‘He looked at her hair and longed to touch it again, and to tell her that it smelt of the woods; but he had never learned to say such things...’
One harsh winter in 1900s New England, Ethan Frome toils at his farm while struggling to maintain a bearable existence with his forbidding wife, Zeena. When Ethan takes Zeena’s cousin, Mattie, home from a dance he is entranced: Mattie brings with her the possibility for happiness, and with that she quickly becomes a symbol of hope for Ethan.
First published in 1911, Ethan Frome is an intimate look at choices not made and lives not yet lived. Told through the eyes of a city outsider, this heartbreaking portrait of three lives haunted by thwarted dreams remains for many the most subtle and moving of Wharton’s works.
Ethan Frome is one of Wharton's most famous works; it is a tightly constructed and almost unbearably heartbreaking story of forbidden love in a snowbound New England village. Summer, also set in rural New England, is often considered a companion to Ethan Frome-Wharton herself called it “the hot Ethan”-in its portrayal of a young woman's sexual and social awakening. Bunner Sisters takes place in the narrow, dusty streets of late nineteenth-century New York City, where the constrained but peaceful lives of two spinster shopkeepers are shattered when they meet a man who becomes the unworthy focus of all their pent-up hopes.
All three of these novellas feature realistic and haunting characters as vivid as any Wharton ever conjured, and together they provide a superb introduction to the shorter fiction of one of our greatest writers.
The beautiful, much-desired Lily Bart has been raised to be one of the perfect wives of the wealthy upper class, but her spark of character and independent drive prevents her from becoming one of the many women who will succeed in those circles. Though her desire for a comfortable life means that she cannot marry for love without money, her resistance to the rules of the social elite endangers her many marriage proposals. As Lily spirals down into debt and dishonor, her story takes on the resonance of classic tragedy. One of Wharton's most bracing and nuanced portraits of the life of women in a hostile, highly ordered world, The House of Mirth exposes the truths about American high society that its denizens most wished to deny. With an introduction by Pamela Knights.
“A deeply soulful novel that comprehends love and cruelty, and separates the big people from the small of heart, without ever losing sympathy for those unfortunates who don’t know how to live properly.” —Zadie Smith
One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.
‘I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn't give myself.’
Heralded as one of the first instances of feminist literature and rejected at its time of publication by the literary set on grounds of moral distaste, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening caused consternation in 1899.
Constrained and confined by the limitations surrounding marriage and motherhood in the late 1800s, Edna Pontellier begins to challenge the notion of femininity through her thoughts and actions. Questioning her love for her husband, and opening herself up to the possibilities of other men and a life outside of societal convention leads to a gradual awakening of her desires.
Chopin’s fascinating exploration of one woman challenging the expectation that surrounds her is powerful, daring and ultimately tragic in its conclusions.