nook


I traded for this book on Paperback Swap

13 Responses

  1. I’m so glad it was a charming book! I’m reading it for my book club in a few months so I’ll look forward to it. Thanks for this review and thanks for joining the Circuit!

  2. I just mentioned this today, although briefly. I loved it when I read it; it was one of those books that was fairly simple as you say but beautiful and tragic all the same.

  3. Lovely reivew. I haven’t read Ethan Frome but I have seen the movie starring Liam Neeson. It was done quite a few years ago now but I really enjoyed it.

  4. Excellent review. I’ve commented on other EF posts that I have wrongly avoided reading this book. The Edith Wharton Tour has convinced me to give it a try!

  5. I have yet to read a Wharton novel that didn’t have tragic love. But she does it so well that I totally forgive her.

  6. I listened to this on audio a few years ago, and I was skeptical. I knew the basic story of Ethan’s injury and it just seemed silly. But Wharton made it work. I don’t think many authors could have.

  7. […] week, I read Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton, for The Classics Circuit. Check out my tour stop here. I also started Girl in a Blue Dress, by Gaynor Arnold. I just realized this book was long-listed […]

  8. I liked Ethan Frome much more than Age of Innocence, which I realize makes me on the opposite side of pretty much everyone else. I’ll have to check out Summer!

  9. For me, this book seemed to start out really slow. But, the story really sucked me in, and I really came to appreciate it. I especially loved the ending!

  10. […] 5. Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton […]

  11. I thought this a fascinating book, especially reading all the crit posts on how/what it all meant. I need to read more Wharton but I’m glad I read this one. It seems to be a love it or hate it book.

  12. […] […]

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