“Ethan Frome” Sucks: The Didactic Express, Day 29.

Today I met my supervisor concerning revisions to my thesis. Mostly, he talked about the extent to which my diagrams sucked (seriously, finding a good file type for diagrams in LaTeX is a non-trivial task). At one point, however, he turned to the acknowledgements. I have not yet written my acknowledgements properly*, but I did make a note on this draft of the thesis, mostly to see whether or not my supervisor actually reads the front matter.
More particularly, the template from which I was working came with a lengthy quotation from Edith Wharton. I remembered her from my High School English course, so I appended the following:


TO BE ANNOUNCED. But I should point out, contrary to the mandates of this template, that there will certainly be no page quote from Edith Wharton. Edith Wharton is an early 20th century American author known to me primarily as the scallywag who inflicted the execrable novel ”Ethan Frome“ upon generations of innocent high school English students. I would therefore not give her the gnawed bones of my last meal**, much less a page quote in my acknowledgements!”

Now, of course, to some of you, this may sound a bit harsh. But I can only assume that those of you who hold this view have never actually read Ethan Frome. Spoiler alert: it’s about an inbred hick in rural New England who has an affair with his frigid wife’s cousin behind her back. During this time, a pickle dish is shattered, symbolizing and foreshadowing the inevitable destruction of a young man’s dreams. At the climax, Ethan and his mistress try to kill themselves by ramming a toboggan into a tree. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work, and so both of them are left horribly mangled but alive, in the care of his frigid wife. It’s also really, really boring: indeed, I would say that it contains the most turgid prose that I have ever read outside of an academic paper. The wretched thing is only about a hundred pages long, but it took me two full days to read on account of its awfulness. Even the teacher thought that it was a royal steaming stinker, but he still forced us to read it, presumably because he’d had to do so back in the day, so by gum so would we!

Anyways, my supervisor, as it turned out did read the front matter.

“Who is this person?” my supervisor demanded, drawing a circle around her name.

“American author.” I replied simply. “Considered a classic. But the only novel I have ever read by her was terrible beyond measure.”

“Ah. And I assume that she is compulsory in high schools.”

“More or less.”

He shrugged. “Well, of course, your acknowledgements are up to you.”

The moral of the story is, of course:

Just because a book is a ‘classic’ doesn’t mean it’s not terrible.


*(and I’m still looking for someone to whom I would like to dedicate the thing, although I have a few ideas)

**I originally wrote “I would not give her the steam off of my urine,” but then, thankfully, decided to Bowdlerize myself just in case my supervisor actually did read the front matter.


About thevenerablecorvex

I have the heart of a poet, the brain of a theoretical physicist, and the wingspan of an albatross. I am also notable for my humility.
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14 Responses to “Ethan Frome” Sucks: The Didactic Express, Day 29.

  1. zinemin says:

    What kind of figures are you using? And how do you include them in the tex-file? Also, have you tried using TeXShop as your text editor for latex? With TexShop you can include really all kind of figure types, like .png etc. TeXShop is really great anyway since it translates the .tex file directly into pdf, without having to go over dvi. and .ps.
    On the downside, you cannot include .ps figures I think.
    The part about Edith Wharton is very funny. 🙂 I don’t know her, but I feel the same way about some horrible things we were forced to read at school. Brr.

    • I’ve been using PNGs which I include in the file using \begin{figure}\includegraphics{…}\caption{…}\end{figure}; I’m not sure why they look so terrible. As for using TeXShop, I don’t have a mac, so I’ve been using TeXnic Center as my editor.

      • zinemin says:

        How do you generate your figure? Can you increase the resolution? I make my .png files for TeXShop from making screenshots of figures that have been generated in other formats, and the figures become obviously much better if I make them fill the entire screen before I make the screen shot…. sorry that is perhaps too obvious.
        In general figures look the best if you can include them as .pdf though. Is this possible?

  2. maaeli says:

    Cool acknowledgment! I think a comparable classic in Germany would be Effie Briest by Theodor Fontane. Apparently there are people who like this book but most people I know strongly dislike it. The worst thing was, that my class had a vote on which book to read…

    Regarding the diagrams:
    I also use TeXnicCenter. I had some issues with .png files (they didn’t print ) but .pdf files always worked fine. I usually include figures via


    \centerline{\includegraphics[width = linewidth]{figure1a.pdf}}
    \caption[short text]{\label{fig:figa} Some longer text}

    Perhaps this is useful.

  3. Anon says:

    THANK YOU! I hated Ethan Frome with a passion–every single character in it was despicable, and I refused to root for any of them because they were all such horrid people

    • thevenerablecorvex says:

      Horrid and incredibly, incredibly stupid.

      • Anon says:

        Indeed! Just a hideous book all around. I hate the attitude that if you don’t like every piece of “classic” literature and film out there, you are an uneducated, tasteless boar. Seriously, some “classic” stuff just… sucks, regardless of its acceptance into literary canon.

  4. Pingback: Terrible Books You Had To Read In School | voxcorvegis

  5. adrianaurelien says:

    Even the people I know who like other books by Edith Wharton hate Ethan Frome. They all read House of Mirth instead. Nobody likes Ethan Frome.

  6. Lindsay says:

    Funny. I’ve read two Edith Wharton books: The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. I thought both were good, but The House of Mirth was the better of the two.

    I have never read Ethan Frome; it was compulsory for the Honors English but not the plebeian English classes at my high school. (I was, of course, not Honors English material.)

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