Reference > The Library > Helen Rex Keller > Reader’s Digest of Books

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
H. R. Keller.  The Reader’s Digest of Books.
Ethan Frome
Edith Wharton (1862–1937)
Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton (1911). This tale of a New England village tragedy is told by a stranger, who wonders at Ethan Frome, the limping “ruin of a man,” and gradually pieces together the story of his life. Zenia, Ethan’s wife, is an invalid, whose imaginary ailments thrive on patent medicines. He makes a bare living from the stony soil of the little farm. His wife refuses to be transplanted to the town where there are “lectures and big libraries and ‘fellows doing things’” and a chance for congenial work for Ethan. A girl cousin of his wife’s, left destitute, comes to live with them, bringing brightness and cheer and inevitably, love of youth for youth. Zenia goes away on one of her “therapeutic excursions” and Ethan and Mattie have a happy time keeping house together. When Zenia returns she announces that the doctor had advised her to save her health by getting a strong hired girl to do the work and there is no room for Mattie any longer. Ethan is helpless. “There were no means by which he could compel her to keep the girl under her roof.” The friendship of Mattie and Ethan has apparently aroused her jealousy, and from a “state of sullen self-absorption she is transformed into an active mysterious alien presence” holding him in her power through his honesty and sense of duty. Ethan and Mattie speak their love for each other in the despair of parting. Driving to the station they yield to the impulse to coast once more down the long hill to the village, a steep breathless rush with a great elm at the foot, to be avoided by quick steering at the last minute. The temptation comes to Ethan to run into the elm and end it all, rather than to live apart. The girl agrees, but the fates are against them. They live on, she helpless with a broken back, and he crippled, both tied beyond escape to Zenia and the slow starvation of the barren farm.  1

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