Often when it snows – especially if we get a good covering, I’ll think of this book. It’s set in a harsh New England Winter, in the picturesque but stifling environs of Starkfield, Massachusetts. Ethan Frome lives a dutiful life working his unprofitable farm looking after his wife, a shrewish hypochondriac. His sole joy in life is the time he spends talking with his wife’s cousin and hired help, Mattie, who shares his poetical inclinations. But it’s not like his wife hasn’t noticed how close they’ve been getting…
It is, then, a story of forbidden love, and one of the best around. I won’t tell you much more than that, however; it is a strict policy of Andy’s Writing Tips not to give away much more about a book that can be garnered from the first couple of chapters and the blurb on the back (some of you might want to read it, after all). Edith Wharton was a New Yorker who spent much of her life in Europe, particularly France, and set many of her novels there; Ethan Frome was a departure for her, but ended up being her most popular book.
There are passages in Ethan Frome that sent shivers down my spine; first, because the writing’s so good, and because Wharton is quite brilliant at pinpointing and describing feelings. Some of her methods for doing this will be the subjects of our next few posts, but winter weather will also feature heavily. Having had another snowy winter here in England, I’m guessing lots of the budding writers out there will have been inspired to write about wintry settings this year (I can’t speak for those of you in other climates!) To get us started, let’s look at this fresh optimistic description of the morning view from Ethan’s farm:
The winter morning was as clear as crystal. The sunrise burned red in a pure sky, the shadows on the rim of the wood-lot were darkly blue, and beyond the white and scintillating fields patches of far-off forest hung like smoke.
Write your own description of a winter morning view, perhaps from your own home. Like Wharton, try to include a few different colours and try to draw a contrast between areas of brightness and shade (e.g. sunrise burned / shadows darkly blue; white and scintillating fields / forest hung like smoke).