Ethan Frome


  • By Edith Wharton

  • Narrator

    I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.

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  • If you know Starkfield, Massachusetts, you know the post-office.

  • If you know the post-office you must have seen Ethan Frome drive up to it, drop the reins on his hollow-backed bay and drag himself across the brick pavement to the white colonnade;

  • and you must have asked who he was.

  • Narrator

    It was there that, several years ago, I saw him for the first time;

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  • and the sight pulled me up sharp.

  • Even then he was the most striking figure in Starkfield, though he was but the ruin of a man.

  • It was not so much his great height that marked him, for the โ€œnativesโ€ were easily singled out by their lank longitude from the stockier foreign breed: it was the careless powerful look he had, in spite of a lameness checking each step like the jerk of a chain.

  • There was something bleak and unapproachable in his face, and he was so stiffened and grizzled that I took him for an old man and was surprised to hear that he was not more than fifty-two.

  • I had this from Harmon Gow, who had driven the stage from Bettsbridge to Starkfield in pre-trolley days and knew the chronicle of all the families on his line.

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    โ€œHe's looked that way ever since he had his smash-up;

  • and that's twenty-four years ago come next February,โ€

  • Narrator

    Harmon threw out between reminiscent pauses.

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  • The โ€œsmash-upโ€

  • it was--I gathered from the same informant--which, besides drawing the red gash across Ethan Frome's forehead, had so shortened and warped his right side that it cost him a visible effort to take the few steps from his buggy to the post-office window.

  • He used to drive in from his farm every day at about noon, and as that was my own hour for fetching my mail I often passed him in the porch or stood beside him while we waited on the motions of the distributing hand behind the grating.

  • I noticed that, though he came so punctually, he seldom received anything but a copy of the Bettsbridge Eagle, which he put without a glance into his sagging pocket.

  • At intervals, however, the post-master would hand him an envelope addressed to Mrs. Zenobia--or Mrs. Zeena--Frome, and usually bearing conspicuously in the upper left-hand corner the address of some manufacturer of patent medicine and the name of his specific.