When she built her home The Mount in the Berkshires in 1901-02, Edith Wharton believed that she had found a healthful environment where she could escape the pressures of city life and the social demands of resorts such as Newport, Rhode Island and Bar Harbor, Maine. As she began to explore the region more extensively, however, Wharton discovered that behind the bucolic façade existed a world as problematic and individuals as troubled as those in the city. Wharton perceived in this region “villages still bedrowsed in a decaying rural existence, and sad, slow-speaking people living in conditions hardly changed since their forbears held those villages against the Indians” (A Backward Glance 898). In Ethan Frome, Wharton explores the lives of individuals who have been stunted by circumstances, whose daily routines reinforce the sense of inescapable frustration.
This short novel remains Wharton's best-known work, praised by contemporary reviewers for its convincing realism. Some critics cautioned, however, that it was too tragic and depressing. Wharton claimed that the first pages of the novel were written in French, an exercise she undertook to improve her vocabulary, but as she worked on the English manuscript, the volume became more important to her. She explained, “It was not until I wrote 'Ethan Frome' that I suddenly felt the artisan's full control of his implements” (A Backward Glance 941). In Ethan Frome, the harsh winter climate of Starkfield,