Ethan Frome is a novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American author Edith Wharton. Ethan Frome is set in a fictional New England town named Starkfield, where an unnamed narrator tells the story of his encounter with Ethan Frome, a man with dreams and desires that end in an ironic turn of events. The narrator tells the story based on an account from observations at Frome's house when he had to stay there during a winter storm.
The novel is framed by the literary device of an extended flashback. The first chapter opens with an unnamed male narrator spending a winter in Starkfield. He sets out to learn about the life of a mysterious local figure named Ethan Frome, a man who had been injured in a horrific “smash-up” twenty-four years before. Frome is described as “the most striking figure in Starkfield”, “the ruin of a man” with a “careless powerful look…in spite of a lameness checking each step like the jerk of a chain”.
The narrator fails to get many details from the townspeople. However, the narrator hires Frome as his driver for a week. A severe snowstorm forces Frome to take the narrator to his home one night for shelter. Just as the two are entering Frome's house, the first chapter ends. The second chapter flashes back twenty-four years; the narration switches from the first-person narrator of the first chapter to a limited third-person narrator. Ethan is waiting outside a church dance for Mattie, his wife’s cousin, who lives with Ethan and his wife Zeena (Zenobia) to help around the house since Zeena is sickly. Mattie is given the occasional night off to entertain herself in town as partial recompense for taking care of the Frome family without pay, and Ethan has fallen into the habit of walking her home. It is made clear that Ethan has deep feelings for Mattie, and it is equally clear that Zeena suspects these feelings and does not approve.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The Age of Innocence centers on an upper-class couple's impending marriage, and the introduction of a woman plagued by scandal whose presence threatens their happiness. Though the novel questions the assumptions and morals of 1870s New York society, it never devolves into an outright condemnation of the institution. In fact, Wharton considered this novel an "apology" for her earlier novel, The House of Mirth, which was more brutal and critical.
The novel is noted for Wharton's attention to detail regarding the way of life of the upper caste. The novel is lauded for its accurate portrayal of how the 19th-century East Coast American upper class lived,and this, combined with the social tragedy, earned Wharton a Pulitzer Prize—the first Pulitzer awarded to a woman. Edith Wharton was 58 years old at publication; she had lived in that world and had seen it change dramatically by the end of World War I.The title is an ironic comment on the polished outward manners of New York society when compared to its inward machinations.
House of Mirth is written in the style of a novel of manners, set against the backdrop of the 1890s New York aristocracy, it is considered American literary naturalism. Wharton places her tragic heroine, Lily Bart, in a society that she describes as a "hot-house of traditions and conventions."
House of Mirth tells the story of Lily Bart, a woman who is torn between her desire for luxurious living and a relationship based on mutual respect and love. She sabotages all her possible opportunities for a wealthy marriage, loses the esteem of her social circle, and dies young, poor, and alone.