The Readers Review: Literature from 1714 to 1910 discussion

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2010/11 Group Reads - Archives > Ethan Frome - Background information and Resources

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message 1: by MadgeUK (last edited Feb 23, 2011 01:59AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments This is the folder for background information about the novel itself, the countryside it is set in and any other useful resources.

http://images.fanpop.com/images/image...

The novel mentions the harsh winters of New England and that Starkfield lay 'under a sheet of snow' all winter:-

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_CvDCiEFbNy8...

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia...

http://dennisboneart.com/new%20englan...

Lenox (where Edith Wharton's The Mount is) is also mentioned at the beginning of chapter 1 - here is a church there:-

http://www.world-ski.info/blog/images...

'Pre-trolley days' are mentioned in the Introduction. Here is an old trolley bus in Boston Mass:-

http://cache1.asset-cache.net/xc/9001...

Perhaps Ethan Frome was driving a horse-drawn buggy like this one:-

http://goldenstate.files.wordpress.co...


Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) | 1483 comments Mod
MadgeUK wrote: "This is the folder for background information about the novel itself, the countryside it is set in and any other useful resources."

Wonderful! Thank you, Madge! Somehow, I just have a feeling that this is going to be a spirited little discussion associated with this novella.


message 3: by Loretta (new)

Loretta (lorettalucia) I'll admit I'm actually getting tempted to read it (despite my promise to myself not to read another RR group read until I finish TCOMC, which I'm working on diligently).


Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) | 1483 comments Mod
Loretta wrote: "I'll admit I'm actually getting tempted to read it (despite my promise to myself not to read another RR group read until I finish TCOMC, which I'm working on diligently)."

Loretta, I think you'll find that you can actually manage both. Keep working on TCoMC and just set aside a little time to read EF. EF is really a relatively quick read, more a novella than book. You'll enjoy it!


message 5: by Loretta (last edited Feb 21, 2011 07:38AM) (new)

Loretta (lorettalucia) Yes, I've just become one of those people who has 6 books already in rotation...

But being in the midst of a New England winter myself, I think that's what is finally swaying me! While I was reading the earlier post, my cat was trying to pounce on the snowflakes through the window.


message 6: by Susan (new)

Susan I downloaded an inexpensive copy of Ethan Frome to my Kindle and started reading it on a whim this weekend while traveling...so I'm game for any discussion. I haven't read this book in 20 years and remember very little about it. Unfortunately, my version doesn't have an introduction or any other additions, just the story itself.


message 7: by Lily (last edited Feb 21, 2011 05:04PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Susan wrote: "...Unfortunately, my version doesn't have an introduction or any other additions, just the story itself. "

Susan --This review from the University of Virginia might serve as one addition for you and a resource for all of us?

http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/...

Do know that there are on-line Cliff Notes available for Ethan Frome, which are another potential source of outside analysis.

http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/L...

I ordered my copy last night. It is to be here by the end of the month. I may see if a library copy is available in the meantime.

This article by Henry Dwight Sedgwick, with its multiple sections on Wharton's novels, is also likely to be of interest.

http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/mod...


message 8: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Thanks for those resources Lily! Good to have you and Susan on board!


message 9: by Susan (new)

Susan Lily wrote: "Susan wrote: "...Unfortunately, my version doesn't have an introduction or any other additions, just the story itself. "

Susan --This review from the University of Virginia might serve as one addi..."


Thank you!


Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) | 1483 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "I downloaded an inexpensive copy of Ethan Frome to my Kindle and started reading it on a whim this weekend while traveling...so I'm game for any discussion. I haven't read this book in 20 years an..."

Susan, I am glad that you are joining in the reading and discussion of "Ethan Frome", and hope that you'll join us in our next read. I see that we both share a great love for the works of Thomas Hardy. Cheers! Chris


message 11: by Sasha (new)

Sasha MadgeUK wrote: "This is the folder for background information about the novel itself, the countryside it is set in and any other useful resources.

http://images.fanpop.com/images/image......"


Thanks for the links, Madge, I can picture the landscape perfectly now. :)


message 12: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Regarding Bill's comment, I think any decent person, even if they are no longer attracted to their wife, will care how she's feeling while he is panting after the maid

From the book Ethan Frome: A Nightmare of Need:

“Unlike Edith Wharton’s other major novels, the historical context of Ethan Frome is more deeply personal than decidedly public” (3).

“Ethan Frome was written in 1910, the year she permanently settled in Paris and in many ways cut her ties with Americans forever. Personally, her life was in chaos....

Teddy Wharton [her husband], increasingly subject to mental illness that made his behavior toward her both dramatic and demeaning, was a source of constant concern and frustration” (5).

Her three-year affair with Fullerton ended in 1910.

She had written "To live a life without a place for the heart, to live a life without beauty, without intellectual stimulation, is no life at all."

There's a case to be made that Ethan in some ways in represents Edith; Zenobia represents Teddy, her querulous, sick husband; and Mattie stands in for Morton Fullerton, the man with whom Edith Wharton had been having an affair.

Looked at from that perspective [if it's a legitimate perspective], it would be in Wharton's personal interest to portray Ethan more positively than not. She would be more sympathetic/or at least more understanding of someone who leaves their sick, disagreeable mate for the charms of another, for leaving the life one can't stand for the life of interest in the outside world.


message 13: by MadgeUK (last edited Mar 01, 2011 01:49AM) (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Another interesting p.o.v. about Zenobia Pierce is detailed here where a connection is made to both The Bostonians and The Scarlet Letter, and the US President Franklin Pierce:-

http://zhiv.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/...


message 14: by Adelle (new)

Adelle You are so adept at finding all these related links.

I liked, in particular, the linkage to Barbara Bush.
If Zenobia was 35 at the time of the ... event, add the 24 years, equals 59 years old. So recalling Barbara Bush at about age 60, I can picture Zenobia at the time that the narrator was in Starkfield.

Thanks, Madge.


message 15: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Thanks - it just shows that I have too much time on my hands:).


message 16: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Well, I thanks you for the time and effort. Saves me the time and effort, learns me something new.


message 17: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Perhaps Wharton had given thought to what isolation feels like.


Edith Wharton, following her 1st nervous breakdown (I think 1894), was prescribed the “rest cure”. Total bed rest. Not even any reading. Perhaps gave her a sense of what isolation might feel like.


Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) (captain_sir_roddy) | 1483 comments Mod
Adelle wrote: "Perhaps Wharton had given thought to what isolation feels like.


Edith Wharton, following her 1st nervous breakdown (I think 1894), was prescribed the “rest cure”. Total bed rest. Not..."


This has been some really great background information that you and Madge have put up here, Adelle. I t really provides a lot of insight into my reading of "Ethan Frome"! It really is much, much more than simply a short work of fiction. Well done!


message 19: by Adelle (new)

Adelle I've had just time to follow the WONDERFUL, flowing commentary on EF, Chapters 1-4.

Someback ground info regarding employment prospects for young women such as Mattie. (From my background notes I typed up a couple years back.)

from Ethan Frome: A Nightmare of Need
[Twaine’s Masterworks Studies] Marlene Springer

I'm think I've managed to delete anything that was referenced for chapters 5 forward.

A contemporary of Wharton, Anna Garland demonstrated than many young women who worked during the unmarried years between 14 and 20 did lose their health:


…in the canning factories 2,400 rapid and regular motions a day in the tin-cutting for the girls employed….In the confectionery business, 3,000 chocolates ‘dipped in every day at a fever heat of energy. In the cracker-making trade, the girls standing or walking [all day] not six feet from the ovens….In the garment trades the sewing machines speeded to almost incredible limits, the unshaded electric bulbs and the swift motion of the needle giving early ‘eye-blur’ and nerve strain….In department stores…where five or six hundred girls are employed nineteen to thirty seats may be provided; but to use even these may cost the girl her position (Ammons, 71, 70, 71).


“The Summary Report on the Condition of Women and Child Wage Earners in the United States…which deals with the period contemporary with Mattie, found that prostitution provided economic survival and sometimes even upward mobility. The report records that the average weekly wage for 1600 department store employees and factory women was $6.67. Moreover, the same study…. ‘from two-fifths to two-thirds of those women 16 years and over earned less than six dollars in a representative week.’ Since most authorities agreed that a working woman who lived alone needed a minimum weekly wage of nine dollars, such jobs clearly offered only a subsistence income. By contrast, a prostitute could earn in one night what a working woman earned in a week. The hours were shorter. If the woman lived in even an average brothel, the meals were guaranteed, and she was allowed to sleep in the morning and have her afternoons free….Given the alternative working conditions, including the common sexual harassment for employees in the ‘respectable trades,’ …..


message 20: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Thanks a lot Adelle. It would seem that going to work at the Frome's house might have been the better thing for Mattie to do, just as going into service at a 'big house' was seen as better than going into a factory at this time (shades of Downtown Abbey). And of course getting married to a man with a decent job seemed an even better prospect.


message 21: by Adelle (new)

Adelle OK, I wanted to hold off posting until the group had finished reading the book.

First, a bit of background information. Actually, I think that someone posted along these lines already. (I'm thinking Madge. Thanks, Madge...or whoever...I did enjoy reading the info on the names. I found a bit more. Or, perhaps, just differently worded)

from Marlene Springer's

Ethan Frome: A Nightmare of Need
[Twaine’s Masterworks Studies]

2 --- Importance of the Work
“Ethan has limped through his life; Mattie cannot move; and Zeena is chained to both. [Adelle: I loved how that was written.] By drawing such people in such an existence, Wharton would write out her own fears of what her own emotional life, even if protected physically by money, could become if she did not risk change. The novel thus serves as a catharsis for her own anguish, as well as a test for her own skills as a stylist” (10).


Someone HAD asked about critical reception...
3 --- Critical Reception
“When Henry James read EF, he assured Edith ‘it is going to be a triumph’” (13). [But he had criticisms.] Lionel Trilling, “however, fired one of the most influential negative salvos and started a major critical debate when he declared in his excellent essay “The Morality of Inertia” that EF ‘was a dead book…it presents no moral issue at all’” (17).

“Trilling does argue, however, that the story contains an important idea: ‘That moral inertia, the NOT making of moral decisions, constitutes a very large part of the moral life of humanity’. Ethan, thus, does not make choices; he merely responds to the dull unthinking round of daily duties” (17).



Adelle: Letters. Burn, baby, burn. Remember how Henry James burned all those letters? Wharton, too. Burned those she had. Also went to lifelong friend Walter Berry’s apt after his death and burned her letters there.


Wharton’s 1st nervous breakdown in 1894 at age 32. Wrote no letters for 16 months.



4 --- Style
James not pleased with the anonymous narrator. Chided Wharton.
“If one reads Wharton’s story in two parts, first reading the two frame chapters, the first and last, one realizes how little is actually known about Ethan. The narrator tells us the story several years after he has learned it, and he hears of it 24 years after if has happened” (27). “In trying to fill the gaps, the narrator next queries his landlady, Mrs. Hale, the former Ruth Varnum. Usually a gregarious woman with a wealth of local lore, Mrs. Hale is ‘unexpectedly reticent’ (EF 8) on this topic, implying that the subject is too painful to discuss” (28).



Edith Wharton, following her 1st nervous breakdown, was prescribed the “rest cure”. Total bed rest. Not even any reading. Perhaps gave her a sense of what isolation might feel like.



Adelle: Here’s where I thought of someone's comment.... enduring, overcoming, and that Ethan endured, but he didn’t overcome…

“Were the story to end with Ethan’s decision to stay, his choice could be deemed a noble one. Unable to desert his wife, he relinquishes happiness in favor of a higher ethic of devotion. However, Ethan does not choose to stay. He chooses to escape through death and fails in his attempt” (46).





The scene on the sled. Ethan wants to be in front. To protect Mattie? Mattie says “you can’t steer from there.” “Ethan, subconsciously or deliberately leaves his fate to fate” “We’ll follow the track” … even though the track has been worn to AVOID the tree (55).



ZEENA: ILLNESS MADE POWERFUL
“Zeena takes on illness as an identity and uses it as a weapon” (59).





6 --- Setting and Symbolism---I think several poster touched on this aspect...


“Harmon say does not say that Ethan has been in Starkfield too long, but that he has been there ‘too many winters’ (77).
“The setting becomes a metaphor for the limited possibilities of Ethan’s physical and emotional life” (80).




Orion. “Watching over all of Ethan’s world is another recurring symbol that Wharton uses to comment on Ethan: Orion. Already noted is the reference to Orion’s cold fires, and it is Orion that Ethan explains to Mattie as he subconsciously courts her on their walks together: ‘That’s Orion down yonder; the big fellow to the right is Aldebaran, and the bunch of little ones—like bees swarming—they’re the Pleiades’ (EF 26). Orion is an apt symbol for Ethan, with its connotations of failure and lost dreams. Ethan’s guardian star, according to mythology, was originally a great hunter, a young man of huge stature and impressive beauty. In fell in love with the daughter of the king of Chios. The king promised him his daughter but kept delaying the match…..Another element of the myth has Orion pursuing the Pleiades, the daughters of Atlas, but always being thwarted. Zeus took pity on the women and made them stars. Orion, as a constellation, has persistently continued his unsuccessful chase.


Aldebaran, the second star Ethan mentions, is equally foreboding. While it is the brightest start in the constellation Taurus, is also follows the Pleiades in useless pursuit. To complete the ominous star pattern, Wharton also has Ethan look straight into the heavens immediately after the crash and vaguely try ‘to reckon whether it was Sirius,’ the brightest star in the sky and the dog who celestially follows the ill-fated Orion.


Orion and his followers, then, form a symbolic cluster that overshadows Ethan’s life….In a deft touch Wharton ties the fate of the constellation to the fate of the lovers by naming Mattie’s father Orion, whose failure and death bring Mattie to the Frome farm in the first place. Mattie and Ethan are indeed star crossed.


Mattie, Ethan, and Zenobie also have significant names. Mattie’s name is the feminine of the Hebrew name Matthew, literally “gift of Jehovah” – exactly what Ethan sees her presence in his life to be. Zenobia, by contrast, derives from the Latin meaning, “pertaining to Jupiter” or Zeus. According to legend, she was the daughter of Zeus. She was also a third-century queen of Palmyra who conquered Egypt. Her ambition outran her prudence, and she was defeated and brought as a prisoner to Rome. Her name has now become a symbol of ruthless arrogance. Ethan’s own name is bitingly ironic. Like Mattie’s, it comes from the Hebrew and means “firmness and strength”…..

Last names, too, are emblematic: Ethan’s ‘Frome’ reminds us of Ethan’s need to escape, to be ‘from’ Starkville but not ‘in’ the bleak town. Zeena is aptly from the Pierce family, a name connoting sharpness and wounding. Mattie, of course, is Silver—twinkling, promising, sparkling. Again, the underlying irony enhances the tragedy….Mattie offers him a glimpse of what could be, only to become what might have been “ (92, 93, 94).


message 22: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Just because they are intriging alternative visions:

(1) I did a quick browse of the first half of Zeena, by Elizabeth Cooke. I did not care for it, ‘though the concept itself was intriguing. Ethan Frome from Zeena’s point of view. Blah, blah, blah, Zeena, a healer with some health problems, blah, blah, blah, not originally a bitter woman, ALMOST able to pull Ethan’s mother thru, BUT Zeena’s heart was broken when early in their marriage Ethan has an affair with Ruth’s sister. And this gave me pause, because otherwise, I have nothing to account for Mrs. Hale being ‘unexpectedly reticent.’ It seems to imply there’s a story we’re not being told.

(2) One of the students of one of my face-to-face book readers had offered this alternative:

Zeena SAYS she's going to these other towns to see doctors for her health. But in this alternative version, what she is REALLY doing is caring on an affair.

---Because so little so known for certain in Ethan Frome, therefore, so much is left up to the reader to determine for him or herself.




Zeena: A Novel


message 23: by Lily (last edited Mar 07, 2011 05:46PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 2632 comments Adelle wrote: "...a bit of background information.... "

Good stuff! Thx, Adelle. This story has an incredible number of layers of allusions.

Not so certain about the Zeena novel, however.


message 24: by Adelle (last edited Mar 07, 2011 05:45PM) (new)

Adelle Doesn't it though?

And I was impressed with Edith Wharton's writing.


message 25: by Bill (new)

Bill (BIll_B) | 605 comments Adelle wrote: "OK, I wanted to hold off posting until the group had finished reading the book.

First, a bit of background information. Actually, I think that someone posted along these lines already. (..."


Interesting Adelle..thnx. I agree with Trillings moral inertia argument.


message 26: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Bill wrote:I agree with Trillings moral inertia argument.
"


I remembered that when I was in high school psychology class there was a poster that said something along the lines, "Not making a decision is making a decision."

I wasn't positive that I had the wording correct so I googled. I found this site with a good number of VERY good quotes on decisions and choices...and sometimes, not making them.

http://www.quotegarden.com/decisions....


message 27: by Adelle (new)

Adelle I suppose this is as good a place as any:

Christopher, thanks for sheparding us so well.

Madge, thanks as ever for engaging.

Bill, delightful you were.

I had such a great time reading everyone's posts.


Rosemary and Rochelle and Silver and Lily and just everyone....You people really dug into this book!!!


message 28: by MadgeUK (new)

MadgeUK | 5214 comments Great stuff Rochelle! Thanks a lot for your hard work.


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