In her long career, which stretched over forty years and included the publication of more than forty books, Edith Wharton (1862-1937) portrayed a fascinating segment of the American experience. During the span of her literary career as an author, she conceived stories of exceptional originality and depth. Especially well versed in illustrating tales about romantic irony and how cruel little twists of fate dramatically effect circumstances of this nature. Two of her novels, Ethan Frome and the less fictitious Summer, both have a prominent overshadow of these ingredients in them.
They are both works that depict the same basic emotions, those of love and longing due to prolonged and usually enforced abstinence of such emotion. They both depict individuals who are inarticulate and in efficient as far as the expressions of love, sorrow or misery are concerned. Also common is the factor that both these individuals, at some point in their lives, come across a character that arouses within them feelings that weren't even previously considered by these individuals. These feelings, in the case of Ethan Frome, were entirely suppressed and were thought to be even by the farmer himself, extinct. Similarly, in the case of Charity Royall, the main character in the novel Summer, feelings of love and desire were nothing more than a passive existence in her mind until she encounters the young man who plays a key role in contributing to the depth and plot if the novel. "With sudden vehemence he wound his arms about her, holding her head against his breast while she gave him back his kisses" (101)
The theme and outline of Ethan Frome, is about a farmer whose name is Ethan Frome. The story initially revolves around him and his invalid wife Zeena. What deepens Ethan's predicament in terms of despair and desolation is that besides suffering from minor ailments his wife is also a hypochondriac of a vast nature. She manages to make any sort of ailment appear tenfold worse than it actually is and is constantly persisting that he buy her Doctor books and patent medicines that are supposedly treatments to the mostly imaginary diseases that ail her. It is actually due to this state of Zeena that they decide to call a destitute cousin of hers in order to help around with running the house.
This cousin, whose name is Mattie Silver, being young and pretty, brings with her into the Frome household a feeling of rejuvenation and exuberance. Inevitably, Ethan begins to feel an inclination towards her and though it is rather in the nature of an unspoken relationship it grows rapidly. Neither Ethan nor the cousin meant to do wrong; it was simply one of those unconscious, inevitable attachments, almost primitive in its intensity. This causes his wife, Zeena to observe them with mistrust and malice, ultimately resorting to throwing her own cousin out into the real world, with no support or salvation, to provide for herself. 
The grounds that she claims to do this on are that she perceives Mattie as being useless, shiftless and incompetent, though possibly a fact, it is apparent that the reason is jealousy. It is a tale that has a very original theme to it and this is further emphasized in its climax. The climax of the tale is initiated when, on the way too drop her at the station for her final departure, Ethan decides on actually speaking out aloud, his feelings for and towards Mattie. They are at the apex of a steep slope that is considered a thrill to ride down in sled or a carriage and as a result of his revelation and her mutuality, they resolve to try a joint suicide.
Upon his instigation, they decide that instead of executing the crucial turn at the end of the slope in order to make it a safe trip, simply to crash into the alternative death. Here again is fates cruel sense of humor displayed as they both end up as crippled invalids in under the supervision and care of Zeena, the very embodiment of both their barriers and fears. Zeena can also symbolically represent fate, as it is she who has the final say in a manner of speaking.
It is a perfect example of marital dominance leading to an illicit love affair and also reflects the broken spirit of Ethan Frome as a man. This is most strongly stressed upon by the recurring thought the reader will encounter as to why, in the first place, doesn't Ethan simply desert his wife and elope with her cousin. Also noteworthy is the arousal of emotions within Ethan Frome, emotions that he previously considered beyond him. 
The story of Summer, though told in a rather different style and mood, is rather similar when it comes down to the raw concept of the story. This is the tale of a young girl, Charity Royall, who gets her surname due to the event of being adopted by lawyer Royall, a respectable citizen of the quiet and uneventful town of North Dormer. The story begins with angry and defiant overtones from the girl, in context to the longing that she has to see the world and the more modernized cities close to her hometown, where she has only had the privilege to go once. These lingering desires to see the outside world are heightened upon observing a young man who is dressed in city attire and who appears to be a stranger to the town. This is not so much of a love story as much as it is the tale of a young woman of strong and defiant spirit maturing and growing up in a culture that isn't really hers. Since the starting she has been repeatedly reminded that she should be grateful to the good lawyer since he had the goodness of heart to bring her down from the Mountain and give her a proper upbringing in one of the most prestigious households of the society; his own. The twist of love is initially introduced when the lawyer, old as he was, tries to enter her room one night, his expression clear upon his countenance. Charity is extremely disgusted and she clearly expresses her contempt and disgust using heavy sarcasm. The lawyer, her rightful though not official guardian, is crestfallen and he does not pursue the matter, as she doesn't either. 
This too is a story that illustrates the freaks of fate that are so prevalent in love affairs of any nature, illicit or marital. The most pronounced instance of this phenomenon is the point when Charity actually begins to relate, for the first time, the presence of Mr. Royall with a sense of peace and security. This story focuses on and highlights the way traumatic events can completely alter a person's way as seeing things. In the end of this novel, Charity is shown to be happy and secure with the same man who she had initially hated despicably for suggesting that such a relationship be divulged. 
Both of these novels are masterpieces and have been written in a picturesque and authentic style. Wharton does an incredible job of impressing upon her readers an almost definite image as to the settings of a scene and similarly to the mood and expression of each character. Ethan Frome is more of an imaginative piece of work than is Summer, but both are significantly similar in their reference to loss, despair, inevitability and hopelessness. The key characters in both the novels climaxes are left feeling, to different extents, deprived and robbed of the fullest of life, that they perceive to have been within reach, only to have eluded them as is the nature of life.
The relationship that Charity Royall actively continues with Harney (the young man from the city) is as illicit as the one that Ethan Frome shares with his wife Zeena's cousin, Mattie Silver. In both instances, the opportunity to such relationships has arrived totally unexpected and the individuals in question have not previously contemplated the taking up of such relationships. Inevitability plays an important role as it can be assumed that just as Ethan and Mattie survive only to live a sufferable life under the malign scrutiny of Zeena, (Ethan Frome), so does Charity go on to marry her guardian Mr. Royall (Summer).
The consequent results are different in the sense that Ethan and Mattie, being confined due to being seriously crippled, are in a crucially depressing predicament, Charity, towards the end, begins to see in her situation a rather solacing and strengthening factor. She later assesses her plight to actually be an act of deliverance and this makes her grateful. In Ethan Frome, the character of Zeena is unquestionably the most compelling of them all as is the character of Charity in Summer. The depiction of courageous resolve is another feature that is evident in both the novels. On Charity's part it is shown in her resolution to have…