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The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton Paperback – October 10, 1997
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"'No, I don't believe in ghosts, but I'm afraid of them,' is much more than the cheap paradox it seems to many. To 'believe,' in that sense, is a conscious act of the intellect, and it is in the warm darkness of the prenatal fluid far below our conscious reason that the faculty dwells with which we apprehend ghosts." Edith Wharton, known for her keen observations of an emotionally stifling upper-class social world, was so afraid of ghosts that for many years she couldn't even sleep in a room with a book containing a ghost story. As horror scholar Jack Sullivan writes, "It is this sharply felt sensation of supernatural dread filtered through a skeptical sensibility that made Wharton a master of the ghost story." This collection contains 11 of her elegant, chilling tales, including "Afterword," "The Triumph of Night," and "Pomegranate Seed," plus Wharton's 1937 preface and an autobiographical postscript. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
Edith Wharton was born in 1862 into one of New York's older and richer families and was educated here and abroad. Her works include The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth, and Roman Fever and Other Stories. As a keen observer and chronicler of society, she is without peer. Edith Wharton died in France in 1937.
Top customer reviews
I love Edith Wharton's work and didn't know what to expect really concerning the ghost topic - the stories are excellently written of course and the suspense is definitely there - but I'm someone who needs more from a ghost story than these offer. I just read the Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories providing stories from many famed authors including one of Edith's and the majority were not only suspenseful - but bone chilling, down right scary stuff. Thats more my personal style for this topic.I did enjoy this book. though and recommend to those whom don't need Really scary stories to feel that full suspense thing they're after.
"The 'moral issue' question must not be allowed to enter into the estimating of a ghost story. It must depend for its effect solely on what one might call its thermometrical quality; if it sends a cold shiver down one's spine, it has done its job and done it well. But there is no fixed rule as to the means of producing this shiver, and many a tale that makes others turn cold leaves me at my normal temperature. The doctor who said there were no diseases but only patients would probably agree that there are no ghosts, but only tellers of ghost stories, since what provides a shudder for one leaves another peacefully tepid. Therefore one ought, I am persuaded, simply to tell one's ghostly adventures in the most unadorned language, and 'leave the rest to Nature.'"
That Wharton denies that the "moral issue" is not relevant to the estimation of a ghost story should not lead the reader to conclude that her stories are only light-hearted divertissements. They are, in point of fact, almost always driven by a philosophical concern or a metaphorical connection to actual daily life. "Mr. Jones," for example, is simultaneously a satisfying antiquarian ghost story, with the discovery of a family secret among ancient papers; an ironic reflection on the delicate balance of power between servants and masters in the early 20th century; and a genuinely dark piece of fiction with a mostly absent yet powerful and malevolent ghost.
One of Wharton's virtues is her ability to take the plot devices used in stock ghost stories and, by using her gifts for atmospheric descriptions of place and succinct evocations of human psychology, breathe new life into them so that they become terrifying all over again. "Afterward," perhaps the single finest of her ghost stories, takes what could be a trite concept of ghostly revenge and turns it into a disturbing meditation on the nature of guilt and complicity and the sheer mysteriousness of the universe. "The Triumph of Night" uses its ghostly forewarning of disaster to emphasize its narrator's isolation and fear. And "Pomegranate Seed" begins with a ghost so narrowly metaphorical that it could seem like a joke, and treats its psychological effects so seriously that what started in humor ends in genuine despair.
There are a couple stories here that are non-supernatural. I won't say too much about them because the absence of ghosts sometimes comes as a surprise, but I will note that both are satisfying in subtly different ways from the stories with "genuine" ghosts; one is almost bitterly satirical, while another is quietly melancholy and rather touching.
In narrative terms Edith Wharton's ghost stories, often concerned with the aristocracy, with old, large houses, and with shadowy spectres who have unfinished business, may sound too traditional for the knowing sensibilities of the contemporary reader. But, like her friend Henry James, Wharton was interested in the psychological as well as the literal trappings of the ghost, and it's that interest that makes her ghost stories satisfying, relevant, and perhaps even unsettling to the reader of today. Surely the point being made in the following excellent paragraph is timeless:
"No, she would never know what had become of him-- no one would ever know. But the house ~knew~; the library in which she spent her long lonely evenings knew. For it was here that the last scene had been enacted, here that the stranger had come, and spoken the word which had caused Boyne to rise and follow him. The floor she trod had felt his tread; the books on the shelves had seen his face; and there were moments when the intense consciousness of the old dusky walls seemed about to break out into some audible revelation of their secret. But the revelation never came, and she knew it would never come. Lyng was not one of the garrulous old houses that betray the secrets entrusted to them. Its very legend proved that it had always been the mute accomplice, the incorruptible custodian, of the mysteries it had surprised. And Mary Boyne, sitting face to face with its silence, felt the futility of seeking to break it by any human means."