Ethan Frome, Calvin Coolidge, and me

Last week Diane Rehm had an hour-long book discussion all about Edith Wharton’s novel Ethan Frome. Ethan Frome is probably the first book considered by the literati as indisputably “Cannon” that I became borderline-obsessed with.  I think I was a 15 or 16-year-old student at North Pole High School in Alaska when I first read it.  Edith Wharton has long since become a favorite of mine, but I hadn’t re-visited Ethan Frome until last year.  On Rehm’s (excellent) discussion a guest reasons that perhaps it isn’t one of the better classics for high school students for various reason (I don’t want to spoil the bleak ending here), and that its more suitable to university studies. I have wondered if it gets on a lot of lists for time-crunch reasons as it’s Wharton, but it’s also nice and short.  I do remember not especially liking it per se but just thinking about the characters much more and for much longer than I was used to at that age.  Perhaps the novel’s tone of isolation, cold, and bleakness (it’s set in an isolated, rural region of New England and most of the crucial scenes are in stark winter settings) struck a chord with me living in Alaska at the time without close friends.

I was actually in New England for the first time right around Ethan Frome’s centenary and was able to snap some pictures on my phone that seem straight out of Wharton’s book.  I visited Calvin Coolidge’s birthplace/museum in rural Vermont.  It here that then Vice-President Coolidge received word that President Warren G. Harding had died unexpectedly.  Coolidge was quickly sworn in as the 30th President of the United States, by his own father who was the nearest notary public.  The museum/visitor center was actually closed that day, but it is situated in his isolated homestead area of Plymouth Notch.  It is also Calvin & Grace Coolidge’s final place of burial at Plymouth Notch cemetery which feels like it came straight out of Starkfield (anvil drop!), the bleak fictional setting of Ethan Frome.

A Wikipedia photograph of Plymouth Notch Cemetery in summertime

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