This ebook includes a biographical introduction, a short, critical analysis of Wharton's career and a brief introduction to this work.
Originally published by Scribners in 1911, Ethan Frome is a novella that frames the eponymous character's story, told as an extended flashback, with a prologue and final segment presented by an unnamed narrator. Frome is presented as simple enough man trying to run a farm that is essentially unproductive. He lives with his wife Zeena who is demanding. Into this scenario comes Zeena's young and attractive cousin Mattie with whom Frome forges a reciprocal romantic relationship that is never stated between the two in plain language and is never consummated.
When Zeena's impositions become too much, Frome and Mattie consider running away together, but without sufficient funds Frome feels he cannot commit. In a final, frantic alternative, the two resolve to embark on a suicide pact, but it doesn't end as it was intended. The closing segment, once the flashback has concluded, reveals, through the eyes of the unnamed narrator, exactly what resulted, an outcome unforeseen and unwanted.
Ethan Frome is unusual in the Wharton oeuvre by having a set of characters who aren't members of a wealthy society. It is also unusual in providing a focus of landscape, perhaps a necessary result of a change of setting from the usual bustling cityscapes of the typical social drama. Yet what marks it out for most are the intense passions simmering between the principal characters.