Excerpt from Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
This is an excerpt from the book Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.
All the dwellers in Starkfield, as in more notable communities, had had troubles enough of their own to make them comparatively indifferent to those of their neighbours; and though all conceded that Ethan Frome’s had been beyond the common measure, no one gave me an explanation of the look in his face which, as I persisted in thinking, neither poverty nor physical suffering could have put there. Nevertheless, I might have contented myself with the story pieced together from these hints had it not been for the provocation of Mrs. Hale’s silence, and—a little later—for the accident of personal contact with the man.
On my arrival at Starkfield, Denis Eady, the rich Irish grocer, who was the proprietor of Starkfield’s nearest approach to a livery stable, had entered into an agreement to send me over daily to Corbury Flats, where I had to pick up my train for the Junction. But about the middle of the winter Eady’s horses fell ill of a local epidemic. The illness spread to the other Starkfield stables and for a day or two I was put to it to find a means of transport. Then harmon Gow suggested that Ethan Frome’s bay was still on his legs and that his owner might be glad to drive me over.
I stared at the suggestion. “Ethan Frome? But I’ve never even spoken to him. Why on earth should he put himself out for me?”
Harmon’s answer surprised me still more. “I don’t know as he would; but I know he wouldn’t be sorry to earn a dollar.”
I had been told that Frome was poor, and that the saw-mill and the arid acres of his farm yielded scarcely enough to keep his household through the winter; but I had not supposed him to be in such want as Harmon’s words implied, and I expressed my wonder.
“Well, matters ain’t gone too well with him,” Harmon said. “When a man’s been setting round like a hulk for twenty years or more, seeing things that want doing, it eats inter him, and he loses his grit. That Frome farm was always ‘bout as bare’s a milkpan when the cat’s been round; and you know what one of them old water-mills is wuth nowadays. When Ethan could sweat over ‘em both from sun-up to dark he kinder choked a living out of ‘em, but his folks ate up most everything, even then, and I don’t see how he makes out now. Fust his father got a kick, out haying, and went soft in the brain, and gave away money like Bible texts afore he died. Then his mother got queer and dragged along for years as weak as a baby, and his wife Zeena, she’s always been the greatest hand at doctoring in the county. Sickness and trouble, that’s what Ethan’s had his plate full up with, ever since the very first helping.”
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Ethan Frome – Summary
Here is the book summary from Goodreads:
A marked departure from Edith Wharton’s usual ironic contemplation of the fashionable New York society to which she herself belonged, Ethan From is is a sharply-etched portrait of the simple inhabitants of a nineteenth-century New England village. The protagonist, Ethan Frome, is a man tormented by a passionate love for his ailing wife’s young cousin. Trapped by the bonds of marriage and the fear of public condemnation, he is ultimately destroyed by that which offers him the greatest chance of happiness. Like The House Of Mirth, and many of Edith Wharton’s other novels, Ethan Frome centers on the power of the local convention to smother the growth of the individual. Written with stark simplicity, this powerful and tragic novel has long been considered one of her greatest works.
Copyright © 1911 by Edith Wharton.