Masterpiece Monday: Ethan Frome

Cover of "Ethan Frome"

Image via Amazon

Rating: 3 out of 5

Winter is definitely upon us, as the temperatures drop drastically and night falls earlier each day. Anyone who’s gotten to know me a bit knows that I loathe cold weather. I love the food and family gatherings during the holidays, and reading a book while drinking hot cocoa in front of the fireplace is so relaxing, but those are only the Kodak moments of winter. The rest consists of rain, fog, dry skin, and ugly, bulky clothes.

Seasonal depression is very real, and the first book I think of when winter arrives is Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome. Published in 1911, it narrates the story of Ethan Frome, man who lives in the New England town of Starkfield with his wife Zeena. 20 years prior to the start of the story, Ethan falls in love with his wife’s cousin, Mattie, as he walks her home after a night out dancing. Zeena suffers from a chronic illness, and Ethan meets in Mattie in secret while she’s sick.

Eventually, Zeena discovers their affair, and it’s up to Ethan and Mattie to decide what to do. I won’t spoil it, of course, but the cold, snowy setting is pivotal in their decision.

This book is definitely not my favorite, as the plot was relatively sparse. It’s also not nearly as good as Wharton’s Age of Innocence, which quickly became one of my favorites after reading it this summer. However, what was enjoyable about Ethan Frome was Wharton’s extensive use of symbolism. I read the novel senior year of high school, and I still remember my essay in which I analyzed the deeper meanings of cats and coasting.

Unless you love everything by Wharton, I would suggest you skip this novel and pick up Age of Innocence. It’s also about adultery, but the tragic passion is not just symbolic, it’s tangible. Ethan Frome, on the other hand, won’t keep you warm on a blustery day–and it certainly won’t make you want to go sledding any time soon.

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