I’m not what you would call a huge fan of Edith Wharton, but I did like her after reading The Age of Innocence and The Glimpses of the Moon. I had long shied away from Ethan Frome, though, for pretty mediocre reasons. First, the fact of its being named for a man seemed strange, and made it seem unlike her other works in an unattractive way—and the name itself being almost absurdly unattractive didn’t help matters there. But also because, though I was never assigned the novel in high school, a lot of other students at my school were, and it was almost without exception the most reviled book in any English class. It was hated to an impossible degree, really. I’m not exactly one to go in for the evaluations of high school classes but it made me feel like, I don’t know, this wasn’t actually her best work but was short and perhaps “easy” and therefore given to sullen children to read and complain about.
But now that I’ve read it, I not only liked it, I really liked it. And I’m not sure why kids would hate it so much—it’s too short to be all that painful, and it’s about an affair. Affairs are exciting! Well, this one isn’t really exciting I suppose. And it made me think of a post from D.G. Myers last month, which touched on The Age of Innocence:
Teaching Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence yesterday, for example, I observed that the moral dilemma in which Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska find themselves—unable to marry without damaging others—no longer seems like much of a moral dilemma. … The double bind of The Age of Innocence may strike my students as no longer relevant. Only Newland’s horror at being buried alive in
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