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The Village lay under two feet of snow, with drifts at the windy corners. In a sky of iron the points of the Dipper hung like icicles and Orion flashed his cold fires. The moon had set, but the night was so transparent that the white house-fronts between the elms looked gray against the snow, clumps of bushes made black stains on it, and the basement windows of the church sent shafts of yellow light far across the endless undulations.
Young Ethan Frome walked at a quick pace along the deserted street, past the bank and Michael Eady's new brick store and Lawyer Varnum's house with the two black Norway spruces at the gate. Opposite the Varnum gate, where the road fell away toward the Corbury valley, the church reared its slim white steeple and narrow peristyle. As the young man walked toward it the upper windows drew a black arcade along the side wall of the building, but from the lower openings, on the side where the ground sloped steeply down to the Corbury road, the light shot its long bars, illuminating many fresh furrows in the track leading to the basement door, and showing, under an adjoining shed, a line of sleighs with heavily blanketed horses.
The night was perfectly still, and the air so dry and pure that it gave little sensation of cold. The effect produced on Frome was rather of a complete absence of atmosphere, as though nothing less tenuous than ether intervened between the white earth under his feet and the metallic dome overhead. "It's like being in an exhausted receiver," he thought. Four or five years earlier he had taken a year's course at a technologicalcollege at Worcester, and dabbled in the laboratory with a friendly professor of physics; and the images supplied by that experience still cropped up, at unexpected moments, through the totally different associations of thought in which he had since been living. His father's death, and the misfortunes following it, had put a premature end to Ethan's studies; but though they had not gone far enough to be of much practical use they had fed his fancy and made him aware of huge cloudy meanings behind the daily face of things.
As he strode along through the snow the sense of such meanings glowed in his brain and mingled with the bodily flush produced by his sharp tramp. At the end of the village he paused before the darkened front of the church. He stood there a moment, breathing quickly, and looking up and down the street, in which not another figure moved. The pitch of the Corbury road, below lawyer Varnum's spruces, was the favorite coasting-ground of Starkfield, and on clear evenings the church corner rang till late with the shouts of the coasters; but tonight not a sled darkened the whiteness of the long declivity. The hush of midnight lay on the village, and all its waking life was gathered behind the church windows, from which strains of dance-music flowed with the broad bands of yellow light.
The young man, skirting the side of the building, went down the slope toward the basement door. To keep out of range of the revealing rays from within he made a circuit through the untrodden snow and gradually approached the farther angle of the basement wall. Thence, still hugging the shadow, he edged his way cautiously forward to the nearest window, holding back his straight spare body and craning his neck till he got a glimpse of the room.
Seen thus, from the pure and frosty darkness in which he stood, it seemed to be seething in a mist of heat. The metal reflectors of the gas-jets sent crude waves of light against the whitewashed walls, and the iron flanks of the stove at the end of the hall looked as though they were heaving with volcanic fires. The floor was thronged with girls and young men. Down the side wall facing the window stood a row of kitchen chairs from which the older women had just risen. By this time the music had stopped, and the musicians—a fiddler, and the young lady who played the harmonium on Sundays—were hastily refreshing themselves at one corner of the supper-table which aligned its devastated pie-dishes and ice-cream saucers on the platform at the end of the hall. The guests were preparing to leave, and the tide had already set toward the passage where coats and wraps were hung, when a young man with a sprightly foot and a shock of black hair shot into the middle of the floor and clapped his hands. The signal took instant effect. The musicians hurried to their instruments, the dancers—some already half-muffled for departure-fell into line down each side of the room, the older spectators slipped back to their chairs, and the lively young man, after diving about here and there in the throng, drew forth a girl who had already wound a cherry-colored "fascinator" about her head, and, leading her up to the end of the floor, whirled her down its length to the bounding tune of a Virginia reel.
Frome's heart was beating fast. He had been straining for a glimpse of the dark head under the cherry-colored scarf and it vexed him that another eye should have been quicker than his. The leader of the reel, who looked as if he had Irish blood in his veins, danced well, and his partner caught his fire. As she passed down the line, her light figure swinging from hand to hand in circles of increasing swiftness, the scarf flew off her head and stood out behind her shoulders, and Frome, at each turn, caught sight of her laughing panting lips, the cloud of dark hair about her forehead, and the dark eyes which seemed the only fixed points in a maze of flying lines.
The dancers were going faster and faster, and the musicians, to keep up with them, belabored their instruments like jockeys lashing their mounts on the home-stretch; yet it seemed to the young man at the window that the reel would never end. Now and then he turned his eyes from the girl's face to that of her partner, which, in the exhilaration of the dance, had taken on a look of almost impudent ownership. Denis Eady was the son of Michael Eady, the ambitious Irish grocer, whose suppleness and effrontery had given Starkfield its first notion of "smart" business methods, and whose new brick store testified to the success of the attempt. His son seemed likely to follow in his steps, and was meanwhile applying the same arts to the conquest of the Starkfield maidenhood. Hitherto Ethan Frome had been content to think him a mean fellow; but now he positively invited a horse-whipping. It was strange that the girl did not seem aware of it: that she could lift her rapt face to her dancer's, and drop her hands into his, without appearing to feel the offense of his look and touch.
Frome was in the habit of walking into Starkfield to fetch home his wife's cousin, Mattie Silver, on the rare evenings when some chance of amusement drew her to the village. It was his wife who had suggested, when the girl came to live with them, that such opportunities should be put in her way. Mattie Silver came from Stamford, and when she entered the Fromes' household to act as her cousin Zeena's aid it was thought best, as she came without pay, not to let her feel too sharp a contrast between the life she had left and the isolation of a Starkfield farm. But for this—as Frome sardonically reflected—it would hardly have occurred to Zeena to take any thought for the girl's amusement.
When his wife first proposed that they should give Mattie an occasional evening out he had inwardly demurred at having to do the extra two miles to the village and back after his hard day on the farm; but not long afterward he had reached the point of wishing that Starkfield might give all its nights to revelry.
Mattie Silver had lived under his roof for a year, and from early morning till they met at supper he had frequent chances of seeing her; but no moments in her company were comparable to those when, her arm in his, and her light step flying to keep time with his long stride, they walked back through the night to the farm. He had taken to the girl from the first day, when he had driven over to the Flats to meet her, and she had smiled and waved to him from the train, crying out "You must be Ethan!" as she jumped down with her bundles, while he reflected, looking over her slight person: "She don't look much on house-work, but she ain't a fretter, anyhow." But it was not only that the coming to his house of a bit of hopeful young life was like the lighting of a fire on a cold hearth. The girl was more than the bright serviceable creature he had thought her. She had an eye to see and an ear to hear: he could show her things and tell her things, and taste the bliss of feeling that all he imparted left long reverberations and echoes he could wake at will.
It was during their night walks back to the farm that he felt most intensely the sweetness of this communion. He had always been more sensitive than the people about him to the appeal of natural beauty. His unfinished studies had given form to this sensibility and even in his unhappiest moments field and sky spoke to him with a deep and powerful persuasion. But hitherto the emotion had remained in him as a silent ache, veiling with sadness the beauty that evoked it. He did not even know whether any one else in the world felt as he did, or whether he was the sole victim of this mournful privilege. Then he learned that one other spirit had trembled with the same touch of wonder: that at his side, living under his roof and eating his bread, was a creature to whom he could say: "That's Orion down yonder; the big fellow to the right is Aldebaran, and the bunch of little ones—like bees swarming—they're the Pleiades ..." or whom he could hold entranced before a ledge of granite thrusting up through the fern while he unrolled the huge panorama of the ice age, and the long dim stretches of succeeding time. The fact that admiration for his learning mingled with Mattie's wonder at what he taught was not the least part of his pleasure. And there were other sensations, less definable but more exquisite, which drew them together with a shock of silent joy: the cold red of sunset behind winter hills, the flight of cloud—flocks over slopes of golden stubble, or the intensely blue shadows of hemlocks on sunlit snow. When she said to him once: "It looks just as if it was painted!" it seemed to Ethan that the art of definition could go no farther, and that words had at last been found to utter his secret soul....
As he stood in the darkness outside the church these memories came back with the poignancy of vanished things. Watching Mattie whirl down the floor from hand to hand he wondered how he could ever have thought that his dull talk interested her. To him, who was never gay but in her presence, her gaiety seemed plain proof of indifference. The face she lifted to her dancers was the same which, when she saw him, always looked like a window that has caught the sunset. He even noticed two or three gestures which, in his fatuity, he had thought she kept for him: a way of throwing her head back when she was amused, as if to taste her laugh before she let it out, and a trick of sinking her lids slowly when anything charmed or moved her.
The sight made him unhappy, and his unhappiness roused his latent fears. His wife had never shown any jealousy of Mattie, but of late she had grumbled increasingly over the house-work and found oblique ways of attracting attention to the girl's inefficiency. Zeena had always been what Starkfield called "sickly," and Frome had to admit that, if she were as ailing as she believed, she needed the help of a stronger arm than the one which lay so lightly in his during the night walks to the farm. Mattie had no natural turn for house-keeping, and her training had done nothing to remedy the defect. She was quick to learn, but forgetful and dreamy, and not disposed to take the matter seriously. Ethan had an idea that if she were to marry a man she was fond of the dormant instinct would wake, and her pies and biscuits become the pride of the county; but domesticity in the abstract did not interest her. At first she was so awkward that he could not help laughing at her; but she laughed with him and that made them better friends. He did his best to supplement her unskilled efforts, getting up earlier than usual to light the kitchen fire, carrying in the wood overnight, and neglecting the mill for the farm that he might help her about the house during the day. He even crept down on Saturday nights to scrub the kitchen floor after the women had gone to bed; and Zeena, one day, had surprised him at the churn and had turned away silently, with one of her queer looks.
Of late there had been other signs of her disfavor, as intangible but more disquieting. One cold winter morning, as he dressed in the dark, his candle flickering in the draught of the ill-fitting window, he had heard her speak from the bed behind him.
"The doctor don't want I should be left without anybody to do for me," she said in her flat whine.
He had supposed her to be asleep, and the sound of her voice had startled him, though she was given to abrupt explosions of speech after long intervals of secretive silence.
He turned and looked at her where she lay indistinctly outlined under the dark calico quilt, her high-boned face taking a grayish tinge from the whiteness of the pillow.
"Nobody to do for you?" he repeated.
"If you say you can't afford a hired girl when Mattie goes."
Frome turned away again, and taking up his razor stooped to catch the reflection of his stretched cheek in the blotched looking-glass above the wash-stand.
"Why on earth should Mattie go?"
"Well, when she gets married, I mean," his wife's drawl came from behind him.
"Oh, she'd never leave us as long as you needed her," he returned, scraping hard at his chin.
"I wouldn't ever have it said that I stood in the way of a poor girl like Mattie marrying a smart fellow like Denis Eady," Zeena answered in a tone of plaintive self-effacement.
Ethan, glaring at his face in the glass, threw his head back to draw the razor from ear to chin. His hand was steady, but the attitude was an excuse for not making an immediate reply.
"And the doctor don't want I should be left without anybody," Zeena continued. "He wanted I should speak to you about a girl he's heard about, that might come—"
Ethan laid down the razor and straightened himself with a laugh.
"Denis Eady! If that's all I guess there's no such hurry to look round for a girl."
"Well, I'd like to talk to you about it," said Zeena obstinately.
He was getting into his clothes in fumbling haste.
"All right. But I haven't got the time now; I'm late as it is," he returned, holding his old silver turnip-watch to the candle.
Zeena, apparently accepting this as final, lay watching him in silence while he pulled his suspenders over his shoulders and jerked his arms into his coat; but as he went toward the door she said, suddenly and incisively: "I guess you're always late, now you shave every morning."
That thrust had frightened him more than any vague insinuations about Denis Eady. It was a fact that since Mattie Silver's coming he had taken to shaving every day; but his wife always seemed to be asleep when he left her side in the winter darkness, and he had stupidly assumed that she would not notice any change in his appearance. Once or twice in the past he had been faintly disquieted by Zenobia's way of letting things happen without seeming to remark them, and then, weeks afterward, in a casual phrase, revealing that she had all along taken her notes and drawn her inferences. Of late, however, there had been no room in his thoughts for such vague apprehensions. Zeena herself, from an oppressive reality, had faded into an insubstantial shade. All his life was lived in the sight and sound of Mattie Silver, and he could no longer conceive of its being otherwise. But now, as he stood outside the church, and saw Mattie spinning down the floor with Denis Eady, a throng of disregarded hints and menaces wove their cloud about his brain ...
Posted August 7, 2010
I was very skeptical about reading this at first because I love a happy ending. However, Edith Wharton completely changed that with her stark and simple realism that left you thinking there was no better way to end this story than tragically. I read it in 1 sitting... and I think that's the only way to do it with this story! Even though Ethan's relationship with his wife's cousin is borderline immoral... Wharton is able to manipulate your emotions and actually make you feel compassion for these two lovers. I will read this story over and over!
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Posted December 2, 2010
The story takes place in a nineteenth-century New England village. Ethan Frome is married to Zeena. Zeena has a great many problems. One of which is her ailing self. It's not clear if she is truly ill, of if her meanness just makes her so, but she is bedridden to the point of needing a helping hand. Mattie, her cousin, comes to help them out.
As the three of them spend time together, it's clear that Ethan has fallen hard for Mattie. He secretly catches glimpses of her at the supper table, and finds excuses to be alone with her. Although he hopes that she feels the same way, it's hard to tell as first what Mattie is thinking. However, it's not hard to tell what Zeena is thinking and it's no surprise that she makes it difficult for them in the end.
My frustration with this book is that there is really no honor to be had when it comes to Ethan. He loves Mattie, but he doesn't really act upon it in a realistic way. He sort of fumbles along and experiences moments of gushing that you'd expect from a young girl, not a grown man. I mentioned the honor part because it's not really out of a sense of honor that he is with his wife. It's as if he doesn't have the energy to live any differently. He puts up with her but I'm not sure why. Certainly not for money, as they are poor farmers and with her medical costs, there is nothing extra to be had.
I wanted to feel something for Ethan, but I felt nothing. It was like downing a glass of wine and having it go right to your head. I was numb to his plight and I felt no pity for him. The end of the book, as seen through a third-party visitor to the house, has got to be one of the most depressing endings ever.
Although I didn't love it, there is plenty to discuss.
On a funny note, when I saw the cover above, I was thinking torrid love affair, a "roll in the hay" so to speak, but when you read the book you realize the cover has nothing to do with what my dirty, smutty mind was thinking. Too bad
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Posted November 23, 2013
Ethan Frome is a tragic story that will manipulate and twist your emotions of what a good relationship is. Ethan and his sickly wife, Zeena, live in a bleak New England countryside. Zeena's younger cousin Mattie comes to help Ethan care for Zeena. Eventually, Mattie and Ethan begin to fall in love. All Ethan can do is think about Mattie and try to spend time with her. On one hand, you're inspired and touched by Ethan and Mattie's love and the hope for their future together, but you also feel bad for Zeena. The ending of the story is surprising and full of irony. This is a fast read, an interesting exploration in romance and relationships as we define them, and a tragic love story between even more tragic characters.
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Posted January 17, 2013
Last week I joined, at the urging of Love at First Book, the Classics Club. What this means is that I vow to read at least 50 classics in 50 years (see my list here). Because classics come with the stigma of being heavy and daunting, I started out with Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton because it’s short and I’ve never read her. Don’t get me wrong, I love some of the classics (Pride & Prejudice and Tess of the D’Urbervilles are in my top ten favorite books), but it has been a while since I have read one.
Ethan Frome is a story that pits love against duty, demonstrating that the two are not necessarily the same thing. It is, quite possibly, one of the most depressing stories I have ever read. There wasn’t anything catastrophic, per se, but the quiet desperation of Ethan and Mattie was palpable and it broke my heart. Because the story was published in 1911, I imagine the outcome is very different than what it would be if it were written today. This is not a book with a predictably happy ending, and yet it will draw out your sympathetic side.
All in all, it was not a bad way to start off the Classics Club.
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Posted March 4, 2012
This is a lousy copy, spacing spelling etc is awful. A person and not just a computer is needed to make sure that it looks good and is readable.
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Posted June 15, 2010
This book touched my heart and had me near tears before I was finished with it. The characters and their developments were astounding and the storyline was wonderful. I read it first in high school, then again a few years later. I could read it over and over and it would never lose its intensity.
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Posted November 25, 2009
I had to read this for school, and I did not like it at all. It started out depressing, became even more depressing as the story progressed, and ended in a very depressing way. Throughout the entire story, the only glimmer of hope that Ethan had was cheating on his wife with her cousin; very immoral. Then, that hope was lost too, after the accident, and he was stuck with two sad, whiny, bitter ladies and lived a sad, hopeless life.
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Posted December 29, 2013
This novel did not really interest me until I got towards the middle. I was eager to know how it would end and when I finally did, I was dissapointed. Great story, horrible ending.
P.S. ... don't read this book if you don't like big words.
Posted October 25, 2012
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton was a story about a man who wished to escape the means of his awful town. He falls in love with the one bright soul in the entire place, and no matter how much he loves her, he still feels that he has to keep a moral bond with his actual wife, Zeena, who is a cruel and cold woman. Overall, the storyline is actually quite interesting, but the way that it is explained is just very dull and dreary.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 29, 2010
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I like to read stories that lean toward a "happy ending" and that's exactly what this one did. It leaned that way. I enjoyed the narrator's perspective Ethan's situation. I plan to re-read it some day after I've recovered from the realism.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Ethan Frome is the story of a man who, following the death of his father, gives up his education and other opportunities to return to the family farm to support his ailing mother. When his mother dies, Ethan, overcome by loneliness, impulsively marries Zeena Pierce, an older cousin who helped nurse his dying mother. Within a year of their marriage, Zeena becomes sick and Ethan must again assume the role of caregiver and give up his dreams of moving to a large town and becoming an engineer. Ethan then meets Mattie, Zeena's Cousin, and falls in love. Mattie is happy and the opposite of Zeena. Ethan can't divorce Zeena because that would be rude and against the time periods values, so Ethan and Mattie come up with a plan that will change thier lives forever.
Its an ok novel. None of the characters are fun, except Mattie, so the tone is very depressing. The plot was a good idea but poorly executed. Mattie and Ethan should have ended up together, but no Edith Wharton had to make it a sad book. I personally could have finished the book better. Ethan makes me depressed because he is always suffering for other people and overall the book is depressing. Depressing = 5 stars
Posted July 20, 2008
Ethan Frome concerns the struggle that all people encounter in their lives - coping with external duties which often times contradict internal desires. That being said, the novel was most definitely not a page turner. Ethan is married to a witch of a wife which is partially to blame for his falling in love with his wife's cousin, Mattie. The novel describes how Ethan passively lives under his self-imposed circumstances. I gave this book three starts because I didn't find much satisfaction with the book because there wasn't enough description of the deep connection between Ethan and Mattie.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 3, 2008
One of my favorite stories. Ethan has all my sympathy. It is a well written book that does not have a happy ending for any of the characters. It reads like a true life romance.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted November 18, 2007
¿Ethan Frome¿ is the tragic story of a middle aged man. Ethan Frome lives with his pessimistic wife, Zeena, in an old, battered farm in Massachusetts, New England. Ethan struggles finding his will to live, when his wife¿s health detonates and they must hire a girl to work about the house. The girl¿s position is soon filled by Zeena¿s lively cousin, Mattie Silver. Ethan Frome becomes entranced by her sparkling attitude and focuses his life around her. However, he soon forgets his wife, and Zeena doesn¿t like not being the centre of attention¿ I did not like the book as a whole. There was not enough emotion which would have helped me to understand how the book played out better. I only realized that Ethan was in love with Mattie until the very end of the novel. I liked Ethan Frome but I would not recommend it to younger teenagers.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 19, 2007
I love Edith Wharton. She has such a command of words. Her descriptions of the principle charaters make you feel as if you've known them personally.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 27, 2006
This book was okay, besides the fact that it moved slower than a New England winter. It needed a little more action and suspense, but Edith Wharton writes well. I liked how short it was.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.