Book Review | “The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton” an anthology collection of ghost stories writ with a Victorian era curiosity on specters and parapsychological stories #OTBHorrorOctober

Posted Tuesday, 28 October, 2014 by jorielov , , 2 Comments

Horror October 2014

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The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton

Borrowed Book By: 

After I compiled my reading list for Horror October (of which I blogged about on my post about being a Cosy Horror Girl), I knew that I wanted to borrow this particular collection from my local library. The best resource I have always enjoyed in my life are local libraries, as they have a beautiful outreach for materials outside their collection through the ILL services they provide with other libraries. (I shorten “inter-library loan” to ILL) In my particular case, my local library is part of a consortium of libraries from a portion of the libraries within my state. This means that I can draw books out of collections from larger cities as well as from University libraries. I borrowed “The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton” and elected to blog my ruminations without any obligation to do so. The hardback edition arrived to me via a Community College library within the consortium via ILL.

Encouraged to Read By:

This was one of the novels that was compiled on the List I asked (Mr.) Gregory Fisher @ Riffle Horror to curate for me as a way for me to seek out the cosier side of the Horror genre. I have always had a pure fascination for ghost stories, as there is always such a curious route the individual writer can take as they yield to the supernatural and the presence of each ghost they bring to life on the written page. I personally have a preference for spunky & cheeky ghosts as much as spirits of the recently deceased who are in seek of help from living persons who can either aide them towards finding peace, redemption, and/or justice as a way to transition forward in peace. (I spoke more about this on my review of Lost in Thought)

I have been wanting to read more Classics since 2014 began, as I had all these wicked happy ideas of where I could soak inside the works of the writers’ who not only championed the cause for well-written fiction but who were dedicated to the craft of writing in such a way as to illicit immediate respect and admiration. When I was finally able to join tCC (the Classics Club : my List), I thought for sure each month I’d be reading at least two classic novels! Clearly my year did not pan out as I had forethought it would but that doesn’t discount the fact I knew during Horror October I could finally introduce myself to the writing style of Edith Wharton! As Wharton is already listed on my Classics TBR List due to my interactions with an after canon author during a 2013 blog tour!

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton
by Edith Wharton
Illustrator/Cover Designer: Laszlo Kubinyi
Source: Borrowed from local library

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton are a collection of Gothic Literature Shorts set around the parapsychological phenomenon of hauntings by way of ghosts & spirits who are attached to either physical properties, (i.e. houses) or living persons of whom the ghostly spirit has found an attachment. Each of the short stories transcends what is popularly disbelieved and unwilling to become accepted as bonefide fact that there are experiences past our vision of acceptance where the supernatural lies just outside the stretch of the living soul's observational mirror.

The setting of choice for Wharton to place these stories was inside three distinctly different locales: England, Normandy, & America. Her preference was for the inclusion of a family estate to be the central focus of where her characters not only interacted with the ghosts but where the action of the story itself takes place.

Illustrative plates are included per short story to help the reader fuse directly into the heart of where Wharton hoped to take her readers with the vision of the supernatural she wished to convey.

The following short stories are included in this collection:

  • The Lady's Maid Bell
  • The Eyes
  • Afterward
  • Kerfol
  • The Triumph of the Night
  • Miss Mary Pash
  • Bewitched
  • Mr. Jones
  • Pomegrante Seed
  • The Looking Glass
  • All Souls'

Other Works by Wharton listed inside the collection are:

  • The Moose Marathon
  • The Mudslipper (Children's Lit)
  • Mistress & Other Creative Takeoffs (Short Stories)
    with Desmond Sim & Kwan Loh

This summary of a synopsis was written & composed by Jorie @ Jorie Loves A Story.

Genres: Anthology Collection of Short Stories and/or Essays, Ghost Story, Gothic Literature, Historical Fiction, Suspense

Places to find the book:

Borrow from a Public Library

Add to LibraryThing

Published by Charles Scribner's Sons

on 1973

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 276

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Reflections on Wharton’s opening prologue:

Even in Edith Wharton’s time people were attempting to turn a book into a movie, rather than appreciating the story for how it was written! The most appalling thought in reading her disclosure of being perplexed why the paranormal elements of her stories needed to be scrutinized based on the limits of science, left me realising that today’s audience is still very much akin to her generation.

The palpable measure of a story can be curtailed if the package and method of how it is presented or arranged does not fit the perception of the genre by it’s admirers. I think books and films should always stand apart from one another; appreciated equally yet separably for what their respective mediums can give. A novel is more akin to live theater where the imagination of the audience’s mind is co-dependent on the story to become alive from the pen which writ it originally.

There is always a measure of suspended belief — especially in speculative fiction, but also, in the creative arts as a whole. We have to endeavour to accept and believe on faith in combination with sight and imagination. Not every question in life nor fiction requires an explanation or warrants a resolution of a conclusion. I oft-times think we’ve become a bit bogged down in the details rather than accepting a medium of art and creativity that deserves a bit more freedom of acceptance.

The instance Wharton gave about the particular ability of a ghost to not only interact with our living world, but to physically act inside it is what appeared to become the keystone issue of the debate.

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| The Lady’s Maid |

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The opening reminded me of a traditional Gothic Lit beginning of a novel, where everything feels uncannily normal, and the only alarm is the character agreeing to a request to become a lady’s maid without first making an acquaintance with the persons at the house by which she will become employed. A beguiling house staffed with an efficiency and timely accord of decorum yet the master of the house is as off-putting as a spoiled egg! Hartley, the maid is the narrator of this tale, giving a first person accountment of what is observed from the moment she first arrives.

The only telling impression (or foreshadow) giving me an inkling of a clue towards the house being haunted is the unexplained presence of a woman in the hall by which Hartley is given a room that first night. She saw the woman plain as day, but she could not find one member of the house staff to vouch nor validate her claim. The key characters are as follows: Alice Hartley the willing maid who is desperate to make a good placement at an upstanding house of employ; Mrs. Brympton is the lady by which she attends; Mr. Ranford fills in the role of Mr. Carson of Downton Abbey; whereas the ghost in residence is Ms. Emma Saxton, the previous lady’s maid to Mrs. Brympton.

The illustrative plate for this short story amplifies this scene: A ghastly non-living version of Emma Saxton with Alice Hartley surprised to find her present yet compelled by curiosity to follow in close pursuit after her. This is the start of how Hartley uncovers the secret of the estate and of a family who tells no tales nor gives any explanation towards what is actually happening whilst Hartley is employed.

I found this to be such a peculiar tale, as right when you feel settled into the atmosphere of Hartley’s duties and the sequence of time at the house, Wharton chooses to push the story forward – to such an accelerated degree, that by the time the ending arrives, I felt dissatisfied by the conclusion. If anything this ghost short story has a humdinger of a cliffhanger! It is such a quiet and subtle ending without honouring Hartley nor Emma Saxton! I was left plumb aghast as to what Wharton was thinking as she writ the last words that left the page as all I had in my head-space was a heap of questions and a growing concern for both Hartley & Emma! Imagine that! The ghoulish ghost left enough of an impression on me that I was actually concerned for her well being!

The perplexing calm out of the pen of Wharton that greets you as you turnt the last page is the most disappointing ending for me to have found by far. I felt the entire lead-up to the ending shattered to shards of glass without a cause for why the glass broke! It was that infuriating!

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| Afterward |

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A terrifying and chilling account of how your actions in life can catch up to you, and how not every ghost has benign intentions towards the people they seek out to haunt. A most startling story by half! The central figures of this short are Mary Boyne & her husband Edward Boyne — Wharton knits their back-story with such conviction that you are drawn deeper into this short than you are The Lady’s Maid. The premise is a working hypothesis as much as a declaration of extreme caution!

Mr. Boyne as it turns out has made choices in his business affairs that directly impact the security of his life as much as the sanctity of his marriage. We enter their lives quite easily, as almost we were unexpected visitors who were invisible yet ever present to take-in their daily rituals and over hear their conversations. Mrs. Boyne is quite the ordinary housewife, with the exception that she has an intuitive sense about things, little awarenesses that strike her in the moment but which she dismisses outright as being ‘flights of fancy’ or complete irrelevancy. When they originally decided to purchase their house, they were forewarned the place was haunted, yet not haunted in the manner in which they would find a living presence of a ghost. No, this house had the pleasure of being uniquely charmed by the supernatural!

For you see, everyone who had come into direct contact with the ghost itself was never able to quite relay to a third party what the ghost looked like, what the ghost said to them, nor where or how they knew it was a ghost in the first place! This particular house left an invisible mark on the person who meets the ghost, as if it whispered into their ear a knowing certainty and then whisked the memory out of their long-term memory as surely as a wind blows through a darkened wood on All Hallows Eve.

I was quite happily on the edge of my seat throughout this tale, as quite cleverly Wharton did not write this one with any sort of segue or tell (a foreshadow of where the ending would draw it’s arrow of direction); she relied on your chance of settling so happily into the pace of the story that by the time you turnt the very last page, you were as betwixt to accept what Mrs. Boyne came to realise as the truth herself! You simply sat there, page in hand, and pondered the larger scope of it. It was so delishly set inside my mind, even the illustrative plate took on a second meaning or rather the right perception as I went back to look upon it once more before closing the collection!

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My overall enjoyment of this collection of ghost stories has endeared me to mark a spot in next year’s reading queue for Horror October! I want to dig deeper into the collection itself, reading at least three more of the shorts and following Wharton into the rabbit hole of the supernatural! What I appreciated the most is her writing style & voice within this arm of the craft; she doesn’t seek to disturb your mind with images that would deter you from re-opening the collection but rather she lights inside your imagination a curiosity that one sitting with the collection is not enough to satisfy!

I am indebted to Gregory Fisher @ Riffle Horror for bringing this collection to my attention!

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This book review is in conjunction with my participation of:

#OTBHorrorOctober badge created by Jorie in CanvaPhoto Credit: Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story

Reader Interactive Question:

What types of ghost stories do you prefer to read yourself? The ones that are straight-up psychological suspense w/o the grisly bits of Horror? OR the ghost stories where nightmares are sure to follow suit after reading them? Do you have a favourite ghost story and/or author of ghost story fiction? Have you read this collection by Edith Wharton?

{SOURCES: Book Synopsis was composed entirely by Jorie @ Jorie Loves A Story based on her afterthoughts on having read a portion of the collection. Horror October banner provided by Oh! The Books for participants to promote the event on their book blogs; used with permission. #OTBHorrorOctober badge for Jorie created by Jorie in Canva. Book Review badge provided by Parajunkee to give book bloggers definition on their blogs. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2014.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Tuesday, 28 October, 2014 by jorielov in #HorrorOctober, 19th Century, Anthology Collection of Stories, Blogosphere Events & Happenings, Bookish Discussions, British Literature, Classic Mystery, Classical Literature, Clever Turns of Phrase, Cliffhanger Ending, Death, Sorrow, and Loss, England, Ghost Story, Ghosts & the Supernatural, Gothic Literature, Gothic Mystery, Haunting & Ethereal, Historical Fiction, Historical Mystery, Library Find, Literary Fiction, Local Libraries | Research Libraries, Mental Health, Motion Picture Adaptation, Parapsychological Suspense, Philosophical Intuitiveness, Reading Challenges, Short Stories or Essays, Speculative Fiction, Supernatural Fiction, Suspense, tCC The Classics Club, the Victorian era, Writing Style & Voice

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2 responses to “Book Review | “The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton” an anthology collection of ghost stories writ with a Victorian era curiosity on specters and parapsychological stories #OTBHorrorOctober

  1. kathleenshoop

    Jorie! This collection of stories looks amazing. I love Edith Wharton (House of Mirth figures into Love and Other Subjects!) and can’t wait to search this one down. Thanks for another insightful view into the literary world.

    • Hallo, Hallo Ms Shoop!

      :) I am so very thrilled you’ve found this review! I was focusing on Cosy Horror last October for the first time, and therein created this new genre designation that writers on Twitter were encouraging me about – not only if it felt as if it ‘fit’ their potential but they were inspiring me to pursue writing under this vein as well! It wasn’t something I had planned – I was keenly fascinated by ‘psychological suspense’ especially originating from watching TCM (Turner Classic Movies) around Halloween; ‘Gaslight’ and Spencer Tracy as Jekyll/Hyde left strong impressions you see! Then, I became quite fascinated by the concept of ‘Horror October’ and wells, it sort of snowballed from there – I gathered a reading list from Riffle Horror and started on my way! My readings last year were cut short, but this year, I’m going to read a bit more towards my goal of focus on these types of stories once a year! I very much wanted to participate in PERIL for both September & October, but thankfully I still have this month! :)

      You’re most welcome about the suggestion – this was my first Wharton read, and it won’t be my last! I want to read her books in a bit of a sequence due to some of my convos on Twitter and whilst conversing via a few blog tours where Wharton came into the conversation. I think once you find her style – in this format or her regular faire, it’s hard not to want to continue reading her works! Delighted to joy knowing I’ve helped you find this hidden gem! May you be able to read it in the Autumn, as the spirit of the season and the crisp air take hold!

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