Monday, January 10, 2011

Short Story Monday: "Afterward" by Edith Wharton

Hello, Short Story Monday.... meet the TBR Dare.
Nearly fifty bloggers have accepted C.B. James' dare to read only from our shelves until April 1.  Since my shelves hold plenty of short stories, Short Story Monday posts will focus on collections and anthologies I've purchased over the last couple of years, as well as back issues of The New Yorker piled on my coffee table, for the entire first quarter of 2011.

Last Monday I started F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tales From the Jazz Age, but this week I was in the mood for a ghost story and turned to "Afterward" from The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton.   It begins:
"Oh, there is one, of course, but you'll never know it." 
These portentous words are spoken to Mary and Ned Boyne,  a newly wealthy American couple escaping "the soul-deadening ugliness" of the midwest for an English country home, when Ned, believing a ghost to be an absolute necessity for such a property, quite bluntly asks:
"I don't want to have to drive ten miles to see somebody else's ghost.  I want one of my own on the premises. Is there a ghost at Lyng?"
Ned is somewhat disappointed at the prospect of a ghost that nobody knows is a ghost and, upon pressing further, learns legend says the ghost is only recognized "afterward".  Ned then asks how it can be called a ghost if it is not immediately perceived as one, while Mary puzzles the question with their friend Alida,
"But if it's once been identified as an unearthly visitant, why hasn't its signalment been handed down in the family? How has it managed to preserve its incognito?... Suddenly, long afterward, one says to one's self 'That was it'?"
Alida can only offer the words, "One just has to wait."
"Oh, hang waiting!" Ned broke in. "Life's too short for a ghost who can only be enjoyed in retrospect. Can't we do better than that, Mary?"
The fun, and creepiness, comes with the unfolding story and discovery of the ghost... afterward. "Afterward" was less ambiguous and, ultimately, more satisfying than "The Lady's Maid's Bell" (reviewed here), also included in this eleven story collection. "Afterward" may also be read online.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.


  1. That is a great story. I also loved Kerfol in that collection. Her other stories are also excellent -- my favorites are Roman Fever and Xingu, which I found hilarious. I'm so impressed that Wharton could write both great novels and short stories.

  2. I like the line about driving to see someone else's ghost. I have added a link to the online version, as it really appeals to me. I have picked up an old short story book too and will try and review one every Friday now.

  3. I really need to read the entire collection of her ghost stories. I've read a few online and loved them all.

  4. I didn't know she had written short stories... Thanks, I'll check them!

  5. Karenlibrarian - Thanks for the recommendations! I'll read Kerfol next, and I know Roman Fever is in one of my anthologies.

    Vivienne - That line had me laughing out loud, too! I'll be looking for your short story posts.

    Nymeth - I rarely read collections straight through.. will enjoy the rest of these over the next several months.

    Em - It seems like Wharton has written a bit of everything... novels, short stories, poems, even books on home decorating!

  6. The only book I've read by Edith Wharton was The Touchstone, which I didn't particularly like. I may have to give this collection a try.

  7. Oh my, this sounds deviously delightful.

  8. Carolsnotebook - I've read 4 or 5 of Wharton's novels and have enjoyed them all, but am not familiar with The Touchstone. Guess I won't rush to add it to my list :-)

    Care - It is! Wharton definitely knows how to write a ghost story.

  9. I've never read any of Wharton's short stories, but I like the sound of this and the quotes you've provided. I should read some of her stories. I might even have a copy, which would fit with the TBR dare!

  10. Erin - Wharton seems just as comfortable writing short stories as she does novels. These are definitely worth reading!

  11. I must be incredibly dense--how did I always miss the little blips about Short Story Monday being a real thing? (not that I thought it was made up...but you know). Reading all of your short story posts has given me the desire to dust some of mine off the shelf. Maybe next Monday! Or the following...

    I haven't read Wharton's short stories but really liked Ethan Frome.

  12. I read this collection last October. I enjoyed Afterward but my personal favorite was Pomegranate Seed.

  13. Trish - Yep, Short Story Monday is for real :-) It would be great to have you join in. I loved Ethan Frome, too.

    Everybookandcranny - Oh good, another one to look forward to. Can't wait!

  14. Hmmm, an Atwood from the past...

  15. I'm a Wharton fan so I will be downloading this story to my Kobo, for sure. Great review!

  16. Em - I suppose so ;-)

    Teddy Rose - There are other ghost stories in the collection that are available online, too. If you look back through these comments, there are more recommendations.


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