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<- Previous | Table of Contents | Next -> Digital Library-Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton



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 it. 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 measure 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.

The problem before me, as I saw in the first flash, was this: I had to
deal with a subject of which the dramatic climax, or rather the anti-
climax, occurs a generation later than the first acts of the tragedy.
This enforced lapse of time would seem to anyone persuaded-as I
have always been-that every subject (in the novelist’s sense of the
term) implicitly contains its own form and dimensions, * to mark
Ethan Frome as the subject for a novel. 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 as 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 incompatibility between subject and plan would perhaps have
seemed to suggest that my “situation” was after all one to be
rejected. Every novelist has been visited by the insinuating wraiths
of false “good situations,” siren-subjects luring his cockle-shell to
the rocks; their voice is oftenest heard, and their miragesea beheld,
as he traverses the waterless desert which awaits him half-way
through whatever work is actually in hand. I knew well enough
what song those sirens sang, and had often tied myself to my dull
job until they were out of hearing-perhaps carrying a lost
masterpiece in their rainbow veils. But I had no such fear of them
in the case of Ethan Frome. It was the first subject I had ever
approached with full confidence in its value, for my own purpose,
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