The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton is a lovely biography targeted for pre-teens. Well researched yet completely accessible, Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge captures Wharton's privileged, upper-class New York upbringing in a delightful manner. Each page of this 152 book features fascinating photos of Wharton's childhood, her marriage, and the places and people who featured so prominently in her now classic works of fiction.
Although the book is clearly aimed for a younger audience, A Reader's Respite was delighted by the photos throughout the book chronicling Wharton's life and career. Wooldridge doesn't overly-sanitize Wharton's life either: her unhappy marriage (and subsequent extramarital affair) is addressed frankly and with sensitivity. This short biography would make an especially lovely gift for a young girl in your life if coupled with one of Wharton's novels.
Ethan Frome. A Reader's Respite became so nostalgic for some Wharton after reading Wooldridge's biography that we instinctively reached for her famous novella, Ethan Frome. Unlike many of Wharton's other novels that were critical satires of upper-crust New York society at the turn of the century, Ethan Frome is set in rural Massachusetts, a place that Edith would eventually call home when she built her famous home, The Mount, in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Wharton's famous home, The Mount
The unnamed narrator of this novella finds himself inadvertently stuck for the harsh winter in the rural New England town of Starkfield and while there, he becomes intent on discovering the truth of the oft-gossiped-about tragedy of a local man, Ethan Frome. The gently unfolding plot reveals Ethan's long-ago attempt to break free from his stoic and passionless New England life and the ultimate tragedy resulted, changing not only his own life, but the lives of those closest to him forever.
Wharton's trademark social and moral commentary is quite subtle in Ethan Frome, but that doesn't make it any less powerful. The tragedy of Ethan's life could apply to anyone - man or woman - and in our own century as much as Wharton's. It's called a timeless classic and it is just that.
A mere 118 pages in paperback, this classic is a wonderful introduction to Wharton's powerful descriptive style and her marvelous characterization. As the first female novelist to win the Pulitzer Prize, Wharton is as relevant today as she was popular in her own time.