To read about F's and my London trip, start here and click "newer post" to continue the story.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Here's an excerpt from a ghost story originally published in 1902. Yes, alert reader, I've written about it before.

"Now, Hartley," Mrs. Railton said, in that cheery way that always made me feel things must be going to take a turn for the better -- "now understand me; it's not a cheerful place I'm sending you to. The house is big and gloomy; my niece is nervous, vaporish; her husband -- well, he's generally away; and the two children are dead. A year ago, I would as soon have thought of shutting a rosy active girl like you into a vault; but you're not particularly brisk yourself just now, are you? and a quiet place, with country air and wholesome food and early hours, ought to be the very thing for you. Don't mistake me," she added, for I suppose I looked a trifle downcast; "you may find it dull, but you won't be unhappy. My niece is an angel. Her former maid, who died last spring, had been with her twenty years and worshipped the ground she walked on. She's a kind mistress to all, and where the mistress is kind, as you know, the servants are generally good-humored, so you'll probably get on well enough with the rest of the household. And you're the very woman I want for my niece: quiet, well-mannered, and educated above your station. You read aloud well, I think? That's a good thing; my niece likes to be read to. She wants a maid that can be something of a companion: her last was, and I can't say how she misses her. It's a lonely life . . . Well, have you decided?"

"Why, ma'am," I said, "I'm not afraid of solitude."

"Well, then, go; my niece will take you on my recommendation. I'll telegraph her at once and you can take the afternoon train. She has no one to wait on her at present, and I don't want you to lose any time."

I was ready enough to start, yet something in me hung back; and to gain time I asked, "And the gentleman, ma'am?"

"The gentleman's almost always away, I tell you," said Mrs. Ralston, quick-like -- "and when he's there," says she suddenly, "you've only to keep out of his way."


Kate P said...

Our school book club is discussing "Ethan Frome" this week. I've never liked the story, but I do like the writing.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

The story is pretty painful.

I think I don't read it the way most people do, judging by the Amazon reviews. I think Wharton meant for us to realize that we're getting Ethan's side of the story, and he tells things in such a way as to justify doing what he wants to do. For instance, he tells us that Zeena wanted him to take Mattie into town to dances so she wouldn't notice that they weren't paying her to help out; when the fact was that she needed a place to stay and was never offered money, was pretty well worthless as far as doing any work, and Zeena originally told him she wanted him to take her b/c Mattie was young and ought to have some fun. It wasn't until he realized that Mattie was young and cute and he liked being alone with her, and emotionally unfaithful to Zeena, that he made up that ungenerous motive for her to have.

In fact, my third blog post is about Mattie and how she's really the bad guy.

Kate P said...

Ooo! Interesting! I have to share your thoughts with my book group pals. I was in 10th grade the first time I read this, and. . . uh. . . we didn't talk about what is apparently the generally accepted meaning for the red pickle dish--so I just found that one out this week. Ew.

I also felt Ethan was obsessed with Mattie, and everyone else in the group disagreed with me. Lying, jealousy, kissing her sewing? No?

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Of course he was obsessed with her.

He passively drifted into his marriage with Zeena and never really took on the responsibility that that meant, either physically or emotionally.

Just as he never left the farm, blaming his inertia there on Zeena too.

Conceiving his passion for Mattie is the first active thing we really see him do.