Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Things I learn from reading: passion is BAD

I like to intersperse my young adult and graphic reading with what some would call "real" literature. I've also been making a concerted effort to branch off from my favorite British Lit. and meander around in American Literature. I've also never read Edith Wharton.

And so I picked up Ethan Frome and Summer: two story birds with one stone (of reading?).

I have to say: WHAT A BUMMER.

No one makes it out of these small town stories happy.

And the lesson? Passion = destruction.

First up was Ethan Frome. Ethan is always taking care of people. He somehow gets bamboozled into marrying a horrible woman because...she helped him clean his house? And then she just kind of stayed and was horrible to him. Oh, and she pretends to be sick all the time. And so Ethan gets her a handmaiden (only in 20th century New England, so...companion?).

Only the handmaiden is hot. Age old problem. The wife is annoying and sucking the life out of Ethan and here comes this PYT ready to giggle and think Ethan is the man.

Enter passion. Ethan "was too young, too strong, too full of the sap of the living, to submit so easily to the destruction of his hopes."

*SPOILER ALERT Ethan has no money so the two lovebirds can't run away from responsibility to the west together. Also, the wife kicks the girl out because she's mean but not stupid. Ethan takes PYT on one last sleigh ride and they decide to sled down a hill. Only they agree to a suicide pact via sled into tree.

Only, they just get disfigured and paralyzed and they stay and live with the wife like Three's Company all together in the farmhouse of depression and painful life lessons.

The. End.

There's no way Summer could be that depressing, right? Kind of.

So there's this girl, and she was born "on the Mountain" and was "saved" by a gentleman pillar of the community and brought to live with him in town. It's all happy and platonic until one evening he gets drunk and lonely and comes and knocks on her door. Girlfriend kicks him out and continues to hold his lewd attempted transgression over his head for years.

A new man comes into town and she falls head over heels for him.

Enter passion. She starts meeting up with him at a cabin and keeps everything on the down low. Mistake. She has no money, and hot guy has to marry someone with money and class status.

*SPOILER ALERT And then all of a sudden, she is pregnant and he has skipped town. And the reader is all - WHAT - I thought they were only kissing in that cabin. Bow chica wah wah! Realizing that her man who was never her man is not going to come do right by her, she flees to the mountain since that is what she "deserves."

Old man comes and saves her again and proposes to her. And she says yes in a haze of resignation. And so they get married and ride slowly back to their house of depression and painful life lessons.

The. End.

The writing was great, but seriously Edith, you're bummin' me out. Everyone who gives in to passion gets hit with serious, life changing punishment. I think I need to go back to Fitzgerald where - at least - the characters have a really great time prior to getting whacked with the life lesson stick.

"If only we'd stop trying to be happy, we could have a pretty good time."
Edith downer Wharton


  1. How does Wharton manage to think up the worst possible endings to her books? At least in the House of Mirth the protagonist kills herself in the end, so there's none of this 'living out one's life in dull misery' business.

    Despite all that, I do really like her.