Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, Ernest J.

The original cover for Ethan Frome, published by Scribners in 1911, was a simple red hardcover with the title and author’s name in golden letters. The title had a red box around it and was printed in a larger font than Edith Wharton. This simple design was the norm for that time period in America because printing in multiple color tones was expensive. I know this because I read a biography about Dr. Seuss where they discussed his tendency to only use three-six colors a book. He may have wanted to use more but multi-color printing was expensive and would have raised the final price of the book; I am assuming that transfers over to the novel industry as well. Hardcovers, of course, were also more common than paperbacks because they needed to be durable.

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We can also look at two different editions from the same publisher. Signet Classics added Ethan Frome to their line-up right after the private rights expired. So we have one edition from 1987 (left) and one from 2009 (right).

Ethan From Essays - Ethan Frome, English-language …

Yes, and Wharton certainly does a lot to establish the landscape as bleak in Ethan Frome (one of my favorite books, by the way …)

The 2009 edition seems to follow the path of Penguin Classics, Wordsworth Classics, and Dover Thrift Editions in showing the physical setting of the story through impressionism but it does use a warmer color scheme that seems to imply more hope and less doom. I enjoy this 2009 cover from Signet Classics the most out of all the covers I have seen because, more than anything, Ethan Frome is a tale of a choice between duty and self. Ethan had a choice; he may have made the wrong one but he was never destined for eternal suffering, as some readers erroneously infer from the unforgiving landscape. Ethan does have a terrible life but it was never his preordained fate. I think this book cover emphasizes that possibility and I would like to further emphasize it in my own book cover. The 2009 edition also adds “Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author” above Edith Wharton’s name, which I think is a reflection of a generation that isn’t readily familiar with her name so the publisher is trying to establish credibility and authority.