Ethan Frome and Selected Stories [with Biographical Introduction]

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Edith Wharton

Wharton eventually hit upon the device of a storyteller, but she did not choose one steeped in the lore and history of New England. Rather than a character like the herbalist and healer Mrs.

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Todd in Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs , a native authority on the region's legends and values, Wharton chose someone from outside New England to narrate the story-a looker-on, an observer. In her desire for "roundness"—Wharton seemed to resort recurrently to the terminology of the "plastic arts" or visual media—she would supplement the narrator's perspective with those of her minor characters.

The fresh, acute perspective derived from the narrator's growing insight and awareness would compensate for what he lacked in inside background knowledge of the Frome household. While the device of an observer might lend "an air of artificiality" to a tale of sophisticated characters, Wharton noted, this defect might be mitigated if the narrator brought a sophisticated perspective to a tale of simple people. Her narrator would thus serve as a kind of intermediary between the reticent and reserved villagers and Wharton's readers, giving "voice" to characters nearly inarticulate or resigned to silence.

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  • Wharton's use of an observer eases the reader's entry into Ethan's story. In the opening of the novel the narrator recaptures his first arresting glimpse of Wharton's central character, when he had been struck by Frome's physiognomy and bearing. Harmon Gow, who had driven the stage between Starkfield and other towns in the region's pre-trolley days, provides further background on Frome.

    From Gow the narrator learns of Ethan's age and of his reluctance to escape Starkfield because of obligations to care for his failing parents.

    Ethan Frome & Selected Stories

    The narrator also hears not only Gow's chilling comment on Ethan's endurance—"Ethan'll likely touch a hundred"—but also his opinion that Ethan's stay in Starkfield constituted a kind of imprisonment: "Guess he's been in Starkfield too many winters. Most of the smart ones get away".

    Ethan Frome Intro and Chapters 1-5

    The narrator's interview of Gow develops the tale only "as far as his [Gow's] mental and moral reach permitted", and he hopes that the more educated, sophisticated Mrs. Ned Hale, with whom he is staying, will provide greater insight. He cannot cut through her reserve and reticence, however, even though she has more firsthand knowledge of the aftermath of the accident that scarred Frome's forehead.

    Implying a suffering too great for words, her only comment is: "It was awful". The narrator infers that he must piece together Ethan's story from different sources, and that consequently each retelling will be a little bit different. The meaning of the story, he infers, will be found even in gaps or silences after he has accumulated a succession of hints, suggestions, and clues that surround Frome.

    Ethan Frome

    For all the narrator's curiosity about the Frome household, this technique gives his telling an elliptical effect, a sense that much has been left unsaid or not fully articulated. When the winter snows prevent the narrator's return to Starkfield after Frome volunteers to drive him to his business appointment, he is granted a night's shelter at the farm. Enveloped by the severe storm, the narrator experiences a "soft universal diffusion more confusing than the gusts and eddies of the morning.

    The narrator's perplexity and bewilderment imply a need to reorient himself, to jolt himself, so to speak, into a perspective that demands clearer sight and more acute insight. It is at this point that Wharton effects the transition back to the period of Ethan's youth.

    Although some critics have quarreled with the subjective nature of her narrator's perceptions, there seems little doubt that Wharton intended his narrative to be more than one version of events among others. Accordingly, it is a "vision"; in her introduction she noted: "Only the narrator has scope to see it all, to resolve it back into simplicity, and to put it in its rightful place among his larger categories. See All Customer Reviews. Shop Books. Read an excerpt of this book! Add to Wishlist.

    Frome Essay | Bartleby

    USD 7. What do you think? I had known something of New England village life long before I made my home in the same county as my imaginary Starkfield; though, during the years spent there, certain of its aspects became much more familiar to me. Even before that final initiation, however, I had had an uneasy sense that the New England of fiction bore little — except a vague botanical and dialectical — resemblance to the harsh and beautiful land as I had seen.

    Even the abundant enumeration of sweet-fern, asters, and mountain-laurel, and the conscientious reproduction of the vernacular, left me with the feeling that the outcropping granite had in both cases been overlooked. I give the impression merely as a personal one; it accounts for Ethan Frome , and may, to some readers, in a measured justify it. So much for the origin of the story; there is nothing else of interest to say of it, except as concerns its construction.

    Ethan Frome : A Study

    Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton on Amazon. The problem before me, as I saw in the first flash, was this: I have to deal with the subject of which the dramatic climax, or rather the anti-climax, occurs a generation later then the first acts of the tragedy. But I never thought this for a moment, for I had felt, at the same time, that the theme of my tale was not one on which many variations could be played. It must be treated as starkly and summarily is life had always presented itself to my protagonists; any attempt to elaborate and complicate their sentiments would necessarily have falsified the whole. They were, in truth, these figures, my granite outcroppings ; but half-emerged from the soil, and scarcely more articulate. This is my task, if I were to tell the story of Ethan Frome; and my scheme of construction — which met with the immediate an unqualified disapproval of the few friends to whom I tentatively outlined it ….