Edith Wharton, Literary Ghosts and the Writing of New England

  • Janet Beer


In this chapter I intend to look at the regional in Edith Wharton’s short fiction, at her different intentions and strategies when writing about New England but also the continuities between all the stories here selected, from the earliest, ‘Friends’, published in The Youth’s Companion in 1900,1 to the last, ‘All Souls’, published posthumously in Ghosts in 1937. Whilst the short novels, Ethan Frome and Summer, published in 1911 and 1917 respectively, are Wharton’s best known works of regional fiction, they will be used only as reference points throughout the discussion as they relate to the thematic variations within ‘The Angel at the Grave’ which featured in the collection Crucial Instances, published in 1901, ‘The Young Gentlemen’ and ‘Bewitched’, both of which appeared in Here and Beyond, published in 1926, as well as the two stories already mentioned.


Dine Room Narratorial Voice American Realism Village Street European Tour 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Wharton, Edith The Collected Short Stories of Edith Wharton, introduction by R.W.B. Lewis, 2 Vols. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1968) p. 197.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Kaplan, Amy The Social Construction of American Realism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), pp. 65–66.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Susan Goodman in her essay ‘Edith Wharton’s Inner Circle’, in Joslin, Katherine and Alan Price (eds) Wretched Exotic: Essays on Edith Wharton in Europe (New York: Lang, 1993), sees ‘All Souls’ as being essentially concerned with ‘the loneliness of being the “extraordinary” woman’ (p. 57), drawing a comparison between Wharton’s position amongst the friendship group she calls ‘the inner circle’ and the situation of Sara Clayburn in the story.Google Scholar
  4. Gloria Erlich in The Sexual Education of Edith Wharton (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992) considers ‘All Souls’ to be an expression of the ‘terror of abandonment’ (p. 167). Erlich draws a comparison with Hawthorne’s ‘Young Goodman Brown’ but concentrates on an interpretation which has the story mirroring Wharton’s own situation as she nears the end of her life in a position of increasing isolation.Google Scholar
  5. Candace Waid in Edith Wharton’s Letters from the Underworld (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991) also suggests that ‘a self-portrait of Wharton at the end of her life’ (p. 175) can be discerned in the story.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Fedorko, Kathy A. Gender and the Gothic in the Fiction of Edith Wharton (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Banta, Martha ‘The Ghostly Gothic of Wharton’s Everyday World’, American Literary Realism, Vol. 27 (1), 1994, pp. 1–10.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Bell, Millicent (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Edith Wharton (New York, Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 60.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Wharton, Edith A Backward Glance (New York, 1934; rpt. London, Constable & Co., 1972), pp. 293–94.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Freeman, Mary E. Wilkins Pembroke, 1894 (New Haven: College and University Press, 1971).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Freeman, Mary E. Wilkins The Winning Lady and Others (New York, Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1909), pp. 243–277.Google Scholar
  12. 14.
    Wharton, Edith The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton (New York, Charles Scribners’ Sons, 1973), Preface (1937).Google Scholar
  13. 15.
    Singley, Carol Edith Wharton: Matters of Mind and Spirit (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 17.
    Wharton, Edith The Age of Innocence (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1920), p. 291.Google Scholar
  15. 20.
    Goodman, Susan Edith Wharton’s Women: Friends and Rivals (Hanover, University Press of New England, 1990), p. 8.Google Scholar
  16. 24.
    See my discussion of the architectural detail of the houses visited by Charity Royall and Lucius Harney in Summer in Edith Wharton: Traveller in the Land of Letters, (London: Macmillan, 1990), pp. 77–78.Google Scholar
  17. 30.
    Jewett, Sarah Orne, The Country of the Pointed Firs, (Boston and New York Houghton Mifflin, 1896).Google Scholar
  18. 32.
    Wharton, Edith Ethan Frome (New York, 1911; rpt. London: Constable, 1976), p. 28.Google Scholar
  19. 33.
    Wharton, Edith Roman Fever and Other Stories (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1964), pp. 114–15.Google Scholar
  20. 36.
    Wharton, Edith Hudson River Bracketed (New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1929), p. 354.Google Scholar
  21. 43.
    Brodhead, Richard Cultures of Letters: Scenes of Reading and Writing in Nineteenth-Century America (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 125.Google Scholar
  22. 62.
    Todorov, Tzvetan The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, Translated by Richard Howard (Ithaca, New York, Cornell University Press, 1975), p. 31.Google Scholar
  23. 64.
    Wharton, Edith The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973), p. 151.Google Scholar
  24. 73.
    Fedorko, Kathy A. Gender and the Gothic in the Fiction of Edith Wharton, (Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 1995), p. 112.Google Scholar
  25. 91.
    Elliott, Emory (ed.) The Columbia History of the American Novel (New York, Columbia University Press, 1991). p. 256.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Janet Beer 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janet Beer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishRoehampton InstituteLondonUK

Personalised recommendations