The First of Four Flights

Deconstructing the Frame of “Ethan Frome”

Danny and Walter take on Edith Wharton’s famous novella

Walter Bowne
Writers’ Blokke
Published in
9 min readMar 14
Lake Ariel, PA in January. Photo by the author.

During a Writer’s Retreat in February, Danny and Walter drink brews and podcast about Edith Wharton’s novella. The first flight was Uncanny Valley from Burlington Beer Company in Vermont. It’s a super amazing IPA. Hey — it’s Vermont, man.

Walter: The novella Ethan Frome is our next book in Books and Brews. It was written in 1911 by Edith Wharton — and it’s a unique tale for her — not about the upper class in New York.

Danny: We’re gonna try a new format. Instead of blabbering, we’ll have critics who are smarter than us — more educated than us —

Walter: Yeah! Wait! Well —

Danny: Okay. The critics will provide a thesis, and we’ll say whether we agree or not. And how it applies to our interpretation.

Walter: Here is the first. “A common criticism of Ethan Frome is that it’s too contrived. The characters seem unmotivated. They are put through their paces in a clever but mechanical way. It’s known for its stylistic and organizational brilliance, but it is all at the service of plot and character.”

Danny: So when we talk about Ethan Frome, the first thing I realized is the story is a Master Class on short fiction. It’s as if you’re in College Creative Writing 101. You took careful notes. You wanted to take everything you learned that semester and put it in one novel, and Wharton does it, in my opinion, brilliantly.

However, she begins with a story frame. I know this is, right, big for you. So discuss the frame as a contrivance.

Walter: You start somewhere and then you wind up back there — like the Star Trek Enterprise leaving Earth and then it comes back to Earth. And the crew comes back changed man. Or Don Quixote starts in La Mancha; he’s miserable; he thinks he’s a knight, goes on misadventures, and comes back, changed.

Edith Wharton’s home, “The Mount” in Lenox, Mass. The Berkshires. Photo by Walter Bowne

Danny: They get the point.



Walter Bowne
Writers’ Blokke

This “trophy husband” writes on just about everything. Follow him on Spotify and Youtube: Down with Bowne (rhymes with clown) and Walter Bowne.