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Ethan Frome (Oxford World's Classics) [Paperback]

Edith Wharton , Elaine Showalter
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Jun 1998 Oxford World's Classics
`It was not so much his great height that marked him ... it was the careless powerful look that he had, in spite of a lameness checking each step like the jerk of a chain.' Set against the bleak winter landscape of New England, Ethan Frome tells the story of a poor farmer, lonely and downtrodden, his wife Zeena, and her cousin, the enchanting Mattie Silver. In the playing out of this short novel's powerful and engrossing drama, Edith Wharton constructed her least characteristic and most celebrated book. In its unyielding and shocking pessimism, its bleak demonstration of tragic waste, it is a masterpiece of psychological and emotional realism. In her introduction the distinguished critic Elaine Showalter discusses the background to the novel's composition and the reasons for its enduring success.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; New edition edition (4 Jun 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192834967
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192834966
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 12.6 x 0.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,091,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"With each volume having an introduction by an acknowledged expert, and exhaustive notes, the World's Classics are surely the most desirable series and, all-round, the best value for the money."--Oxford Times

About the Author

Elaine Showalter is Professor of English at Princeton University.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
I HAD the story, bit by bit, from various people and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars American classic 28 May 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a brilliant short story, perfectly pitched, by one of the USA's best authors. It has a resonance that goes far beyond the main narrative, and some beautiful lyrical passages.

One of the things I like best about it is that there are no black and white answers to the moral questions it poses. Does Ethan's unfriendly wife Zeena deserve the harsh portrayal the story gives her, or should she be pitied? How far is Ethan the victim of circumstances, and how far is he responsible for his own downfall? The book ends without resolving these questions, but the implications of its story will send shivers down your spine.
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5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful insight into human emotions 12 July 2008
By mrs_t
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I love this book..when it first arrived i was a bit disappointed because it looked so short (hundred and so pages) but it's pure quality and evokes such a amazing atmosphere of repression, confinement, depression and excitement of new love...with the outcome being so unexpected yet so ...powerful you think of it for days after.Amazing highly recommend (unless you want a light, chirpy book then go for something else!)
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We shall never again be alone like this 29 July 2008
By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Edith Wharton filled her novels with a feeling of ruin, passion and restriction. People can fall in love, but rarely do things turn out well.

But but few of even her books can evoke the feeling of "Ethan Frome," whick packs plenty of emotion, vibrancy and regrets into a short novella. While the claustrophobic feeling doesn't suit her writing well, she still spins a beautiful, horrifying story of a man facing a life without hope or joy.

It begins nearly a quarter of a century after the events of the novel, with an unnamed narrator watching middle-aged, crippled Ethan Frome drag himself to the post-office. He becomes interested in Frome's tragic past, and hears out his story.

Ethan Frome once hoped to live an urban, educated life, but ended up trapped in a bleak New England town with a hypochondriac wife, Zeena, whom he didn't love. But then his wife's cousin Mattie arrives, a bright young girl who understands Ethan far better than his wife ever tried to. Unsurprisingly, he begins to fall in love with her, but still feels an obligation to his wife.

But then Zeena threatens to send Mattie away and hire a new housekeeper, threatening the one bright spot in Ethan's dour life. Now Ethan must either rebel against the morals and strictures of his small village, or live out his life lonely. But when he and Mattie try for a third option, their affair ends in tragedy.

Wharton was always at her best when she wrote about society's strictures, morals, and love that defies that. But rather than the opulent backdrop of wealthy New York, here the setting is a bleak, snowy New England town, appropriately named Starkfield. It's a good reflection of Ethan Frome's life, and a good illustration of how the poor can be trapped.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Cold Slap In The Face 23 Mar 2013
By Brent Hightower - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Edith Wharton's writing style was in some ways typical of her generation - a generation with a tradition that I still have some personal connection with, and that I don't have altogether positive feelings towards. Her's was a generation that took the Mechanics of writing Seriously, at times to the exclusion of feeling, and to the exclusion of the things I always felt were the very essence and purpose of writing, the communion between human souls. Yet that is a personal thing for me, a matter of philosophy, and in no way detracts from the greatness of Ethan Frome.

This novel was one of the few I have read that had an immediate and revolutionary effect on my life, because at the time I read it I was in danger of falling into the very trap of the protagonist in the novel, Ethan Frome . . . that is, of feeling bound by honor into the web of an intolerable life, and what made life intolerable for me at the time were the very things that were crushing Ethan Frome. Namely, a cold impoverished climate, and a repressive - even cruelly vindictive - social order.

This dilemma of conscience set at odds with personal freedom and fulfillment is faced by people everywhere, yet the focus of this novel was particularly on the ways these issues affect the rural poor, and there is perhaps something uniquely desolate in the way the rural poor can come to be exiled from all hope. . . And the way I connected to this, this comunication through the generations from Edith Wharton to me, in a way that changed my life, is a direct testament (if one was needed) to the enduring power of literature; and it was also a chastening reminder to me personally of the differing and unexpected ways people's souls can reach communion.

So in summation this novel is a warning . . . a warning that had particular resonance for me (as it probably has had for many others) and that is that being an intelligent, moral human being, bound by the dictates of honor and decency (things essential for the individuals honor, sense of meaning, and self-worth) are not any guarantee of respect or of reciprocity in life . . . or even of survival.

This sobering message, especially to sheltered young people, and especially to the finest young people who are not of material means, is the great contribution that Edith Wharton made in Ethan Frome. It is a "realist novel" in the finest spirit of that tradition - one with a Real Message - one that matters to those who have had the insight to see that reading matters - that reading can save us a world of pain. . .

And finally I must admit that in spite of my antipathy to the prevalent condescention and rigidity of Edith Wharton's generation, the clarity and stregnth of her prose is worthy of the highest praise. Ethan Frome is a superb work of social realism. One that should be read and taken to heart by every intelligent reader, and particularly by every intelligent young person of limited means.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We shall never be alone again like this 17 Dec 2009
By E. A Solinas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Edith Wharton filled her novels with a feeling of ruin, passion and restriction. People can fall in love, but rarely do things turn out well.

But but few of even her books can evoke the feeling of "Ethan Frome," whick packs plenty of emotion, vibrancy and regrets into a short novella. While the claustrophobic feeling doesn't suit her writing well, she still spins a beautiful, horrifying story of a man facing a life without hope or joy.

It begins nearly a quarter of a century after the events of the novel, with an unnamed narrator watching middle-aged, crippled Ethan Frome drag himself to the post-office. He becomes interested in Frome's tragic past, and hears out his story.

Ethan Frome once hoped to live an urban, educated life, but ended up trapped in a bleak New England town with a hypochondriac wife, Zeena, whom he didn't love. But then his wife's cousin Mattie arrives, a bright young girl who understands Ethan far better than his wife ever tried to. Unsurprisingly, he begins to fall in love with her, but still feels an obligation to his wife.

But then Zeena threatens to send Mattie away and hire a new housekeeper, threatening the one bright spot in Ethan's dour life. Now Ethan must either rebel against the morals and strictures of his small village, or live out his life lonely. But when he and Mattie try for a third option, their affair ends in tragedy.

Wharton was always at her best when she wrote about society's strictures, morals, and love that defies that. But rather than the opulent backdrop of wealthy New York, here the setting is a bleak, snowy New England town, appropriately named Starkfield. It's a good reflection of Ethan Frome's life, and a good illustration of how the poor can be trapped.

Even when she describes a "ruin of a man" in a cold, distant town, Wharton spins beautiful prose ("the night was so transparent that the white house-fronts between the elms looked gray against the snow") and eloquent symbolism, like the shattered pickle dish. There's only minimal dialogue -- most of what the characters think and feel is kept inside.

Instead she piles on the atmosphere, and increases the tension between the three main characters, as attraction and responsibility pull Ethan in two directions. It all finally climaxes in the disaster hinted at in the first chapter, which is as beautifully written and wistful as it is tragic.

If the book has a flaw, it's the incredibly small cast -- mainly just the main love triangle. Ethan's not a strong or decisive man, but his desperation and loneliness are absolutely heartbreaking, as well as his final fate. Mattie seems more like a symbol of the life he wants that a full-fledged person, and Zeena is annoying and whiny up until the end, when we see a different side of her personality. Not a stereotypical shrew.

"Ethan Frome" is a true tragedy -- as beautifully written as it is, it's still Wharton's description of how a man merely survives instead of living, hopeless and devastated.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just before you slit your wrists 2 July 2010
By Eddie Lee Payne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Although a thoroughly well written and nostalgic book, the story is depressing to the uttermost. The story of a triangular love has the most ironic of endings with many unexpected and sad moments along the way. I tell my students that they need a sharp razor blade when reading the book, so that when the depression overwhelms them, they will not make a jagged cut.

Perhaps the author is giving us a glimpse into her own ultimately failed marriage as she records the quest of love by the protagonist who is married to a shrew who is a bitter woman. His awkwardness and slowness to speak to his desire adds to the suspense and to the eventual loss of opportunity.

This is a frame story, with a narrator who begins and ends the tale, being a traveler who inquires of the strange man he encountered, the one with the strange, deformed limp.

The reader will not so much ENJOY this novel as they will come to APPRECIATE its art. Edith Wharton is a master story teller, but have a DVD of a very funny comedy available to cheer you up when you finish this short novel.
1.0 out of 5 stars Never got the book 4 Jun 2014
By Celine - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I paid for this book, but never got it. I ended up getting one from my teacher. I guess I just donated money to someone...
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read 3 Feb 2013
By Eileen Casey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I love this novella. Edith Wharton is the most wonderful story teller and this is one of her best. I read this novella every 2 years or so and I always love it. It is such a wonderful exploration of duty and loneliness and longing and is perfectly pitched. Her writing is so elegant that it is good for the spirit to read it!
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