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Review: Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton


Ethan Frome

I first came across Edith Wharton at university; indeed reading and studying The Age of Innocence immediately cemented it as one of my favourite books. And while usually when I find an author I like, I read as many of their books as I can get my hands on in as short a time as possible, I find myself five years later only just getting around to a second of her books. I read it on the last day of my Australian holiday at Watson’s Bay, one of my favourite spots in Sydney. It was a bittersweet day for me, and one that was to later bring around a life-changing decision to move down under, to begin a new life in Sydney.

Wharton’s fourth novel, Ethan Frome was published in 1911, and despite being described by American literary critic Lionel Trilling as a book lacking in moral or ethical significance, it remains one of Wharton’s most popular.

Set against a hugely atmospheric winter backdrop, the novel tells the tale of failing farmer Ethan Frome and the love triangle in which he finds himself when his wife’s cousin Mattie comes to stay at their farm.  Stuck in a loveless marriage with Zeena, it’s unsurprising when Ethan and Mattie’s feelings for each other develop and brings about a moral dilemma for the novel’s protagonist.

Full of regret and a profound sadness, Ethan Frome is a tragic novel about love, loyalty and betrayal whose ironic ending offers the perfect climax to this woeful tale.

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