A Comparison of the Women of Wharton and DeleddaTwo writers, both women, both from different backgrounds. Edith Whartonwas high society. Grazia Deledda was a commoner from another country. Thoughboth wrote almost exclusively to their won regions, their portrayal of women wasquite similar. In Wharton’s Ethan Frome she has two women, both distinct fromone another. In Deledda’s La Madre, two women also make up the bulk of the story.
But there are many more similarities in these works. Released only nine yearsapart both novels deal with a struggle of the heart, of the faith, and astruggle of their moral soundness. And in both stories the women are portrayedon opposite sides of the conflict. In this paper I intend to show an apparentbond between these stories’ characters, and the gamut ran between the femalepersonae.Published in 1911, Ethan Frome is considered one of the bestcontemporary short novels of its time. Ethan Frome illuminated Wharton’sfamiliar writing style with a spark of imagination. In this story, as Iexpressed in the opening paragraph, lie two women.
The first is Zenobia Frome,or Zeena for short. In her late twenties, she suffers from a compounded sicknessthat was thought to be brought on by her taking care of Ethan’s mother and herabsorption of life’s burdens. In this story she is the conflicting character.
The other woman is a young Mattie Silver, the cousin of Zeena and thehousemaid of the Fromes. Mattie is about twenty-one years old and not too muchof a house keeper since she is small and weak and somewhat clumsy. Butnevertheless she caught the eye of Ethan Frome who would fetch her on nights oftown revelry, and with that grew a forbidden love. This is the conflict of thestory.In 1920, Grazia Deledda published La Madre.
Maria Maddalena is themother of the priest who, throughout the book, falls to the wayside undertemptation. She is a very old-fashioned woman as is the whole town.Overprotective of her son, she helps build up the climactic theme of faith. Theother woman is Agnes, a well-to-do townswoman who is the object of the priest’sbackslidden affair. Unlike Ethan Frome, in this story the characters ofconflict shift between the two women. Now let’s look at the comparable likenessof the women in both stories.To look at Maria Maddalena and Zeena Frome in the same frame would notbe a far stretch.
Both are very controlling and try to rule the lives of themen around them. Zeena portrays constant supervision over Ethan even when sheis not physically around. Maria also kept a constant supervision in her son’slife.
This was maybe the main reason why Paul did not fold under temptation,whereas Zeena’s domineering actions did not bring any good to her situation.Zeena played the part of a wife/mother. She was very controlling andpossessive, putting objects in higher regard than those around her, as shown inthe scene where she finds the broken pickle dish.
“Must he wear out all hisyears at the side of a bitter querulous woman? Other possibilities had been him,possibilities sacrificed, one by one, to Zeena’s narrow-mindedness andignorance” (Wharton 53). This quote sums up the state of the relationshipbetween Ethan and Zeena, grim and despondent.Now, in my eyes, Maria Maddalena was the lesser of two evils.
Constantly pressuring her son, she too was very domineering and overprotective.Although her son Paul could see her reasons for worry, he realized that it wasmuch too dramatic, which probably just worsened the problem. I trust that ifone’s mother said she had spoken with a ghost about the current problems ofoneself, that alone would be a great psychological strain. I believe that youcould interchange these two characters and not make a great deal of change. Thesame can be said for Agnes and Mattie.Agnes was a paradox of sorts.
So beautiful and pure enough for a priestto fall in love with, yet if turned upon, by any means would vindicate herself.She fascinated Paul with her beautiful flowing hair and sweet smelling perfumes.He was also drawn in by pity and solitude, mixed with human sexuality. The samequalities entranced Ethan. Mattie is a symbol of chaste innocence and theessence of romantic love, which Ethan was severely lacking, almost to the pointof emotional dehydration. These two women personify what all men really want,an escape from reality into a world of unconditional attractiveness with theopposite sex.
Even though there are some distinctions between the women, I believethey are there because of the story they are placed in. Let’s say that Agneswas the housemaid in Ethan Frome. She would not have had the same vengefulnature as she did towards Paul because Ethan would have given in to her andsubmitted all he had.
This would have eliminated that aspect of her disposition.I also believe that one reason the mother in La Madre came across as shedid was due in part to the time and location of the story. I assume that in theearly 1900’s the position of motherhood was filled with many devout, sternpeople. It was normal.
Also in a predominantly Catholic place such as Sardinia,religion played heavily on their lives. And to be a mother of a priest just putadded responsibility to the job of being as pious as possible.One man, one woman tempting that man, and one woman holding that manback from temptation is the basis that both of these stories come down to.
“Andafter their eyes had met their hands had sought and found each other, and thatnight they had kissed. And now his blood, which had flowed quietly for so manyyears rushed through his veins like liquid fire and the weak flesh yielded…”(Deledda 55).From just reading this paper one would not know which book this quotecame from (with an exception of the citation).
And it doesn’t really matter,for what matters is that it is in both books from the beginning to the end.Remarkable similarities from remarkable character. From Agnes to Mattie andfrom Zeena to Maria, the drama and tragedy encompasses all. And to comparethese people or contrast the, either task would be worth doing over again.
. .and again.Works CitedDeledda, Grazia. La Madre (The Woman and the Priest). Italy: Dedalus, 1920.
. Wharton, Edith. Edith Frome. New York: Norton, 1995.