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Ethan Frome | Study Guide

Edith Wharton

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Edith Wharton | Biography


Edith Wharton, born Edith Jones on January 24, 1862, wrote more than 50 books and countless magazine articles during her career. Her success, which included much acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize, was unusual for a woman from the upper class in her era. The key to Wharton's acclaim was often her critique of the social aristocracy into which she was born. Both sides of her family were "old money" in New York City, and she was provided a good education and training in social expectations and etiquette.

After Edith Jones's first two engagements ended, she eventually married Edward Wharton, a wealthy but mismatched man with whom she lived lavishly. The Whartons traveled extensively, bought mansions, and socialized with aristocracy, but Edward was depressed and abusive toward Edith. The pair never had children, and it's unclear whether they ever consummated their marriage. Yet both had affairs and dalliances and expressed other outward desires. Despite their obvious unhappiness the Whartons remained married for over 20 years, divorcing only after Edward embezzled money from Edith.

Ethan Frome, which was serialized in Scribner's Magazine before being published in full in 1911, was well received by critics and popular with audiences. Following Ethan Frome Wharton published two more novels set in New England, Summer and Bunner Sisters, featuring characters struggling to escape suffocating environments only to be pulled deeper into their despair. Thematically these novels certainly mirror Wharton's personal struggles as her tumultuous and often violent marriage came to an unhappy end. As with all her works Wharton wrote to critique the social expectations and moral demands that rendered individuals powerless to change their fates.

Many critics credit Wharton's writing career to her insight into the makings of an unhappy marriage, which is a primary theme in Ethan Frome and many of her other works. She continued writing and publishing widely until her death in France on August 11, 1937.

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