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Ethan Frome is a novella published by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American author Edith Wharton. It is set in the fictitious town of Starkfield, Massachusetts.
The novel is framed by the literary device of an extended flashback. The prologue opens with an unnamed male narrator spending a winter in Starkfield, a fictional town in New England, while in the area on business. He spots a limping, quiet man around the village, who is somehow compelling in his demeanor and carriage. Curious, the narrator sets out to learn about him. He learns that Frome's limp arose from having been injured in a "smash-up" twenty-four years before, but further details are not forthcoming.
Chance circumstances arise that allow the narrator to hire Frome as his driver for a week. A severe snowstorm during one of their journeys forces Frome to allow the narrator to shelter at his home one night. Just as the two are entering Frome's house, the prologue ends. We then embark on the "first" chapter (Chapter I), which takes place twenty-four years prior. The narration switches from the first-person narrator of the prologue to a limited third-person narrator.
In Chapter I, Ethan is waiting outside a church dance to walk home Mattie, his wife's cousin, who has for a year lived with Ethan and his sickly wife, Zeena (Zenobia), in order to help out around the house and farm. It is quickly clear that Ethan has feelings for Mattie. It also becomes clear that Zeena has observed enough to understand that he has these feelings and resents them.