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According to literary critic Harold Bloom, Ethan Frome is “Wharton’s only fiction to have become part of American mythology”. He praised her ability to “render such pain with purity and economy” and declared “Truly it is a northern romance, akin even to Wuthering Heights”. I can see the influence of Emily Brontë’s novel on this American classic – the framed narrative, silent and isolated characters, the starkly beautiful landscape and weather which are all so intimately connected with the human drama being described, and the feelings of remoteness and entrapment which both novels share.
This is not a happy book. Poor Ethan’s chances of happiness are thwarted by circumstance and character. The ending of the novella is one of the grimmest I’ve ever encountered. But it is a memorable book, and the fate of the characters and the decisions they make are things you ponder long after turning the last page. It’s probably not a book you can ‘enjoy’, but it is powerful.
Let’s explore this fascinating novella, find out about its origins, themes, characters and film adaptations.
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