Peasant Autonomy
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Story 27

A small village in Massachusetts, United States – 1884

Silver lining

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(Photo: Laura)


His heart pounds in his throat when he realises which girl is whirling through the hall. Ethan Frome, a tall, slender farmer, about thirty years old, with bright piercing eyes, has just arrived here, walking in the dark through the high snow, and now looks from the outside through the window of the church hall. Tonight there is a dance party. A young man has just invited a girl with a red head scarf, and together they dance through the hall. The male dancer is Denis Eady, the handsome, slightly arrogant son of the well-to-do shopkeeper of the village. The other one proves to be Mattie Silver, the girl that Ethan has come to pick up. Faster and faster, the pair dances. Mattie lays her head lightly on Denis' shoulder, and Ethan observes from the flush on her cheek that she is completely absorbed by the dance.

It is now a few months ago that Mattie, an eighteen-year-old girl, came to live at Ethan’s farm. She is a cousin of his wife Zeena, and her parents have died. She had no place else to go. Zeena decided that she could come to the farm, to help with the housework, in exchange for room and board. Every now and then, she goes to a church party. That's her only amusement. At the end of the evening Ethan comes to take her home.
Ethan has been unlucky with his wife Zeena. They have been married for seven years, but after the first year she fell into ill health. One day she is suffering from this ailment, and another from something else. She is completely consumed by her illnesses, and becomes ever more rigid and morose. At the moment when Ethan picked up Mattie at the railway station, a spark caught. He will never talk about it, but Mattie is the silver lining in his cold life.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Myles Tan)


A few minutes later, the dance is over. The musicians pack their instruments, and the young people leave the hall one by one. Ethan stays a bit back, in the dark. Mattie is the last to leave. She looks around, apparently looking for him. Then, Denis pulls up on his horse sleigh. Laughingly, he calls out, “Mattie, get on the sleigh, I will bring you home. You're not going to walk all alone in the dark, are you?” He moves up a bit, and taps with his hand on the free space next to him on the bench. Mattie answers cheerfully, “I'd rather go walking, the air is so clear. You don't think that I am afraid of the dark?”

When the sleigh glides away jingling, Ethan takes a deep breath. A great feeling of happiness streams through him. Mattie turned down Denis! Quickly he steps out of the shadow toward Mattie, and a moment later they walk together through the snow in the direction of the farm. Once, when Mattie almost slips, Ethan puts his arm through hers. Very lightly, she pushes herself against him.


Ethan Frome (1911) is a sensitive novel of the American writer Edith Wharton about the life of a poor farmer's family.

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'We will drive out the whites now!' - a village in South-east Nigeria – around 1885, story 28.
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