Showing 1 - 4 of 4 annotations associated with Wharton, Edith
- Nixon, Lois LaCivita
Sometimes overlooked by those attracted to Wharton's longer, more ironic novels, this novella is one of stark simplicity set against a bleak New England countryside at the beginning of the 20th century. With characteristic economy, Wharton tells a compelling story about the human need for passion and affection in a situation where only abject coldness exists.
Ethan Frome is introduced by the narrator in this way: "It was there that, several years ago, I saw him for the first time; and the sight pulled me up sharp. Even then he was the most striking figure in Starksfield, though he was but the ruin of a man" (3). Determined to learn more about Ethan, while temporarily located in an appropriately-named village, the narrator manages to gather pieces of information about the figure who seemed an "incarnation of frozen woe in the melancholy landscape" (11).
The spark of hope that might have led young Ethan toward education and escape expired when care for his chronically-ill mother fell first to him and then to a cousin named Zenobia. Unable to abandon his mother and their needy homestead, he was easily attracted to Zenobia, the kindly young woman who assisted in his mother's care. They married, the mother died, and Zenobia inexplicably assumed a sick-role that would make Ethan's life loveless and tragic. Permanently stuck in Starksfield, his years become emotionally and economically depressed. Barely able to eke out a living hauling lumber and subjected to his bed-ridden wife's petty and constant demands, Ethan's impoverishment seems unending.
Miraculously, a third person, Mattie, enters the narrative. A distant cousin with no resources, she has been summoned by Ethan's increasingly mean-spirited wife to do chores within the house. The scene is set for two lonely and isolated people, despite age differences, to discover small bits of warmth in stolen moments together. Walks through the snow or gentle kindnesses in the dull household routine sustain the otherwise desolate pair of innocent lovers. An unexpected turn of events transforms a hopeless set of circumstances into permanent desolation and trauma. The conclusion is one of unimaginable horror.
- Garden, Rebecca
Summary:The novel opens with a young surgical nurse, Justine Brent, nursing a mill worker whose arm has been mangled by a carding machine. She soon meets John Amherst, the mill’s assistant manager who works passionately to reform the dangerous conditions at the mill and to improve the living conditions of the workers. Amherst recognizes Justine’s intelligence and sympathy, but he quickly forgets about her when he meets and falls in love with the new mill owner, Bessy Langhope.
The narrative skips ahead three years. John Amherst has learned that his now-wife Bessy has no real interest in his plan to reform the mill, although she initially appeared to be moved by the workers’ misery. In fact, her insistence on luxury, which is funded by the profit from the mills, thwarts his desire to use her controlling interest to make significant changes. The couple encounters Justine, who knew Bessy in school. When the somewhat sickly Bessy invites her to be a private nurse to herself and her stepdaughter, Justine, who is exhausted from “difficult cases,” accepts. Justine attempts to shore up John and Bessy’s increasingly troubled marriage without success. When John is abroad, Bessy has an accident while riding her horse. Paralyzed, in constant pain, and slowly dying, Bessy is attended by a physician who advances his career with the technological feat of keeping Bessy alive, ostensibly until her husband and her father arrive to say their goodbyes. When Bessy begs Justine to let her die, Justine secretly gives her a fatal dose of morphine, an act that the physician suspects.
The narrative skips ahead again to over a year later when Amherst, who has inherited the mills from Bessy, invites her family to celebrate the opening of an emergency hospital he has built in the mill town. Justine, who had stayed on after Bessy’s death as her stepdaughter’s nurse, and Amherst become reacquainted. Their shared social and intellectual interests develop into love, and they marry. The physician who had cared for Bessy and who had, earlier, asked Justine to marry him, had developed an addiction, one that had begun while he was treating Bessy. Beginning to sink into financial ruin, he blackmails Justine. Eventually, Amherst finds out that Justine killed Bessie with morphine and, horrified, rejects her.
Justine confesses her act to Bessy’s father and negotiates a deal: She will remove herself from their lives if he allows Amherst to continue his work at the mills. Bessy’s father accepts the deal, and Justine disappears for many months until Bessy’s daughter becomes ill and begs to be reunited with Justine. A family friend explains to Amherst Justine’s arrangement to protect him and convinces him that she has suffered suitable penance. Justine is reunited with Amherst when he celebrates the opening of a gymnasium for the mill workers, a project he credits Bessy with having designed. Justine, who knows that Bessy had in fact designed the gymnasium for her private estate, a project that would have drained the funds for improving the mills, keeps silent and subverts her knowledge to her husband’s perception of the facts.
- Holmes, Martha Stoddard
Wealthy American widows Alida Slade and Grace Ansley have taken their two marriageable daughters on a Continental tour. As the story opens, the older women linger at a restaurant with a view of the Forum while their daughters leave for an unchaperoned outing. The women talk of how carefully their mothers guarded them, and how their own mothers were in turn warned of Roman fever to keep them in at night.
Alida pushes the talk back to their girlhood, and Grace’s illness after a nighttime sightseeing trip; she reveals her knowledge that Grace had really gone to the Forum to meet Alida’s fiancé, Delphin Slade. Impelled by a mixture of jealousy, guilt, and vengeful satisfaction, Alida declares that she, not Delphin, wrote the letter summoning Grace to the tryst. This initial crisis is followed by a much more powerful one when Grace makes her own revelations about that night at the Forum.
- Woodcock, John
The wealthy 49-year-old Paul Dorrance, concerned about his health, summons his doctor and a cancer specialist for an examination. They pronounce him healthy, though in need of a rest from work, and Paul begins to ponder a life of renewed vigor, perhaps in marriage with a younger woman who would bear him children. Then he discovers on the floor a piece of paper containing the diagnosis of cancer.
He believes the doctors have deceived him, and his elation turns to self-pity and gloom. In that mood he decides to propose to Eleanor, his mistress of fifteen years whom he had previously decided not to marry, for companionship in the difficult time ahead. He proposes to her the same day as the consultation, without telling her of the diagnosis (even though she knows he saw the doctors).
She accepts his proposal, and she is not deterred when he reveals the harsh prognosis. Several years later Eleanor dies of a heart attack, and Paul soon discovers that on the fatal day of the consultation she . . . had done a certain thing [which readers will want to discover for themselves] that trumps Paul's egotism and manipulativeness in the relationship.