Edith Wharton is one of my favourite writers.
This novel is set in post civil war America and centres around a character called Undine Spragg. I thought Undine Spragg as a name was not very attractive and then it dawned on me that that could have been deliberate. Undine is very, very beautiful but her character is not at all attractive. The book is about how Undine improves herself socially and the consequences this has. In improving herself she marries 4 times and ends up married to the first man she married - I felt that this was also deliberate, if Undine had just stayed married to her first husband she would have achieved all that she had desired without the effort. The other tragedy in this is that her second husband was truly, madly in love with her but commits suicide as a direct result of Undine threatening to take their son away from him if he does not come up with the money he promised her. After his death the money does comes in and goes straight to their son, once again if Undine had waited her second husband need not have killed himself.
Edith even tells you within the body of the text what the custom of the country is.
Excellent story, great writing and marvellous characters. Well worth the read.
I've recently read Hardy's Jude The Obscure, and listened to Bruce Chatwin's On The Black Hill serialised on the radio, so was just in the right mindset to read Ethan Frome.
This is is an interestingly constructed book. There is a narrator who is telling the story of "the ruin of a man", Ethan Frome, as he has pieced it together from the recollections of other people. Wharton reveals or hides aspects of the story from the narrator and the reader throughout.
The narrator has come to lodge in the village of Starksfield in 19thcentury Massachusetts to work in a nearby town. It is winter, and the season and the weather play an important part in the story.
On the very first page Ethan is described, and the narrator and the reader realise that there is a story, a tragedy of some sort, to account for Frome's appearance and his very presence in the town
- "Most of the smart ones get away". -
Circumstances occur which lead to Ethan Frome being the only person able to take the narrator to and from the railway station, and they develop a silent sort of companionship. One day the weather is so bad on the return journey that Frome invites him to stay the night, and he discovers what Ethan's tragedy is.
From that point the story proper starts, 24 years previously, and we see how the events in Ethan's life have unfolded, until we also know what his tragedy is.