06 January 2010
Book Review: The Three Big Whartons
When The Classics Circuit first announced Edith Wharton was coming on a tour, I was thrilled. I've had Ethan Frome, The Age of Innocence, and The House of Mirth on my shelves for years...years people. Originally I signed up to read all three of my books, but unfortunately, I ended up reading only two.
Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid
An unnamed narrator becomes intrigued by Ethan and the story of his tragic life after seeing him in a Massachusetts town. When Ethan becomes the narrator's ride, said narrator begins to piece together the sordid tale of Ethan, his wife, and his love interest.
Other stops on the tour for Ethan Frome: A Striped Armchair; Reviews by Lola; Reading, Writing, Working, Playing; It's All About Books;
Other Reviews: Trish's Reading Nook; Caribousmom; Educating Petunia; Tammy's Book Nook;
Age of Innocence
Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid
Newland Archer, a proper dilettante and aficionado of protocol, finds his socially perfect life thrown into turmoil when the Countess Ellen Olenska returns to New York after fleeing her husband. Engaged to Ellen's cousin May, Newland quickly becomes enamored of the Countess and entertains thoughts of defying convention and running off with her. Ellen and May are opposites. Where May is the product of her environment, demure and thoughtless, Ellen is outrageous in her individuality, a deviant in New York's upper class society.
Other stops on the tour for Age of Innocence: Farm Lane Books; Kay's Bookshelf; Just Add Books; Pining for the West;
Other Reviews: book-a-rama; Educating Petunia; Books and Movies; Rebecca Reads; Trish's Reading Nook;
Hands down, no question about it, Ethan Frome kicks Newland Archer's patootie. I really can't fully explain how much more I enjoyed EF over AoE. EF contains relatable and sympathetic characters, interesting plot twists, and an unusual point of view; AoE, on the other hand, well, does not.
Both books are about husbands, unhappy in their marriage, falling in love with another woman. I felt, however, entirely different about the two situations - and with reason. Reason number 1: When Ethan falls in love, he is already married; Newland, however, is single when his infatuation begins, but instead of calling off his engagement and pursuing his love, he marries and laments his position, to the point of actually wishing his wife dead at one point. Reason number 2: Ethan's wife is a hypochondriac, a too-much-money-spending nag, and all around bitchy; Newland's wife May is innocent and pathetic. Reason number 3: There is actually forward movement in Ethan Frome, which is sadly lacking in Age of Innocence.
Our two main characters, Ethan and Newland, may share a commonality in their complex love lives, but the similarities ended there for me. Ethan is poignantly heartbreaking, truly tortured. Already married and dedicated to caring for those he has responsibility, Ethan's dilemma seemed more sincere than Newland's, whose entire problem is his own inability to act. The culmination of events for each of our main characters is also wildly different with Ethan's final life a shocking result of passion and Newland's a meager display of his continuous inaction.
So now I've read two Wharton novels, one I loved and one I'm entirely lukewarm about. I guess I will have to read House of Mirth to break the tie.