Novellas in November: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

As always, I encourage you to read Cathy’s and Rebecca’s reviews. I’m down to the wire here so this will be a short comment on a short book that needs no introduction. This is the fourth and final #NovNov buddy read, and I’d like to thank hosts Cathy and Rebecca for doing a bang up job. The buddy reads were a great idea! Check out all the posts linked here.

Ethan Frome is sometimes seen as a departure from Wharton’s other works, though in the Everyman’s Library edition I read, Hermonie Lee makes a case for linking Ethan Frome, Summer, and Bunner Sisters in one volume, and not just because they’re short. They’re also about working-class heros and heroines. There’s none of the social climbing (and falling) that mark The Age of Innocence, The House of Mirth, and The Custom of the Country. Unrelenting poverty is the driving force of this story. Zeena and Mattie end up at the farm because they are both poor relations with nowhere else to go, and Ethan can’t leave even if he wanted to (and he sure does by the end) because he’s running the farm into the ground and couldn’t raise $50 if he tried (and he sure does try.)

It’s also about isolation and revenge. I was struck by the parallels between it and my all-time favourite book, Wuthering Heights. The framing device, the stark landscapes, the isolated house, the use of dialect, and most of all, the people, tied forever to the land and to a never-ending cycle of blame and regret.

The last line even echoes Wuthering Height’s iconic ending. I have a personal aversion to quoting last lines, but these are both so good, and I’m hardly spoiling anything. Feel free to stop here if you haven’t read one or both.

“I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.

Wuthering Heights

‘…I don’t see’s there’s much difference between the Fromes up at the farm and the Fromes down in the graveyard; ‘cept down there they’re all quiet, and the women have got to hold their tongues.’

Ethan Frome

5 comments

  1. Cathy746books

    Ooh, I’d never thought about the parallels with Wuthering Heights – you are so right! Thanks so much for all your support this month Laura and in particular for embracing our Buddy Reads.

  2. Pingback: Novellas in November (#NovNov) Begins! Leave Your Links Here | Bookish Beck
  3. Karen

    Oh my goodness! It didn’t even dawn on me the parallels with Wuthering Heights! Wuthering Heights is such a well-written book. I’ve read it twice now! When I re-read Ethan Frome (for I want to read it again at some point), I need to look for similarities between the two books.

  4. Naomi

    Each November I consider reading Ethan Frome as one of my novellas, but I still haven’t – not even with the buddy read. Someday it will happen! But now I also want to reread Wuthering heights – interesting comparison!

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