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Ethan Frome and Other Short Fiction

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On a bleak New England farm, a taciturn young man has resigned himself to a life of grim endurance. Bound by circumstance to a woman he cannot love, Ethan Frome is haunted by a past of lost possibilities until his wife's orphaned cousin, Mattie Silver, arrives and he is tempted to make one final, desperate effort to escape his fate. In language that is spare, passionate, a On a bleak New England farm, a taciturn young man has resigned himself to a life of grim endurance. Bound by circumstance to a woman he cannot love, Ethan Frome is haunted by a past of lost possibilities until his wife's orphaned cousin, Mattie Silver, arrives and he is tempted to make one final, desperate effort to escape his fate. In language that is spare, passionate, and enduring, Edith Wharton tells this unforgettable story of two tragic lovers overwhelmed by the unrelenting forces of conscience and necessity. Included with Ethan Frome are the novella The Touchstone and three short stories, "The Last Asset," "The Other Two," and "Xingu." Together, this collection offers a survey of the extraordinary range and power of one of America's finest writers.


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On a bleak New England farm, a taciturn young man has resigned himself to a life of grim endurance. Bound by circumstance to a woman he cannot love, Ethan Frome is haunted by a past of lost possibilities until his wife's orphaned cousin, Mattie Silver, arrives and he is tempted to make one final, desperate effort to escape his fate. In language that is spare, passionate, a On a bleak New England farm, a taciturn young man has resigned himself to a life of grim endurance. Bound by circumstance to a woman he cannot love, Ethan Frome is haunted by a past of lost possibilities until his wife's orphaned cousin, Mattie Silver, arrives and he is tempted to make one final, desperate effort to escape his fate. In language that is spare, passionate, and enduring, Edith Wharton tells this unforgettable story of two tragic lovers overwhelmed by the unrelenting forces of conscience and necessity. Included with Ethan Frome are the novella The Touchstone and three short stories, "The Last Asset," "The Other Two," and "Xingu." Together, this collection offers a survey of the extraordinary range and power of one of America's finest writers.

30 review for Ethan Frome and Other Short Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Amber

    Sadness. The ultimate feeling I have upon leaving behind Ethan Frome is one of infinite sadness. Sadness for people stuck - stuck in poverty, stuck in relationships that lack even friendliness, let alone love, stuck in a life they can never leave behind. To watch the transformation of Ethan and Mattie from people filled with such passion to people so broken and alone filled me with such an ache. That's the kind of story Ethan Frome is - one that leaves me aching. Aching with sadness for happiness Sadness. The ultimate feeling I have upon leaving behind Ethan Frome is one of infinite sadness. Sadness for people stuck - stuck in poverty, stuck in relationships that lack even friendliness, let alone love, stuck in a life they can never leave behind. To watch the transformation of Ethan and Mattie from people filled with such passion to people so broken and alone filled me with such an ache. That's the kind of story Ethan Frome is - one that leaves me aching. Aching with sadness for happiness lost, aching with gratitude and love for my own life (and love), aching to grab those near to me and shower them with affection simply because we are all here together. It is a story full of starkness. Stark imagery of a stark landscape, stark people stuck in a place of dark and harrowing winter. But there's a sort of stark beauty, as well, in people that go on living.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kris

    Ethan Frome is probably the most depressing of her stories, although that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it. Sad but memorable. The short stories that accompany the Frome novella range from OK to hysterical (Xingu being the best - one of the best things I've ever read of Wharton's).

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andreea

    I liked Ethan Frome and Xingu.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Al

    Ethan Frome is a reread; still an amazing story, and so different from most of Ms. Wharton's other work. The other short stories included in this edition are drawn from the same New York society world as Ms. Wharton's better-known novels. They are good, but don't pack the power of The Age of Innocence. Her gimlet eye must have caused many New Yorkers to squirm when she published, and she still has a message for us today even if the privileged world she describes has morphed into something very Ethan Frome is a reread; still an amazing story, and so different from most of Ms. Wharton's other work. The other short stories included in this edition are drawn from the same New York society world as Ms. Wharton's better-known novels. They are good, but don't pack the power of The Age of Innocence. Her gimlet eye must have caused many New Yorkers to squirm when she published, and she still has a message for us today even if the privileged world she describes has morphed into something very different.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Ethan Frome was chosen by my book club as our classic for the year. I would not have chosen to read it otherwise. I had never heard of it and quite frankly I did not care for it. I understand that there is a lot to learn from it, but it just did not capture my interest and I would never have finished it if it were not for wanting to be prepared for book club discussion. It started out too slow and with so many books and so little time I would have gone on to another book. I did not attempt to rea Ethan Frome was chosen by my book club as our classic for the year. I would not have chosen to read it otherwise. I had never heard of it and quite frankly I did not care for it. I understand that there is a lot to learn from it, but it just did not capture my interest and I would never have finished it if it were not for wanting to be prepared for book club discussion. It started out too slow and with so many books and so little time I would have gone on to another book. I did not attempt to read any of the additional stories in the book.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    This was a decent storyline, and definitely a quick listen, but I did have a few issues. First, as an older book the language was a times difficult for me to understand. In addition, I'm not sure I liked how it included an introduction and a conclusion with an outside narrator. It gave me the ending before I knew the beginning, and I don't know that the story was any more effective by doing so. Still this is a classic, and I can understand why just from the subject matter, but I was left a bit d This was a decent storyline, and definitely a quick listen, but I did have a few issues. First, as an older book the language was a times difficult for me to understand. In addition, I'm not sure I liked how it included an introduction and a conclusion with an outside narrator. It gave me the ending before I knew the beginning, and I don't know that the story was any more effective by doing so. Still this is a classic, and I can understand why just from the subject matter, but I was left a bit disappointed.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kanmani

    On a bleak New England farm, a taciturn young man has resigned himself to a life of grim endurance. Bound by circumstance to a woman he cannot love, Ethan Frome is haunted by a past of lost possibilities until his wife's orphaned cousin, Mattie Silver, arrives and he is tempted to make one final, desperate effort to escape his fate. In language that is spare, passionate, a

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    Ethan Frome - five stars The Touchstone -- two stars The Last Asset -- three stars Xingu -- two stars The Other Two -- three stars

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brandon O'Neill

    Ethan Frome itself would get 5 stars from me. One of my favorite stories of all time. The other 4 stories here were OK - very different in tone and depth. Nothing great.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Zoë

    Ethan Frome: 3 stars The Touchstone: 5 stars The Last Asset: 3 stars Xingu: 5 stars The Other Two: 3.5 stars

  11. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    “Guess he’s been in Starkfield too many winters.” 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. When she spoke it was only to complain, and to complain of things not in his power to remedy; He knew that most young men made nothing at all of giving a pretty girl a kiss, Genius is of sm “Guess he’s been in Starkfield too many winters.” 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. When she spoke it was only to complain, and to complain of things not in his power to remedy; He knew that most young men made nothing at all of giving a pretty girl a kiss, Genius is of small use to a woman who does not know how to do her hair. in the curt tone of the collector who will not talk of his passion for fear of talking of nothing else; and she asked, in the incurious voice of the woman whose life is enclosed in a magic circle of prosperity—“ Any news?” A woman who gives reasons for getting out of social obligations is sure to make herself unpopular or ridiculous.” He had forgotten that the dead seldom plan their own houses, His wife’s indifference degraded him: it seemed to put him on a level with his dishonor. The one woman knew but did not understand; the other, it sometimes seemed, understood without knowing. Her mind was an hotel where facts came and went like transient lodgers, She was “as easy as an old shoe”—a shoe that too many feet had worn. Her elasticity was the result of tension in too many different directions.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    Time to re-read and re-assess

  13. 5 out of 5

    C.T.

    More entertaining to listen on Librivox this time than read it with these weary eyes.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    I found this book on my kindle when I was looking for something to read. I had heard of this novel, and read others by Edith Wharton, but had little idea about the length or plot. I enjoyed the surprise and if you are not familiar with the plot and intend to read this, I recommend you stop reading reviews and instead commence reading the actual story. My review continues below. *********** Ethan Frome is an approximately 100-page novella, and even while there was much foreshadowing and a certain p I found this book on my kindle when I was looking for something to read. I had heard of this novel, and read others by Edith Wharton, but had little idea about the length or plot. I enjoyed the surprise and if you are not familiar with the plot and intend to read this, I recommend you stop reading reviews and instead commence reading the actual story. My review continues below. *********** Ethan Frome is an approximately 100-page novella, and even while there was much foreshadowing and a certain predictability in Ethan's headlong rush into catastrophic consequences, the tale is beautifully and effectively written. Even while the reader is expecting a sad outcome, Wharton manages to be surprising; or at least I personally found the outcome of the love affair between Ethan and his wife's young cousin to be unexpected, but not straining credulity. What I found odd and inconsistent with Ethan's character is the idea that he would share his story with anyone, let alone the visitor to town who narrates the tale. Is the tale served by this frame? I think Wharton probably could have done without it, albeit she managed to engage my interest in the contemporary Ethan (a mysteriously broken man who attracts the interest of the visitor) and the contemporary view we get of the outcome of those sad and long-ago events accentuates the pathos. I suspect Wharton was enough of a writer she could have done without the visitor's perspective while still evoking emotion in the reader.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    "In its spare, chilling re-creation of rural isolation, hardscrabble poverty, and wintry landscape . . . Ethan Frome overwhelms the reader as a drama of irresistible necessity." —Alfred Kazin Of all the imaginative literature I've read, this story has always captivated me the most. I read this book twice every year with students, and it's always a pleasure. They never fail to grasp how much "bang for the buck" is in this novella: the rich symbols, the beauty of unity, the parallel passages, the r "In its spare, chilling re-creation of rural isolation, hardscrabble poverty, and wintry landscape . . . Ethan Frome overwhelms the reader as a drama of irresistible necessity." —Alfred Kazin Of all the imaginative literature I've read, this story has always captivated me the most. I read this book twice every year with students, and it's always a pleasure. They never fail to grasp how much "bang for the buck" is in this novella: the rich symbols, the beauty of unity, the parallel passages, the recurring images for which Edith Wharton is famous. If I could write a novel, this is the one I'd want to write--internal conflict, understated, nuanced, angsty, the story "in the gaps." Nothing happens and yet EVERYTHING happens. It's where life is lived--interiorly. Ethan is a man stuck in Starkfield and the vision of his duty-bound choices, his misery, and his suffering never fails to grip my soul. The essential question seems to be, "Is happiness the most important thing in life?" Reading Ethan Frome always reminds me of this eternal truth: Happiness isn't apart from our holiness; it's a part of it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Powell

    Content concerns an extramarital romance, good overall portrayal but potentially a bit sordid. Might read with Cather's "Oh! Pioneers" for a rounded view.

  17. 4 out of 5

    William Galaini

    Yeah ... I gave this one another go recently and I still hated it. Despite being fairly well-written with some pleasant narrative variety, I couldn't change my mind about the meager quality of the themes, story, and nihilistic approach to human misery. Here's why: Ethan Frome is a weak man with poor decision making tendencies. He has zero trust in his feelings, his personal worth, and absolutely no sense of agency over his life. He is the protagonist of our story, having married a horrid shrew of Yeah ... I gave this one another go recently and I still hated it. Despite being fairly well-written with some pleasant narrative variety, I couldn't change my mind about the meager quality of the themes, story, and nihilistic approach to human misery. Here's why: Ethan Frome is a weak man with poor decision making tendencies. He has zero trust in his feelings, his personal worth, and absolutely no sense of agency over his life. He is the protagonist of our story, having married a horrid shrew of a wife while secretly pining for a tender, young woman. I focus on this character because he is the novel's namesake, after all. When the novel encapsulates such a miserable human being, every page can become agony. Ethan does nothing to fix his miserable life. **SPOILER WARNING** Ethan and his love try to kill themselves sledding, but in even this Ethan has no determination and he and his love spend their days shriveled and bitter while being tended in their home by Ethan's miserable shrew of a wife. The End.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    My appreciation for the writing of Edith Wharton continues to grow. This book displays quite a range. While House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence both portray things from the uppercrust vantage point, she has no problem inhabiting the character of a poor New England farmer. She inhabits both male and female characters. She is the mistress of portraying subtle flashes of a character. Ethan Frome was heart-rending but still managed to contain a surprise I didn't expect...even if the surprise was My appreciation for the writing of Edith Wharton continues to grow. This book displays quite a range. While House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence both portray things from the uppercrust vantage point, she has no problem inhabiting the character of a poor New England farmer. She inhabits both male and female characters. She is the mistress of portraying subtle flashes of a character. Ethan Frome was heart-rending but still managed to contain a surprise I didn't expect...even if the surprise was a sad one. The Touchstone was also sad, but it contained a note of possible redemption. The Last Asset was an interesting character study. The Other Two and Xingu were funnier than the rest. All of these tales provided insight into human relationships. Except for Xingu they all concerned romantic relationships. Her language and description continue to enthrall me. I will be checking out more of her work.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    I'm on an Edith Wharton kick...well, I've always been on an Edith Wharton kick. Anyway, this is a small volume of her short fiction. Ethan Frome, her best known novelette, is the lead story. It is excellent as it evokes winter's isolation and the poverty of the Lenox area, where Edith built her famous house, The Mount. As an aside, we visited The Mount about seven or eight years ago and toured the exquisite gardens. (Edith was, among so many other things, a professional classic garden historian. I'm on an Edith Wharton kick...well, I've always been on an Edith Wharton kick. Anyway, this is a small volume of her short fiction. Ethan Frome, her best known novelette, is the lead story. It is excellent as it evokes winter's isolation and the poverty of the Lenox area, where Edith built her famous house, The Mount. As an aside, we visited The Mount about seven or eight years ago and toured the exquisite gardens. (Edith was, among so many other things, a professional classic garden historian.) While she lived at The Mount, she was well aware of the poverty of the farmers in the surrounding countryside. Thus, the setting of Ethan Frome, which, in addition to its portrayal of poverty, also portrays the hell of personal and social domination of two people by another through manipulation and coldness. Other stories in the book aren't all that compelling. I would, however, singly out "Xingu," which is quite amusing.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rut

    Ethan Frome left shocked. Just yesterday, I was marvelled with the enchantment of the lonely world Edith Wharton had driven me to and thought "what a beautiful way of telling this story!" As it is known, Ethan Frome is a tragic narration about two, or perhaps it should be said, three people. The descriptions of these characters, their adventures and misadventures, their feelings and strange relationships are so touching and yet realistic. First one is wondering at the tragic web of events surrou Ethan Frome left shocked. Just yesterday, I was marvelled with the enchantment of the lonely world Edith Wharton had driven me to and thought "what a beautiful way of telling this story!" As it is known, Ethan Frome is a tragic narration about two, or perhaps it should be said, three people. The descriptions of these characters, their adventures and misadventures, their feelings and strange relationships are so touching and yet realistic. First one is wondering at the tragic web of events surrounding these people, so tragic indeed, as to raise one's sympathy page after page until...Let's just say, Edith Wharton gifted us with a plot as interesting as the ending is surprising.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Another Edith Wharton novel, another entry in my "This made me want to shoot myself (in a good way)" diary! Honestly, Ethan Frome itself is my least favorite thing I've read by her, but the short stories "The Pretext" and "Xingu" are so fantastic, and in such different ways. I was devastated and heartbroken by "The Pretext"; I giggled all the way through "Xingu", and completely cracked up at one point. I liked the other stories in this edition also, and as for Ethan Frome itself: to say it's my Another Edith Wharton novel, another entry in my "This made me want to shoot myself (in a good way)" diary! Honestly, Ethan Frome itself is my least favorite thing I've read by her, but the short stories "The Pretext" and "Xingu" are so fantastic, and in such different ways. I was devastated and heartbroken by "The Pretext"; I giggled all the way through "Xingu", and completely cracked up at one point. I liked the other stories in this edition also, and as for Ethan Frome itself: to say it's my least favorite Edith Wharton is like saying it's my least favorite flavor of ice cream. It's still delicious.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Allison Berryhill

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I read this aloud to my boys while they were home on spring break. A thin 9 chapters, it was perfect for our time frame. They were aghast that the book ends with such despair! Such tragedy! Worst of all worlds for everyone (except maybe Zeena, who was headed for a life of misery no matter what). And the CAT! We loved hating the cat! Why won't Ethan use his words? Is that his tragic flaw? While poverty certainly casts its leaden shadow, would words and actions have offered an escape? Ethan is a p I read this aloud to my boys while they were home on spring break. A thin 9 chapters, it was perfect for our time frame. They were aghast that the book ends with such despair! Such tragedy! Worst of all worlds for everyone (except maybe Zeena, who was headed for a life of misery no matter what). And the CAT! We loved hating the cat! Why won't Ethan use his words? Is that his tragic flaw? While poverty certainly casts its leaden shadow, would words and actions have offered an escape? Ethan is a passive loser with no game! He can't even hit a tree head on! As mad as they were at the book, it offered some great fun in bashing all the characters (and Edith Wharton! WHY did she write the book!?)

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jeweleye

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Finished Ethan Frome and really enjoyed it. Quite a bit different than the movie I saw years ago with Liam Neeson, but that's Hollywood. The gist of the story was the same: a poor but hard-working man in New England is married to an unhappy, hypochondriachal woman. Her niece comes to stay with them and brings a breath of fresh air into Ethan's life. When the wife feels the spark between them, she arranges for the niece to go away, and the result is a desperate move by the wanna-be lovers that en Finished Ethan Frome and really enjoyed it. Quite a bit different than the movie I saw years ago with Liam Neeson, but that's Hollywood. The gist of the story was the same: a poor but hard-working man in New England is married to an unhappy, hypochondriachal woman. Her niece comes to stay with them and brings a breath of fresh air into Ethan's life. When the wife feels the spark between them, she arranges for the niece to go away, and the result is a desperate move by the wanna-be lovers that ends on a tragic note. Guess I better call this a spoiler, huh.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    This classic novella by Ethan Wharton is a beautifully written tale of one man's hopes for love in a world that offers him few choices in his life. One lesson that it teaches us is that we can never know another person's pain without knowing their history, which is clearly illustrated through Wharton's decision to use the point of view of a nameless narrator. But the main premise of Ethan Frome is that life is sometimes as harsh and long as a New England winter... Please note that I don't use the This classic novella by Ethan Wharton is a beautifully written tale of one man's hopes for love in a world that offers him few choices in his life. One lesson that it teaches us is that we can never know another person's pain without knowing their history, which is clearly illustrated through Wharton's decision to use the point of view of a nameless narrator. But the main premise of Ethan Frome is that life is sometimes as harsh and long as a New England winter... Please note that I don't use the star rating system, so this review should not be viewed as a zero.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Martin

    I'm probably being unfair in my rating of this book. Usually, I'm much more modest in devaluating the worth of what has been claimed as a classic. Who am I to swim against the current of expert opinion? But I read it years ago told that it was a modern tragedy. But tragedy, for me, has to prepare a protagonist to face an inevetible downfall. I just didn't believe in the inevetible in this story just like I didn't for the awful "Dead Poets Society" - I'm a poor rich kid who's daddy won't let me a I'm probably being unfair in my rating of this book. Usually, I'm much more modest in devaluating the worth of what has been claimed as a classic. Who am I to swim against the current of expert opinion? But I read it years ago told that it was a modern tragedy. But tragedy, for me, has to prepare a protagonist to face an inevetible downfall. I just didn't believe in the inevetible in this story just like I didn't for the awful "Dead Poets Society" - I'm a poor rich kid who's daddy won't let me act in a play, so I guess I have to commit suicide.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Maali

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Ethan Frome was rather disappointing considering Edith Wharton's earlier book, The Age of Innocence. Yet, the reader was still spellbound and captivated by the story. Both the ending and beginning were stunning and I never guessed that Mattie was still living with the Fromes. I was astounded by the way Wharton showed Mattie to be Ethan's lifeline, and simultaneously the thing preventing him from being contented- had Mattie died on that cold night and Ethan lived, he'd never have forgiven himself Ethan Frome was rather disappointing considering Edith Wharton's earlier book, The Age of Innocence. Yet, the reader was still spellbound and captivated by the story. Both the ending and beginning were stunning and I never guessed that Mattie was still living with the Fromes. I was astounded by the way Wharton showed Mattie to be Ethan's lifeline, and simultaneously the thing preventing him from being contented- had Mattie died on that cold night and Ethan lived, he'd never have forgiven himself, yet still when both of them survived he never forgave himself! In itself an amazing read...

  27. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    I actually have a Kindle Edition of "The Complete Works of Edith Wharton" So I am immersed. And impressed. And confused, since I now have read so many stories about repressed and beautiful and wealthy and frustrated and....Well it is interesting that both Ethan Frome and Summer break that mold, showing poverty and 'low' society, but still give such insight into the mores of that era. So different from ours, and yet the desires, fears, losses are all the same. Human nature. I can see why they ass I actually have a Kindle Edition of "The Complete Works of Edith Wharton" So I am immersed. And impressed. And confused, since I now have read so many stories about repressed and beautiful and wealthy and frustrated and....Well it is interesting that both Ethan Frome and Summer break that mold, showing poverty and 'low' society, but still give such insight into the mores of that era. So different from ours, and yet the desires, fears, losses are all the same. Human nature. I can see why they assign Ethan Frome in high school and yet I can also see why it is almost universally hated in HS.

  28. 4 out of 5

    doug bowman

    I was really into the first part of the book. There was one brilliantly written package where Wharton describes the main character's utter awareness of how his hand is maneuvering to just engage in the slightest touch of the hand of the young girl he is fixated on. Then the book gets incredibly clumsy, like some bad Flintstones episode Re-read it in preparation for teaching it and liked it a lot better the second time

  29. 4 out of 5

    JL Smither

    I hated this book in high school when I read it, but rereading as an "adult" really made a huge difference. Maybe it's that I've experienced a few snowy winters now and know how crazy and depressed they can make people. Maybe it's because I know a little more about life and relationships now or because I don't read books to merely entertain me anymore. I don't know, but I have to recommend everyone who hated this in high school try re-reading it. Maybe you'll be surprised!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Calvin

    I get why some people might enjoy it as much but from my ninth grade perspective, all I could vaguely remember having finished this book was the complete and utter keenness the author had in describing the most minute details humanely possible. I did enjoy the ending but the work I had gotten to get there was ridiculous. I felt no sympathy for any of the characters but hey, to each their own. 1.25/5 stars

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