Originally Posted by issybird
For evocation of time and place, Ethan Frome is among the best; a tour de force from a New York society woman. I'm a transplant to New England and even now, I look around me in midwinter and wonder how they stood it, in more primitive times. The dark, the cold, the snow.... With furnace and electric light and snowplows and everything else that makes it bearable, I still hate winter here. And even given how depressing it must have been, so long as there was enough food stored away, perhaps the inhabitants looked forward to winter and its time of enforced idleness, a surcease from the relentless labor needed to scratch a living from rocky soil with a short growing season. I know what I've said can equally apply to other northern spots, and even more so, but Wharton got it right.
Knowing what's coming rewards the reread, adding shadow to the narrative as it progresses and breaks your heart even more than the first-time shocker, at least for me. I can pity them all, but I only like Ethan, even though he was the agent of his ultimate misfortune and ruined Mattie's life as well. His suffering redeems himself over and over, but in my opinion, it also begs the question of whether redemption serves a purpose.
You hate New England winters? You should try wintering in Wisconsin.
Reading about how Wisconsin was first settled I can only admire what tough resilient people the first settlers must have been. Living in small wooden houses with no insulation and heated only by a wood stove. Umm, and in the really cold months (about 4-5 months per year) a trip out to an outhouse whenever nature called.
I got a lot more out of it on the second read as well. Especially out of the closing conversation between the narrator and Mrs. Hale.
Since I am posting again I can include this passage:
Ethan was aware that, in regard to the important question of surgical intervention, the female opinion of the neighbourhood was divided, some glorying in the prestige conferred by operations while others shunned them as indelicate. Ethan, from motives of economy, had always been glad that Zeena was of the latter faction.
In the agitation caused by the gravity of her announcement he sought a consolatory short cut. “What do you know about this doctor anyway? Nobody ever told you that before.”
He saw his blunder before she could take it up: she wanted sympathy, not consolation.
“I didn’t need to have anybody tell me I was losing ground every day. Everybody but you could see it. And everybody in Bettsbridge knows about Dr. Buck. He has his office in Worcester, and comes over once a fortnight to Shadd’s Falls and Bettsbridge for consultations. Eliza Spears was wasting away with kidney trouble before she went to him, and now she’s up and around, and singing in the choir.”
“Well, I’m glad of that. You must do just what he tells you,” Ethan answered sympathetically.
So true to life in any time or place.