Originally published in 1911 by Scribner’s
My edition: the 2012 Penguin English Library paperback
WHEN I Discovered This Classic
When the first lot of Little Black Classics came out last year, the first one I picked up was Edith Wharton’s The Reckoning and I really liked it. It was my first Wharton and so I looked her up.
WHY I Chose to Read It
I tried The Age of Innocence but I didn’t really click with the audiobook so I looked elsewhere in her bibliography. I’m a sucker for a tragic, intense love story and that’s exactly what Ethan Frome was said to be.
WHAT Makes It a Classic
To me, the structure felt like a Victorian classic – the protagonist’s narrative sandwiched by someone talking about them on either end – and the themes of doomed love, restrictions of class and being a woman at the turn of the century felt distinctly classic to me.
WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I really, really enjoyed Ethan Frome. Even though I liked what I read of Wharton’s short stories, I still wasn’t expecting to enjoy this so much.
At only 100 pages, Ethan Frome is a super quick and accessible classic and it only took me around 90-95 minutes to read. As I mentioned, the narrative structure felt like a familiar Victorian classic, even though it was written in 1911, and it perfectly matched the snowy, rural New England setting. It’s incredibly atmospheric and I was fascinated by Ethan within only a few pages. He is sad, quiet and leaks tragedy, and it’s all tied with his marriage to the bitter, mean, selfish Zeena who is constantly ill. And her beautiful young cousin, Mattie, who comes to care for her.
We then jumped back 20 years to Ethan at 28. His marriage to Zeena is perfunctory and full of frustration and he falls head over heels for Mattie who is full of life and light. Ethan’s love is vibrant, powerful and young, you know? It felt laced with the buzz of intense teen love and the trajectory of the story, which while not especially dramatic, hung under an atmosphere of doom. And Ethan Frome did not disappoint with the ending.
I was expecting tragedy, but I really wasn’t expecting the level of tragedy Edith Wharton delivered. I was a bit taken back by it! It’s powerful, shocking and so very sad. Reading Ethan Frome has made me seriously excited to delve into more of Wharton’s novels. I have The House of Mirth on my TBR and I’ll be acquiring The Age of Innocence next time I have a splurge!
I highly recommend Ethan Frome, especially if you’re short on time one month but still want to slip a classic in for the challenge. But you should read it regardless.
WILL It Stay a Classic
I hope so! Apparently it’s one of Wharton’s most famous novels, but I honestly haven’t really heard anyone talk about it…
WHO I’d Recommend it To
- Fans of doomed and forbidden love.
- People who are a little intimidated by longer classic.
- Those who want a quick, engaging read.