Study Guide

Ethan Frome

By Edith Wharton

Ethan Frome Introduction

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Want more deets? We've also got a complete Online Course about Ethan Frome, with three weeks worth of readings and activities to make sure you know your stuff.

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What's that you say? You're in the mood to be totally and utterly depressed? Great! You've come to the right place.

Ethan Frome, first published in 1911, shows off Edith Wharton's down in the dumps chops. This lady was as prolific as they come, and most of her stuff wasn't in the super uplifting category of literature. In addition to the zillions of other things she penned, you may have heard of her Pulitzer Prize-winning society novel The Age of Innocence. Kind of a big deal, since she was the first woman ever awarded the Pulitzer. And in case that wasn't baller enough, she was also the first woman to be given an honorary doctorate by Yale University.

Not too shabby.

But back to Ethan Frome. This novella is one of Wharton's most famous stories, in part because of its extremely raw portrait of the poverty-stricken residents of the fictional town of Starkfield, Massachusetts. And by extremely raw, we mean extremely raw. These folks are not happy. Throw in a creepy and kind of incestuous love triangle, and you've got yourself a treasure chest of broken dreams.

Wharton probably didn't pull this love triangle business out of her hat, either. Before her divorce from the physically and mentally ailing Teddy Wharton, and before the publication of Ethan Frome, she had an affair with Morton Fullerton, a journalist for The London Times (source). Write what you know, we guess?

Bottom line: if you want to feel better about your life, Ethan Frome is the place to start.

What is Ethan Frome About and Why Should I Care?

You might never read another book quite like this one. Edith Wharton performed a boldly original literary experiment when she wrote Ethan Frome. This novella is unusual, from voice to punctuation to structure to the story itself. But once you get into it you will find yourself captured – like the characters – between Starkfield's natural beauty and its serious creepiness.

Love triangles are nothing new, but Wharton presents this timeless topic with an eerie twist in Ethan Frome. Think Steven King's Pet Sematary (where things come back from the dead altered, yet gruesomely recognizable) meets Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (where characters are marked physically by their infidelities).

So we challenge you: give Ethan Frome a chance and then tell us if you've ever read a love story like this before.

Ethan Frome Resources

Movie or TV Productions

Ethan Frome, 1993
A film adaptation starring Liam Neeson as Ethan, Joan Allen as Zeena, and Patricia Arquette as Mattie.

1993 Film Review
From The New York Times.

Another Film Review
This one from The New Yorker.

Videos

2008 News Clip about The Mount
Money problems for the Wharton estate.

Wharton's Women
Check out the fashions during Wharton's time.

Audios

Singing about Wharton…
Susan Vega's "Edith Wharton's Figurines," from her album Beauty and Crime.

The Starkfield Blues
Listen to a YouTuber's original song inspired by Ethan Frome.

Images

The Author
Edith Wharton at age 18.

Wharton in 1905
Check out her amazing outfit.

Young Wharton
She looks to be wearing a corset under that fine frock.

Sultry in Red Velvet
A painting of Edith Wharton.

Movie Cover
The cover of the 1993 movie starring Liam Neeson.

Documents

A New York Times Book Review
Review of Hermione Lee's 2007 biography of Wharton.

Time Magazine Book Review
A review of The Letters of Edith Wharton, a published collection of Wharton's letters, including those to her lover, Morton Fullerton.

Other

A Backward Glance
All about Edith, from her own pen…

Edith Wharton's World
An exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery

EdithWharton.org
A site dedicated to the author and her estate, The Mount.

Edith Wharton, "American Master"
The entry on Wharton in PBS's The American Novel timeline.

Books

A Backward Glance
All about Edith, from her own pen…

Edith Wharton
A highly regarded Wharton biography by Hermione Lee.