Based on what she tells us in the novel's introduction, what is Edith Wharton presuming about her readers and providing for them in Ethan Frome?In the Introduction to Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton...

Based on what she tells us in the novel's introduction, what is Edith Wharton presuming about her readers and providing for them in Ethan Frome?

In the Introduction to Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton says: "Every novelist, again, who 'intends upon' his art, has lit upon such subjects, and been fascinated by the difficulty of presenting them in the fullest relief, yet without an added ornament, or a trick of drapery or lightning. This was my task, if I were to tell the story of Ethan Frome; and my scheme of construction - which met with the immediate and unqualified disapproval of the few friends to whom I tentatively outlined it - I still think justified in the given case. It appears to me, indeed, that, while an air of artificiality is lent to a tale of complex and sophisticated people which the novelist causes to be guessed at and interpreted by any mere looker-on, there need be no such drawback if the looker-on is sophisticated, and the people he interprets are simple. If he is capable of seeing all around them, no violence is done to probability in allowing him to exercise this faculty; it is natural enough that he should act as the sympathizing intermediary between his rudimentary characters and the more complicated minds to whom he is trying to present them. But this is all self-evident, and needs explaining only to those who have never thought of fiction as an art of composition."

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The structure and point of view Edith Wharton employed in Ethan Frome is complex and sophisticated. The novel begins with an unnamed narrator speaking of events that had happened to him in Starkfield, Massachusetts, some years before; It then employs a flashback to a time twenty-four years earlier, a time when the narrator was not present. At this point, Wharton changes from a first-person point of view to a third-person omniscient point of view, limited to Ethan. The body of the novel is developed through the flashback, but at its conclusion, Wharton returns to the narrator and his memory of events, creating a shocking and tragic conclusion to the mystery of Ethan Frome's life.

In her Introduction, Wharton discusses the artistic challenges of bringing her tale to the page. Her literary composition of Ethan Frome is complex, but she sees her characters as simple people whom the reader can interpret and understand without a great deal of intervention or assistance by the writer. Wharton makes this point in these lines from the Introduction:

It appears to me, indeed, that, while an air of artificiality is lent to a tale of complex and sophisticated people which the novelist causes to be guessed at and interpreted by any mere looker-on, there need be no such drawback if the looker-on is sophisticated, and the people he interprets are simple. If he is capable of seeing all around them, no violence is done to probability in allowing him to exercise this faculty . . . .

Taken in its entirety, Wharton's Introduction provides the reader with an explanation--and a defense--of the structure of the novel. She also explains why so much is left for the reader to interpret, particularly in regard to her characters. She assumes that her readers will be sophisticated and therefore will understand the literary choices she has made. As she concludes, she emphasizes this belief:

But this is all self-evident, and needs explaining only to those who have never thought of fiction as an art of composition.

Edith Wharton expressed a great deal of faith in her readers.

 

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