and I would like to look like a tree with a lot of words instead of leaves. I haven't been very sucessful yet but every metamorphosis takes some time.
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tightrope walker
unctuous liver



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Meaning and other marginalia

A historical book?

I've just finished reading another book: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton. I wanted to read something by her after I heard Susanne Vega's song where she mentions the characters from Wharton's novels. Wharton is a turn of the century and the beginning of 20th century American novelist. And some of her stories convey the "gothic" atmosphere of the end the 19th century rural New England. This one takes place in Massachusetts. I'm fascinated by books written at around that time because they are still comprehensible language-wise but they are already historical novels in a sense - that is I can learn from them about times past without the interfering interpretation of a historian. All I need is to consider and understand the literary convention of that time.

The story itself is a dark, passionate, tragic and chilling love story taking place in bleak living conditions. I see it as realism or naturalism. Compared with some other works about rural life from other cultures it seems similarly to convey the essence of the hard and cruel life of farming communities.

The book is an American classic. It is considered Wharton's best work and is probably analysed ad nauseam in literature classes. So this edition came with an introduction by Elaine Showalter where she analyses it through psychoanalysis. Female hysteria dominates the field, everything is a symbol to do with some freudian category, fertility, authority etc. I don't understand how Ethan Frome inspires interpretations like this. I guess in the second plan you can read whatever you want into it. But it is great literature and it exists first of all as a powerful, well plotted story where just a few dialogues and a few carefully drawn descriptions can pull the reader into the desolation of ruined lives, misery where a hint of romance turns into living hell without a chance of escape.

Both the frame and the main story take place in winter. In fact any important event always seems to happen in winter which in this northern latitude and in the country is a period of white near death. Everything is covered in layers of snow and people seem to turn into zombies. In the middle of this young Ethan is still very much alive and so is his secret love Mattie Silver. Their hearts are burning but their bodies and escape routes have frozen over. The only way out seems to be self-destruction. And tragically even that doesn't lead to freedom - quite the opposite. The unsuccessful suicide condemns them to spending decades together, only now they're both disabled and suffering even more than if they were apart.
What strikes me as unusual is the absence of religion. Such hard life and nobody ever turns to God. When illnesses are discussed, it's always just from a practical point of view; there is no spiritual element to it. It's as if the people there already resigned on God. In a godforsaken land, beyond his reach. Or possibly it's just the age of technological progress. Even Ethan has been to university....


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Friday, July 17, 2009 7:37 PM

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