Edith Wharton and the "Authoresses": The Critique of Local Color in Wharton's Early Fiction
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Edith Wharton's impatience with what she called the "rose and lavender pages" of the New England local color "authoresses" reverberates throughout her autobiography and informs such novels as Ethan Frome and Summer. In A Backward Glance she explains that Ethan Frome arose from her desire "to draw life as it really was in the derelict mountain villages of New England, a life ... utterly unlike that seen through the rose coloured spectacles of my predecessors, Mary Wilkins and Sarah Orne Jewett"' The genre of women's local color fiction that Wharton thus disdained was in one sense, as Josephine Donovan has suggested, the culmination of a coherent feminine literary tradition whose practitioners had effectively seized the margins of realistic discourse and, within their self-imposed limitations of form and subject, transformed their position into one of strength.2 Wharton, however, was determined to expose the genre's weaknesses rather than to capitalize upon its strengths.' At the outset of her career, the 1890s backlash against local color and "genteel" fiction showed Wharton that to be taken seriously, she would have to repudiate the local colorists.