Genre: American, twentieth century, classic
Topics: Early American farming, relationships, family, love/hate
Review by : Liz Inskip-Paulk who writes the book blog Just One More Page.
“Oh, as to that, I guess it’s always Ethan done the caring.”
This re-read of Ethan Frome was, to be honest, a perfect read – one of those titles that you pick up and everything about the story blows you away. As mentioned, this was a re-read, and this was a completely different experience than before. I even immediately started to read it again after I had finished the first time as I wanted to see all the foreshadowing that I’d missed the first time around. (I would compare it to the re-read experience of The Great Gatsby in terms of how different this time around was.)
Checking on-line, it seems that Ethan Fromecan be rather polarizing for reviews, the majority of whom (depending on the site you visit) tending to be pretty negative about it which is a big shame. I do think that age (and life experience) can play a determining role in how you perceive this story, and I would argue that this book is one to read when you’re slightly older (as opposed to high school or junior high school).
I happen to love the writing of Wharton as she is an expert at describing people and locations and at how she pulls phrases together. As I think a lot of people have already read Ethan Frome, I’m going to jump straight into some thoughts that I put together during my own read.
Quite early in the story, Wharton describes the farm house where Ethan has spent his life and she mentions that the “L” part of the house (joining the stable etc. with the main house) had been demolished earlier. The “L” part is called the “center of New England farm life”, “itself the chief sources the sources of warmth and nourishment” and the “actual hearth-stone of the New England farm”, and yet in recent years, Ethan had knocked this integral piece of farming life down. Why, if it was so important to people in that region? Wharton doesn’t actually specify why (or at least I didn’t spot it), which led me to speculating why it was mentioned.
The “L” part of the house is linked with warmth and safety. Perhaps after his mother died, the demolishing reflects how his feeling of safety was eroded once he was alone in his family. The missing “L” not only represented a missing link between his house and his stables (protection for the inhabitants during the harsh winters as they went from hearth to work), but also is an image of the hole in his life (perhaps his heart?) after his mother dies. His old comfortable way of life has ended, and this space represents the gap he feels between his old life and his new, his home and the outside, which suddenly seems unstable and fraught with difficulty now that his mother (his anchor) has gone. (I don’t know – just making this bit up but seems to fit.)
Another reason why it’s referred to as an “L” (aside from its architectural significance) could be that the “L” also refers to “Love” – a comfortable and safe feeling that is forever gone now his parent has died.
There are numerous references and imagery associated with the dichotomy of interior/exterior, inside/outside, insider/outsider relationship. Ethan’s sticky relationship with Zeena: he spends time working (and feeling most comfortable) outside the house in the fields, whilst she (Zeena) spends her time indoors being “sick” and waiting for him to return to pounce on him with demands and questions.
The threshold (i.e. the crossover point between inside/outside) plays a large role as several sentinel events occur over it: the time that Zeena locks Ethan and Maddie outside when they return late from the church dance, for example, and how both Ethan and Maddie can only be authentic with each other when they are outside the confines of the home, out in the fields or walking along lanes. (There’s also this idea of domesticity vs. agriculture/nature and the natural order of things.) This imagery continues when Zeena leaves to visit the out-of-town doctor (so she leaves interior to exterior) which allows Ethan and Maddie to enter the formally hostile interior of the house as it’s now safe.
The threshold (interior/exterior) also plays a role when Ethan and Maddie return from a snowy walk, and enter the house where Zeena is (as always) grumpy. It’s a drafty old house, with the cold continually coming in through the ill-fitting windows and doors (sneaking inside, in a way) and when the couple cross the threshold (to interior) after their walk (exterior), Ethan accidentally brings in some snow that rapidly melts in the dining room and gets scolded by Zeena for making a mess. It could be argued that nature/exterior (the snow) is overcome by domesticity/interior (heat in the house) in this situation. (Another case of the interplay between interior and exterior, and the reversal of what is usually a haven (inside the house) vs. outside.)
And this balance continues when you consider that most of Ethan’s thoughts are reported (his interior mind) as he keeps the harsh exterior of Zeena in the dark about his real attitude to her and to the marriage.
Another clever image using this dual imagery, this relationship of freedom vs. confinement (interior/exterior) is when Wharton describes the evening when Ethan turns up to escort Maddie home after a church dance. Again, it’s outside (Ethan watching through the windows) whilst Maddie is inside in the warm, and even the church window shadows are described as “bars” on the snow (referring to prison bars) that provide a barrier between Ethan and happiness, between him being included vs him excluded, as an insider vs. outsider…
So, lots to think about here, and I’m so glad that I reread this gem of a novel (or novella). Highly recommended that you undertake another read if you were forced to study this in school.
Download Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|
Check it out on Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books
Check it out on Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books
Check it out on Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books
Original Publication Date: 1774
Genre: epistolary novel, loose autobiography
Topics: unrequired love, commitment, social acceptance and the lack of it, suicide, nature, nurture, sense of existence
Review by : Bridget/Anachronist@portable pieces of thoughts
The Sorrows of Young Werther (German, Die Leiden des jungen Werther, originally published as Die Leiden des jungen Werthers) is comprised, for the most part, of letters written by a hopelessly romantic young man named Werther to a friend named Wilhelm with the addition of editorial notes (those notes try to balance the inveitable drawbacks of first-person narrative).
Werther, a sensitive young man of some means, flees the complexities of life by taking refuge in the countryside. There he indulges his imagination by immersing himself in the idyllic delights of untained nature. His happiness reaches new heights when he meets Lotte, a charming sweet-natured young girl, a daughter of a local town dignitary . Soon he finds out that Lotte is engaged to a likable but unimaginative local official, Albert, currently absent. Werther’s ecstatic love soon tortures both himself and Lotte as it begins to conflict with the norms of polite society. Is Lotte too naive to understand that in Werther she has acquired an ardent admirer, not a friend? Is she aware of his easily-inflamed fascination, or the violent depths of his stifled emotions? Is she oblivious or heartless to his passionate despair once her fiance has returned? Just how long can she juggle two lovers, or even control her own dainty heart–which Goethe chastely and tantalizingly hides from us?
Werther’s pain eventually becomes so great that he is forced to leave and go to Weimar. While he is away, he makes the acquaintance of Fräulein von B. He suffers a great embarrassment when he forgetfully visits a friend on the day when the entire aristocratic set normally meets there. He returns to Wahlheim after this, where he suffers more than he did before, partially because Lotte and Albert are now married. Every day serves as a torturous reminder that Lotte will never be able to requite his love. Out of pity for her friend and respect for her husband, Lotte comes to the decision that Werther must not visit her so frequently. He visits her one final time, and they are both overcome with emotion after Werther’s recitationof a portion of “Ossian’. Werther had realized even before this incident that one of them — Lotte, Albert or himself — had to die. Unable to hurt anyone else Werther decides to take his own life.
After composing a farewell letter, he writes to Albert asking for his two pistols, under a pretext of going “on a journey”. Lotte receives the request with great emotion but sends the pistols. Werther shoots himself in the head, but dies only 12 hours afterwards. He is buried under a linden tree, a tree he talks about frequently in his letters, and the funeral is not attended by clergymen, Albert or his beloved Lotte.
This book not only details Werther’s doomed love for the beautiful Charlotte, it also contains the most beautiful meditations on just about everything important in life: love, beauty, nature, philosophy, art, religion. The opening scenes of the story with their description of landscapes exude the highest philosophical ideals of the time and offers an excellent insight into the workings of the Romantic mind.
The whole story was based on true events. Goethe himself met a very lovely girl called Charlotte Buff, at a ball in Wetzlar, where he arrived looking for a job after finishing his studies. During the summer of 1772 a close friendship developed between Charlotte, Goethe and Christian Kestner (her fiancé). Charlotte was eventually obliged to tell Goethe plainly that he must not expect her to return his feelings. At seven o’clock on the morning of September 11th Goethe quit the town without warning. Away with friends in Koblencz, Goethe heard of the suicide of his former acquaintance at Wetzlar, Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem. In September 1771 Jerusalem had taken a job in Wetzlar as secretary to von Hoefler, an ambassador. He was of an artistic disposition, and had been cold-shouldered by Wetzlar’s high society. Goethe returned to the town to find out the details of Jerusalem’s death. He asked Kestner for a written account, on which he was to base the final pages of his novel. Goethe later described the writing of the work as the business of four weeks, during which time he proceeded with the unconscious certainty of a sleepwalker, and specifically spoke of it as a “confesion”.
Accordingly Goethe seems to have put a lot of himself into this novel. To love and to have lost someone to death is one thing. To love and to have the beloved betray your love is quite something else. But to love and to know that you can never consummate it, to distance yourself from the very thing you draw life from is unbearable for Werther.
The story itself is simple enough, but the varying degrees of Werther’s pain explore the depths of human depression. Goethe’s insights into human emotion are right on the mark, and he expresses them in haunting and moving language. He shows us the problems inherent in loving and idealizing something a bit too much. The novel is also a sensitive exploration of the psychopathology of a gifted but ill-adjusted young man (no, emos haven’t been invented yesterday). The letter form expresses well one-sided and lonely communication, also interposing an ironic distance between the reader and Werther, which makes this book a work of exhilarating style and insight.
It used to be a very important and influencial novel to a quite modern degree. Napoleon Bonaparte considered it one of the great works of European literature; he wrote a soliloquy in Goethe’s style in his youth and carried Werther with him on his campaigning to Egypt. The book also started the phenomenon known as the “Werther-Fieber” (“Werther Fever”) which caused young men throughout Europe to dress in the clothing style described for Werther in the novel. It reputedly also led to some of the first known examples of copycat suicide. Towards the end of Goethe’s life a personal visit to Weimar became crucial to any fashionable young man’s tour of Europe. I bet any rock star or contemporary celebrity would be so proud of such an effect.
The primary problems I had with the work were the repetitiveness of Werther’s self-pitying missives and a certain incredulity connected to his state of mind. In the final analysis, a persistent feeling that Werther was a silly and unjustified stalker in his fixation and self-indulgent in wallowing, dulled significantly the impact of his fate. I couldn’t sympathize with Werther falling for a woman who clearly stated that she was already involved with another man. I kept waiting for him to finally shoot himself, and when he did my feeling was, “thank god, no more self-pitying”.
I think I also struggled against Goethe’s ideal of female perfection – a woman whose biggest asset is the fact that she can act like a mother to her siblings after the death of their mother, sounding all the time really average and dull. To tell you the truth this paragon of feminie virtue appears more sensual and maternal than truly sexual but those were the times and paragons (sigh). Finally the language was a bit too flowery for modern standards.
Highly recommendable. A cornerstone of Romantic literature that inspired many poets, it should be a key text for anyone studying the genre. Short and sweet – perfect for a summer read, but not to those who have recently gone through a rather painful break-up.
Download The Sorrows of Young Werther by J.W. von Goethe at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|
Original Publication Date: 1907
Genre: Literature, Germany, England
Topics: Gender roles, friendship, epistolary, feminist
Being an ongoing fan of Elizabeth von Arnim’s writing, I had read quite a few reviews of this epistolary novel on-line, and thought it’d be a fun read. It was – it was also quite a bit more serious overall than I had been expecting, but that’s not a criticism at all. Now, having completed it, my overall opinion of this novel was that it was a perfect balance of emotions and a very real consideration of how relationships can evolve over time, whether you want them to or not. (Plus – there are occasional sharp instances of wit sprinkled throughout the book.)
As mentioned, this is an epistolary novel but only from one perspective. It’s a collection of letters from the forthright Rose-Marie Schmidt, a young German woman with whose family Roger Anstruther, a fairly well-off English young man stays as he completes language lessons from Rose-Marie’s grumpy father. Rose-Marie’s mother, now dead, has been English and so in many ways, Rose-Marie considers herself English. (She’s a little too emotionally honest to be a true English person though. ) J
I know no mood of Nature’s that I do not love—or think I do when it is over—but for keenness of feeling, for stinging pleasure, for overflowing life, give me a winter’s day with the first snow, a clear sky, and the thermometer ten degrees Réaumur below zero.
Just before Roger leaves their house to return to England, the reader learns that the pair had confessed their love for each other, but due to class differences et al., they had sworn to keep their love secret until Roger has told his father. The structure used by von Arnim to only show the letters of Rose-Marie to Roger (and not his replies) works extremely well as you, as the reader, become much more aware of how one-sided the relationship is at times. Rose-Marie is a literate and eloquent writer, who has been raised in a small town in Germany to be honest and plain-spoken. Her mother has died, her father is a grumpy SOB and together, they have a good-natured housekeeper with a boyfriend who is a keen (but poor) trumpet player. (One of the strands of the plot reveals that the family ends up having to ask the boyfriend to leave the trumpet at home when he visits his girlfriend, the maid. The trumpet playing had turned into a very loud reflection of how their romance was going, and when it was going downhill, it got very noisy!)
Just like the protagonist of “Elizabeth and her German Garden” (1898) and the women in “Enchanted April” (1922), Rose-Marie is witty and clever academically (although with little chance for continuing education apart from books). Although she is portrayed as something of a rural outsider, she is emotionally intelligent, much more so than Roger, and it is she who really holds the reins of their friendship right from the beginning (once the blossom of young love has faded). She is a few years older than Roger, and once their engagement fades, she takes on the mantle of being an older sister type for him, telling him details of village life and proffering him advice about life. (As we are not privy to Roger’s perspective, we don’t know how he receives this, but the correspondence continues so it must have been acceptable.)
Papa was delighted, I must say, to have had at last, as he told me with disconcerting warmth, at last after all these months an intelligent conversation… (when Mr. Anstruther pays surprise visit to house in Jena).
Rose-Marie is not the traditional wilting heroine of the literary world. She is independent, she designs her own life in her own way (only limited by money, really), and she has a caustic wit which surfaces frequently throughout the novel. I really admired her no-nonsense approach to the impractical Roger and his roller-coaster emotions, and so when I came to the end of the book, the ending was perfect for how the story and the characters had been built. I turned the last page and sighed with satisfaction. That good.
Just loved this one.
Download Fraulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther by Elizabeth von Arnim at Project Gutenberg|Girlebooks
Original Publication Date: 1902
Topics: Genius, loneliness.
Review by : Chrisbookarama
How would I describe Mary MacLane? She is the personification of a meeting between Sylvia Plath and The Craft’s Fairuza Balk character in Lorde’s basement. She’s that goth girl in the back of your High School English class who thinks she’s smarter than the teacher, and she’s probably right. She’s the girl your mom warned you about.
“This is not a diary. It is a portrayal. My inner life shown in its nakedness.” That explains what The Story of Mary MacLane is about in the author’s own words. At the beginning of 1901, Mary set about recording her “three months of Nothingness.” She begins by telling the reader that she is a genius, an egotist, and there is no parallel.
Mary was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and grew up in Butte, Montana. Of her family she doesn’t have much good to say about any of them. They all bore her. They did leave the legacy of being “the real MacLane” of her generation.
I am the real MacLane of my generation. The real MacLane in these later centuries is always a woman. The men of the family never amount to anything worth naming—if one accepts the acme, the zenith, of pure selfishness, with a large letter “s.”
Being a singular woman, she feels her genius wasted in Butte. She waits for the devil to bring her happiness. This is her favorite topic. Mary wanted her memoir to be titled I Await the Devil’s Coming, but the publisher wasn’t having it. She begs the devil to come and marry her for “three days” and has imaginary conversations with him. The devil is a man, a manly man, just as she wants him.
“What would you have me do, little MacLane?” he would say again.
I would answer: “Hurt me, burn me, consume me with hot love, shake me violently, embrace me hard, hard in your strong, steel arms, kiss me with wonderful burning kisses—press your lips to mine with passion, and your soul and mine would meet then in an anguish of joy for me!”
Mary has one friend, a former teacher who moved away, her anemone lady. She writes her long letters, some she sends. Mary is in love with the anemone lady.
I feel in the anemone lady a strange attraction of sex. There is in me a masculine element that, when I am thinking of her, arises and overshadows all the others.
“Why am I not a man,” I say to the sand and barrenness with a certain strained, tense passion, “that I might give this wonderful, dear, delicious woman an absolutely perfect love!”
And this is my predominating feeling for her.
So, then, it is not the woman-love, but the man-love, set in the mysterious sensibilities of my woman-nature. It brings me pain and pleasure mingled in that odd, odd fashion.
Do you think a man is the only creature with whom one may fall in love?
When not thinking about the devil, the anemone lady, and sometimes Napoleon, Mary steals and lies to entertain herself. She has conversations with tinkers, and dirty old ladies. She takes long walks on the prairie, and writes her portrayal.
The Story of Mary MacLane is a strange book. It was quite a hit with teenaged girls when it came out. Mary wished for someone to understand and many young women did. In many ways Mary, for all her genius, is like other girls. She is waiting for something, for her life to start. She thinks forty is old (she wouldn’t live to see fifty), and enjoys her body. She even has a crush.
Even though I raised my eyebrows at her claims of genius, once I read her words, I couldn’t disagree. This was not the kind of writing the public of 1902 would expect of a nineteen year old lady. She opens herself up, knowing “I am not good. I am not virtuous. I am not sympathetic.” She’s sexual and angry and all the things a good Victorian girl shouldn’t be.
In 2013, Melville House republished The Story of Mary MacLane as I Await the Devil’s Coming.
This was a LibriVox recording read by Kristin Hughes. Ms Hughes has the kind of voice perfect for Mary.
Download The Story of Mary MacLane by Mary MacLane at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|
Original Publication Date:1813
Genre: Austen Romance
Topics: love, marriage, inheritance, family ties, Mr Darcy ;p
- Review by :Bridget/Anachronist@portable pieces of thoughts
Pride and Prejudice has never ceased to amaze me. It is one of the finest Jane Austen books around and yet I have to admit I simply hate it. Of course deep down I would love to like it just a little bit. No such luck. Lizzy more often than not annoys me to no end, stupid minx; Darcy, with all his airs and graces, behaves like a moron with a curtain rod up his behind. The rest, ladies and gentlemen, is the silent laughter of a harlequin who actually might or might not be the Harlequin Romance. I really don’t want to review the book as it is – everything interesting about it has been already written and told long time ago and then repeated many times over. However if that novel was a tragedy, hmmm…I could have fallen in love with a P&P tragedy. So let’s try it for once - a genre revamp of a classic.
A version of P&P (obviously shortened to a mere synopsis) I would be more or less comfortable with:
Once upon a time there was a girl called Elizabeth living with a mother, a father and four more or less delinquent sisters in a small, impoverished country estate. Elizabeth was neither the most beautiful nor the most skilled English rose in the world but she was most certainly one of the cleverest and she had good observation skills. Little escaped our Elizabeth even though she was a bit of a social butterfly. She has been watching her father growing more and more desperate, entangled in a sad, loveless marriage without any prospects; his pathetic attempts to produce a son must have been a clear warning that sometimes life gives you just rotten lemons, fit neither for tea nor for lemonade nor for anything else and you must simply smile and carry on. She’s been watching her mother, a foolish and deluded creature without any intelligence or common sense to speak of, who, after losing her only asset in a form of youthful good looks, remained just a pitiful, old, brainless harridan. She watched and the more she saw the more she felt the cold, putrid breath of poverty on her back. Her father’s estate was entailed – it meant that after his demise, with no male heirs among his children, it would go to a distant cousin; Elizabeth, her mother and all her unmarried sisters would be made homeless. Not a nice perspective you have to admit.
However where’s a will there’s a way: Elizabeth was aware there was one path available - to sell herself shamelessly to the highest bidder, a popular sport at those times also known as husband-hunting. It was all more or less up to her skills. Deep down she knew that some of her sisters, those more similar to her mother in character and foolishness but not in looks, were perhaps not salvageable. Still there was her and Jane - they deserved something better than impoverished spinsterhood in small, rented rooms, full of mismatched furniture, with walls adorned by damp patches. The clock was ticking.
A new tenant of Netherfield Park, Mr. Bingley, seemed to be interested in Jane, a family beauty. He was an easy mark; soon enough even the cold-water-mermaid Miss Bennet had him almost wrapped around her finger. Almost. All depended on the opinion of his friend he brought with him, an even richer bachelor called Fitzwilliam Darcy. However that gent soon proved to be as rich as insufferable . How dared he snub Elizabeth and her dysfunctional family when she needed him so badly? How dared he speak against the much-awaited union between Bingley and Jane, the first step in a magnificent scheme of saving the Bennet sisters from the poverty? The fact that Mrs. Bennet felt the urge to intervene on behalf of her daughter in her own impeccably stupid manner didn’t make the things better - it never did – but such was the curse of Elizabeth’s life and she had to live with it.
Then there was a visit of Mr. Collins, a clergyman and heir to the Bennet estate.It soon became apparent that Mr. Collins has come to Longbourn to choose a wife among the Bennet sisters (his cousins) like you choose the right gloves to fit your best coat and favourite scarves. Elizabeth was singled out and here our heroine proved she was a gambler born – despite her desperate position she refused Mr. Collins. Why? He was dull but, more importantly, he was way too poor and too dependent, with an obsequious veneration of his employer and benefactor, Lady Catherine de Bourgh; he would never take care of those Bennet girls who would be left outside alone. Mr. Collins, a moron but one with a large appetite, chose Elizabeth’s friend, Charlotte Lukas, as his wife. I am sure he felt like a man who went to a market to buy a guineafowl and found out, to his surprised delight, that for the same amount of money he could buy a big, fat hen. So what if guineafowl meat is supposed to be far juicier and more delicate? A hen is undeniably bigger and it will last longer, even if you invite friends.
However, it was the youngest sister, Lydia, who tried hard to ruin all prospects of an advantageous marriage for any Bennett girl. That nitwit, a true daughter of her mommy dearest, eloped with the worst rake around, Mr. Wickham, a militia officer and a man Elizabeth had a short-lived hope to capture for herself. Wickham, a desperate leech, claimed he was hurt (one big lie) by the insufferable Darcy who happened to be the owner of an insufferably big estate, Pemberley.
Oh Pemberley – the love and joy of all poor, hopefull spinsters. As soon as Elizabeth got a glimpse of Pemberley she knew she had to do everything in her power to capture the stupid, besotted, insufferable and lonely Fitzwilliam who, for a reason or reasons unknown, fell for her hard. Yes, Pride and Prejudice male leads were definitely considered to be the weaker sex, led on a leash by the sturdy females who were masquerading as shrinking violets. Give those females political and social rights and watch them conquer the world.
As you know pretty well in the end a string of pretty tragic nuptials ensues (so no, I am not going to change the pairing in my little fantasy) : Jane bagged Bingley, poor sitting duck, greedy Lydia was punished by a marriage with even greedier Wickham, Elizabeth managed to capture Darcy and she became the mistress of Pemberley. Her financial prosperity was guaranteed but what about her sense of humour, vivacity and independence? Oh well, you can’t have everything – and isn’t it a real, everlasting tragedy, I ask you?
Download Pride and Prejudice (I mean the original version of course) by Jane Austen at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|
Check it out on Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books
Today I’m pleased to host Spoken Freely’s Summer Shorts ‘14 blog tour.
Spoken Freely is a group of more than 40 professional narrators who have teamed with Going Public and Tantor Media
to celebrate June is Audiobook Month (JIAM) by offering Summer Shorts ‘14, an audio collection of poetry, short stories and essays.
All proceeds from sales of the collection will go to ProLiteracy
, a national literacy outreach and advocacy organization.
Want a taste of what JIAM has to offer? Here are Sonnets 23 and 74 by William Shakespeare, as read by Robin Miles:
If you’re interested in listening to more, check out Wild Nights! Wild Nights!
by Emily Dickinson and Miracles
by Walt Whitman at Overreader
, as well as Mother’s Ashes
by Kimberly Morgan at Reading In Winter
. And be sure to visit tomorrow’s stops at Literate Housewife
and Lakeside Musing
For the full tour schedule and to find out more about Robin Miles, hop on over to the Going Public blog
To purchase this or any other audiobook on the tour, visit Tantor Media