Posted in Non Fiction

Edith Wharton: All Souls’

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The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton

I finally chose the nine of spades which corresponds to Edith Wharton’s short story “All Souls’ “.  Until now, I’ve never read anything by Wharton; however, I’ve seen the titles of a few of her novels often throughout the years – novels like Ethan Frome, The Age of Innocence, and The House of Mirth.  She gives me the impression of being the Jane Austen of turn of the (twentieth) century New York.  That’s why I was surprised to find out that she wrote a number of ghost stories.  Based on this one story, she doesn’t hold a candle to Edgar Allan Poe on the scary scale, but she’s worth reading.  I would welcome reading more.

The narrator describes her cousin, Sara Clayburn, as a widow living in an old New England home with a handful of servants.  The story is relayed by the narrator based on events told to her by her cousin.  Sara meets a strange woman on her way home one dark evening. The scariness of the story comes from Wharton’s writing as Clayburn wakes up the next morning to find everyone in her home gone.  The majority of the narrative comes from her wanderings and musings and confusion over the empty house.  This doesn’t sound frightening, but as with the best of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, Wharton solidly catches the reader’s imagination and mind as to hold them in suspense not knowing what might be around the next corner or in the next room or looking in from outside through a window.

The only part of the story that seemed unnecessary came at the end when the narrator blames the happenings on Sara’s maid, Agnes – who is mentioned from time to time in the story. Apparently, Agnes came from a background in which her ancestors dabbled in the supernatural.  The narrator makes a giant leap from the strange events to Agnes, the maid. It did nothing for the suspense or scariness that had just been rendered to the reader with such vividness.

3 thoughts on “Edith Wharton: All Souls’

  1. Hi Dale,
    I have a collection of Wharton’s ghost stories that I’ve never yet opened (Fodder for DMI 2014?), but I have read Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence, both of which I have fond memories of.
    It’s been so long ago, though, that I remember little of her style. I also “false-started” The House of Mirth once but it didn’t immediately “take” and I haven’t gotten backto that one either. 🙂

  2. I have two of her stories on my 2014 list as of now. From the titles, they seem as though they are ghost stories. This one also was told by someone other than the person it was happening to. The rationale was that Sara Clayburn was to befuddled and frightened to tell the whole thing in an orderly fashion for anyone to understand. Not sure that really served any purpose.

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