Ethan Frome

what is the authors purpose for the introduction?


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There is an author's introduction to Ethan Frome, written by Wharton in 1922. It is included in most editions of the novel. In her introduction Wharton explains how and why she went about writing Ethan Frome: in her experience of literature set in rural New England, she had seen little that resembled the land as she saw it. Earlier literary portraits romanticized poverty and left out the harshness of the land, overlooking the "outcropping granite" (9). Wharton also explains her scheme for the novel: a sophisticated first-person narrator collects the different parts of the tale from various sources, after which he presents a unified vision of the story.

Wharton may have had some anxiety about the distance between herself and her subject matter in Ethan Frome. She was no farm girl, and her own upbringing had been in the privileged world of New York aristocrats. Acknowledgment of the difference may explain the layers she places between the reader and the story.

Wharton does not attempt to sell her work as journalism, or documentary-style fiction. She is admitting to the distance between herself, the reader, and the story and world of Ethan Frome. In acknowledging the distance, she frees herself to use imagination as the means for getting to the heart of Frome's story. This is a "vision" of Frome's tragedy, which will communicate the parts of the story that Wharton finds most compelling.