He constantly complained about being blackmailed by one of his ladies, Henrietta de Mirecourt, without being able to pay her off, close her mouth, or break from her. Edith Wharton knew, in some sense, as her fiction of the period shows, that Fullerton was not only unfaithful but capable of inordinate deceit and crafty manipulation. Her major success, however, The House of Mirth , was published in , well before the Fullerton affair. By the time she became involved with that other and more devious expatriate, Edith Wharton had taken to living in France for long periods of time, and it was there that the affair really took place.
Teddy grew gloomier and gloomier in France, and more and more difficult. She not only raised money for the soldiers at the front; she also led a serious and well-organised campaign for the aid of war orphans and displaced persons that was the equivalent of a complex, multi-million dollar business. Very responsive to the plight of women in wartime, she set up institutions that would enable them to work, earn money and maintain their self-respect.
The aggressive America of the s and s lost a powerful businessperson in Edith: had she been a man, she might have turned to that area of human endeavour, despite the satire with which Wharton the novelist greets the advent of the big businessman on the social scene. She was undoubtedly curious about such people, but her own great business capabilities could flourish only in a time of desperation, and the peacetime organisations swallowed up her own creations: they could not re-create the inventive compassion that had founded a charity for French Tuberculosis War-Victims, when Edith found out that victims of TB were feared and shunned.
A large amount of her own personal fortune had gone into these charities, and she suffered at the same time from an abatement of popularity, especially when she wanted to write about the war. Editors told her nobody wanted to read about it. Suffering was out of date. The Twenties were interested in writing that was upbeat and smart for its magazines — smart, yet not immoral. Their friendship was very valuable to Wharton. Undoubtedly any writer who lived abroad as she did was at risk of falling out of view back home; Wharton could sustain her life in France as long as she was guaranteed a constant representative presence in the United States.
She got the Pulitzer Prize; her books received lucrative movie contracts. How much Wharton had, inherited, managed in the charities , made and spent — for these things we can go to Benstock. Part of her point is to show how Wharton acquired power in an era when women were not officially supposed to have it. She does not, however, create a bridge between the social-financial Wharton and the artist for whose sake we are interested in the society lady with the formidable wealth.
Lewis brought before us a creative woman with a complicated emotional life, a deep character whose depths were adumbrated by the poems and other hitherto unpublished materials he produced in evidence. Yet her discussions are curt, even cryptic. This matter remains to be explored by future biographers.
There are some unobtrusive notes, and a decent standard of scholarship is understood. Letters have been looked up, some manuscripts consulted — and even a graphologist — but this is a book for looking at and skipping though. Self-reliance is as important as hospitality.
Indeed, there is an unusual degree of attention to the accoutrements of luxury in her fiction and to the sensuous gratification they afford:. Whether the woman is good or bad is therefore irrelevant. What is pertinent is, she is strong. Charlotte is the inspirational tie, but what good is that when she ties Kenneth to Mother Earth? Mother Earth is Elsie. This imagery explains R. Lewis's suggestion that Elsie "has assumed the role of Pluto and has summoned her spouse to … cohabit with her in the land of the dead" Introduction xvi.
This image broaches the first archetypal aspect of Elsie, whose other incarnation is the femina alba. Aniela Jaffe, through her work in Jung's theory of the collective unconscious explains there is a persistent transcultural image of "a lady in white," the femina alba , who is a harbinger of doom and who, in her radiant appearance is identified as the goddess Aphrodite.
We must remember:. All archetypal contents are two-fold and ambiguous. In the unconscious the opposites are not yet separated: an unconscious content becomes conscious only through discrimination of its latent opposites. When the two sides stand face to face they can be comprehended and the conscious mind can grasp them. Aphrodite is not only the goddess of love, in secret she is the queen of the underworld or of death…. In Greek southern Italy there are superb works of art which show how Persephone … can appear in the guise of Aphrodite.
Jaffe demonstrates the universality of this archetype by citing the image of Frigg or Freya in the Germanic pantheon. She is literally, "the Beloved" of the sky-god who receives the souls of the dead. As the goddess of death she is called Hel, and in this incarnation, she is horrific.
More significant was Erda or Hertha. Jung himself notes, "these mythologies express the ultimate concerns of the psyche" xxx. There is, textually, proof of the convergent natures of Charlotte and Elsie. Persephone ate only a few pomegranate seeds.
Her meager meal was enough to keep her locked in the netherworld for the length of the growing season. The twelve months become the twelve years of Ken and Elsie's mariiage. The seeds are transformed into letters, the impotent recipient of which is ken. But Elsie does not call him back for the short time of the growing season in the myth. There are nine she has strayed into the territory of her mirror image, Charlotte. As the dual natures converge, Charlotte, unconsciously, defends her own preconscious image when she berates Ken for being "too unstable" to bear the burden of a great love.
She challenges his fidelity not on the grounds that he has emotionally deserted her, but that he has "already forgotten Elsie twice within a year" Charlotte's nascent duality is further evidenced when she tells Ken time is "only a word" To an immortal this is true; to a mere human being, time is a measure of mortality. Charlotte knows this to be true, because almost immediately, she characterizes herself as "unhuman" Justine Brent's hellish dream world has become the prehistoric realm of the Magna Mater.
In this nether world Ken becomes an insignificant pawn in the battle, not of sister against sister, but of an ancient, primordial world versus the electrified, motorized, industrialized world. The power of the femina alba will not be denied. The authorial voice has elicited no sympathy for Ken. The emotional focus is entirely on Charlotte, who plans vacations, speaks to servants, visits mother, schemes, pleads; she acts and interacts.
Ken only reacts—to letters and to Charlotte. John Amherst's egocentric vision is trampled by Wharton's illumination of life in the prenatal bath. Ken is the symbolic bagatelle awarded to the conquering power. Through the language of the unconscious, Wharton was able to address the dichotomy between herself as an accomplished woman and her fictional powerless women. Such a focus enabled her to stop distancing herself from her own womanhood. In slaying the ghost of her ambivalence regarding her own gender, she was able to create an omnipotent woman: Charlotte-Elsie, who is Aphrodite-Persephone.
Wharton evoked an atmosphere of horror which traces its lineage to the Edwardian Gothics, who were much admired by her. Yet, for all "Pomegranate Seed" 's Edwardian style, she never lets the reader forget that the setting is most contemporary. She did not use a single Gothic mechanism, but never leaves the Gothic genre. Even though she makes a point of mentioning "skyscrapers, advertisements, telephones, [radios], airplanes, movies, motors and all the rest of the twentieth century" , she never lets the reader forget the timeless nature of fear.
Downey, June E. Irving, Texas: Spring Publications, Jung C. Violet S. Lewis, R. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, New York: Columbia University Press, McDowell, Margaret B. New York: Oxford University Press, In the following essay, Elbert asserts that in her Gothic, domestic ghost stories, Wharton—like the Transcendentalists—offers an alternative to the perceived greed, corruption, and compulsion inherent in a capitalist society. Ghosts, to make themselves manifest, require two conditions abhorrent to the modern mind: silence and continuity.
Something as old as the world, as mysterious as life…. In her ghost stories Edith Wharton is really not diverging significantly from the social critique of her other stories or novels. In fact, her depiction of a class structure in disarray and of the individual's alienation from an overwhelming business ethic is as pronounced in her Gothic tales as in her novels of Old New York. However, there is a slight twist: the ghosts outside, in the shape of bad business partners, mismatched lovers, unfaithful friends, and abused and disgruntled servants, are not half as terrifying as the ghosts within, a quandary which Charlotte Ashby faces and attempts to articulate in the epigraph above , as she leaves the bustle of the city to discover the territory within.
Ultimately, Wharton allows spiritual concerns to triumph over economic circumstances and suggests that there is a world elsewhere: in the process, she reaffirms the vision of the American Transcendentalists. Here is a Realism tinged with the idealism of the American Renaissance writers. Behind the Gothic quandary is Wharton's ambivalence towards French and Old New York aristocracy: she is as obsessed with her confusion about her allegiance to European or New England origins as her Transcendental predecessors.
On the one hand, she loathes the old order and wants the structures torn down; on the other, she is terrified of disorder and chaos: "[Wharton] was simultaneously appalled by the shams of her class and contemptuous of classes beneath her" Conn ; moreover, being so conservative, she felt that "disruption anywhere in the system threatens the disintegration of the entire culture…. Since anarchy represented for Wharton the worst of all possible outcomes—certainly worse than death—restraint always declared itself a better strategy than reform" Not surprisingly, the inception of the Gothic novel corresponded with the burgeoning of industrialization and class fluctuations, and, similarly, Wharton's writing of Gothic stories corresponded with a growing consumer culture and mass technology: "The ideology of the gothic novel is the legitimization of burgeoning capitalist power, a dark fairy-tale assurance that the propertied, after surviving their troubles, could maintain their ascendancy in terms of political and economic powers" Bernstein Beneath the terror of Wharton's Gothic mode is her own ambivalence towards the servants in her life and towards the issue of class and culture in general.
Wharton, in her Gothic stories, shows the corruption of the old aristocracy and the compulsiveness of the nouveaux riches; in so doing, she subverts and undermines the economic foundations of Western capitalism, as much as Thoreau did in escaping from the world of work to his Walden sanctuary. Near the end of her life, Wharton, like [Henry] James, wrote two of her best and most revealing stories of psychological terror, "Pomegranate Seed" and "All Souls'" In "The Jolly Corner" James finally exposes the true source of his isolation in the specter of the fingerless and maimed alter-ego his protagonist encounters.
So Wharton, nearing her seventies, called up her most potent fears, the phantoms, not of men or society, but of other women, seemingly more attractive and deserving than herself or her heroines. These other women, like the rivals in many of her novels, seem so formidable as to be in touch with other-worldly powers that enhance them and allow them to defeat and destroy the seemingly helpless protagonists. The final brilliance of these last tales is that long before the external spectres are confirmed, the inner aberrations of the heroines are felt.
The final presence of the supernatural only confirms the entrapment of these women in their own long-denied fears…. The strange and seemingly irrelevant title Wharton gives this story, "Pomegranate Seed," offers clues to perhaps the deeper identity of the letter-writing phantom who haunts Wharton's heroine. By alluding to one of the early subspecies of the supernatural tale, the Greek myth of Persephone, Wharton concedes that the fears of her heroines are rooted in the mesh of Western civilization even as Wharton's modern retelling yields new meaning.
Clingsland to make her final days less oppressive: in fact, she concocts a dead lover's letters in order to pacify one of those "discouraged … grand people" in one of those "grand houses" The servant-nurse ostensibly wanted to keep the greedy, fraudulent clairvoyants away from Mrs. Clingsland, who wanted to resurrect her youthful good looks and lover; i. Ironically, feeling guilty for lying and for selling her soul, Cora manages to wheedle one hundred dollars out of Mrs.
Clingsland to have masses read for the repose of the dead letter-writing man's soul, and she feels some comfort in that the priest had been "a sort of accomplice too, though he never knew it" Thus, the protagonists in "Afterward" and in "The Triumph of Night" suffer because of a bad business transaction deception or self-deception on their part , and the protagonist in "All Souls'" is weighed down by her possessiveness and by her dependence on modern luxuries. Implicit in Wharton's attack is the sentiment behind Thoreau's admonition in the "Economy" section of Walden that humankind needs to simplify and get back to basic necessities to find meaning in life.
Though the vision of ghosts allows the Wharton protagonists to escape temporarily the rampant materialism surrounding them, inhabiting the Gothic edifices leads to stasis, a clinging to the past, and finally to illness, if not to death, if the inhabitants cannot imagine another cultural construct. The visions of the past are not organic, but solipsistic; the masters use their servants to bridge the gap between past and present, body and spirit, but the servants do not eradicate the past, nor can they connect the master to a primeval, agrarian past, but rather, they serve as a constant reminder of the present.
Thus, in "A Bottle of Perrier" the master Almodham attempts to recapture the past by pursuing his archaeological interests in the desert, but the servant murders him; similarly, Sara Clayburn in "All Souls'" attempts to find shelter in her old "Colonial" house, but her servants possess her mind, and she is left without any social or mental stability. In the latter case, the "coven" of servants, like Cora in "The Looking Glass," offered the potential of viewing anew, though ostensibly, the servants appear to be the medium to some irretrievable past for the wealthy mansion-owner.
In some ways, though, Wharton is more of a Romantic than the Realist James, more Emersonian than Jamesian, in suggesting that enlightenment might come from the silence within, when one is removed figuratively, in one's psychic home or mansion, or literally, from society, but the fears and neuroses which characterize her protagonists cannot be overcome through a simple sojourn in the country.
Indeed, the business mentality of contemporary New York weighs heavily upon Wharton, and she looks for meaning to counteract the loudness of American technological civilization, in the mythology of the European past—in the many abandoned villages and haunted castles of her ghost stories. In other words, she turns aesthetic in her tastes and longings. Considering that the Gothic was a European art form on both the literary and architectural levels , it is not surprising that Wharton should feel at home with it, since she is ambivalent about all that is European.
She resembles the Transcendentalists, especially Emerson, in both affirming and denying her allegiance to an aristocratic European past, while trying to establish her American identity. She manifests the anxiety of influence, as surely as Emerson does in "The American Scholar.
He asserts that "If Wharton is considered the doyenne of realism, then the story, with its focus on the philosophical problems inherent in Transcendentalism, overturns expectations" One of those problems, evident in the story, is the Transcendental belief that one needed to create something new, while reappraising the genius of the past Certainly, Wharton was also caught in this bind, as I mention earlier in describing her allegiance to the "old" and "new" European and American culture. At times Wharton is downright elitist about her mythologized European past, especially aesthetically speaking, when she advises writers not to "disown" the past, not to waste the "inherited wealth of experience" ; she praises Proust, for example, for his ability to combine originality with respect for the past and reads his strength as "the strength of tradition" Writing of Fiction She attacks young contemporary writers for their "lack of general culture" and of "original vision" as they "attach undue importance to trifling innovations" Wharton did not think much about contemporary American writers; in fact, in a letter to Comte Arthur de Vogue, who wanted to be introduced into cultural circles in America, she regrets that she cannot recommend any authors' names to him, even though she has "several men of science" to recommend: "but the new America is so little literary that I do not know to whom I should direct you" October She sees the world of intellect divided between the scientist and the writer, with the scientist Emerson's ver-sion of the Materialist faring remarkably better.
She writes to John Jay Chapman that he and she are the "only valid survivors" of "a milieu litteraire" 8 October Moreover, Wharton is nostalgic about her own personal European past, as she reminisces fondly about her childhood in A Backward Glance. Suffering a financial setback after the Civil War , the father let "his town and country houses for six years to some of the profiteers of the day," and, ironically, the family goes "to Europe to economize" This is actually the reverse situation of the rich American couple who go ghost-hunting in an old Tudor mansion in Wharton's ghost story, "Afterward":.
In her own life, Wharton's family was forced to move to Europe for six years, and from this crucial period of her life, she gathered sustenance from the traditions of the past. Happy misfortune, which gave me for the rest of my life, that background of beauty and old-established order! I did not know how deeply I had felt the nobility and harmony of the great European cities till our steamer was docked at New York. Wharton juxtaposes the eyesore of New York "the shameless squalor of the purlieus of the New York docks" with "the glories of Rome and the architectural majesty of Paris" It is this sense of being lost in America which allies her with fellow expatriates, James and T.
Towards the end of her life, though, she realizes that one urban center is like another, as she describes a veritable modern Wasteland:. To Bernard Berenson , 23 May It is no wonder that with this malaise of modern culture weighing upon her, Wharton finally spends the last years of her life not in a sprawling urban center like Paris but in a country villa, Pavillon Colombe, outside Paris.
In many ways, she lives her last years as her protagonist in "All Souls'" Mrs. Clayburn does: isolated and outside the realm of modern communication. When Wharton hears about the death of a family friend, she writes to Dr. Beverly Robinson about the gap in communications:. The news of Anna's death comes as a great shock to me, for I had not heard of her illness.
This self-imposed isolation causes all news from the outside to seem garbled, fantastic, and fragmented; thus, as the ghosts without are held in check, the ghosts within loom large for the aging Wharton. Wharton invites both the protagonist and the reader to explore the power of the imagination in order to validate one's private space in the face of overwhelming odds. The wireless, telegraphs, telephones, movies, the constant static, "white noise," of everyday life prevent the protagonist from encountering the "silence and continuity" of oneself alone stripped of the accouterments of modern culture.
The fact is, my wonderful New York fortnight reduced me to absolute inarticulateness—of tongue and pen … moreover, I had acquired [in New York] a proficiency in telephoning and telegraphing which seemed to have done away with my ability to express myself in any less lapidary style. In her Gothic fiction, Wharton forces the skeptic and the non-introspective reader to believe and to move within the realm of the unconscious: she asks us to suspend belief or disbelief momentarily and seduces us into the realm of ghosts, to a higher understanding of self.
She invites us to move from the "soulless" roar of the city to the "soulful" existence within the home one creates e. Essentially, Wharton asks the reader to return to some primitive, psychological state: she explains that "No one with a spark of imagination ever objected to a good ghost story as 'improbable'….
Most of us retain the more or less shadowy memory of ancestral terrors, and airy tongues that syllable men's names" The Writing of Fiction The belief in ghosts, according to Wharton, has its origin in "states of mind inherited from an earlier phase of race-culture" Writing In telling her life's story, Wharton discusses how her reading of ghost stories was crucial to the development of her imagination.
In her autobiographical sketch "Life and I," Wharton recounts the story of her childhood encounter with death and the underworld: she "fell ill of typhoid fever , and lay for weeks at the point of death" In her later Gothic stories, one can find traces of this moment of fear she experienced as a child, when the two worlds of body and spirit—of the physician's diagnosis and scientific advice and of the magic of children's fairy tales—seemed to collide. She was in Germany, in the Black Forest , a natural setting for ghosts, at the time, and two little playmates lent her a book of ghost stories which terrified her: "To an unimaginative child the tale would no doubt have been harmless; but it was a 'robber story,' and with my intense Celtic sense of the supernatural, tales of robbers and ghosts were perilous reading" This particular story brought on a relapse of the fever perhaps the fever intensified the reaction , and for many years after, she lived in "a world haunted by formless horrors" This nameless horror lasted for eight years, until she was seventeen or so, and even as a woman of twenty-seven, she "could not sleep in the room with a book containing a ghoststory" and found herself burning books of this kind.
The fear of something "on the other side of the door" which the protagonist Charlotte Ashby articulates "Pomegranate Seed" is similar to Wharton's threshold experience with death and her initiation into terror—"something as old as the world, as mysterious as life. The stimulus of the ghost story exacerbated this apprehension, this recognition of life beyond the body.
Indeed, it was after this experience that she could no longer sleep at night because her "terror"—"some dark undefinable menace"—was "forever dogging [her] steps," and when she took walks with her nursemaid, she would return terrified at the thought that something was pursuing her, "I could feel it behind me, upon me; and if there was any delay in the opening of the door I was seized by a choking agony of terror" This symbol of the opening and closing door—bridging the external life to one's unconscious—becomes prominent in Wharton's ghost stories. The collision of two realms—spiritual and material—was ultimately liberating for Wharton and her characters because it sparked her creative potential; Wharton reveled in the chaos and unbounded freedom of the moment of collision.
One of the reasons Wharton so admired Nietzsche was his abandonment of rules, his predilection for the unbounded, the chaotic: "He has no system, and not much logic, but wonderful flashes of insight, and power of breaking through conventions that is most exhilarating" To Sara Norton, 7 July Wharton praises Nietzsche for his "get[ting] back to a wholesome basis of naked instinct. Lewis, Wharton greatly admired Emerson for his influence on Nietzsche: "Nietzsche, she said, was Emerson's chef-d'oeuvre" In the letter praising Nietzsche, Wharton laments the split between body and soul which Christianity has created, "There are times when I hate what Christianity has left in our blood—or rather, one might say, taken out of it—by its cursed assumption of the split between body and soul.
Wharton attempts to go beyond the eternal binary opposition of body-soul, and this is what makes her both Transcendentalist and modern. Thus, in her ghost stories, she shows the dangerous consequences of bifurcating the world of spirit and matter, and one can make the case that Whar-ton creates pagan ghosts rather than Christian ghosts to initiate the reader into her own conflicts between the spiritual and material realms. Though the context may be ostensibly Christian, as in "All Souls'," the ghosts are, psychologically seen, the passions which have been repressed in the individual psyche; they are not aroused by the Christian remembrance of the dead, but in the ritualistic evocation by a coven of witches who feel close to the earth.
Indeed, All Souls' is the evening upon which the veil between life and death is the thinnest, when the realms between body and spirit are not totally distinct, and Wharton is provocative in allowing Sara's transformation to occur on this very evening. Bereft of the luxuries of modern communication the material , Sara is forced to contend with her own voice, or spirit, by herself. Ghosts most often manifest themselves in Wharton's Gothic when a character experiences a psychological crisis in development—whether that be an inappropriate marriage involving class differences or emotional incompatibilility, e.
Wharton's repeated use of the Persephone myth in her ghost stories shows her coming to terms with her childhood terror of mythical descent into the underworld, into the unconscious. For Wharton the stasis of life—in Old New York—could be overcome by other-worldliness. An overly intrusive business world or a scientifically determined milieu necessitates a ghost. One of the prerequisites for the appearance of a ghost in Edith Wharton's world of the ghost stories is a deep sense of ennui emanating from a routine business life, which is often intertwined with a disintegrating married life.
Often such characters try to re-establish their history by purchasing an old haunted house, but the ghosts they meet are their own bugaboos, taken from the depths of their unconscious. Thus, for example, in "Afterward" Mary and Ned Boyne attempt to escape their American past and the drudgery of work: Mary Boyne had been "exiled" from New York when her husband's engineering business forced them to move to the " soul-deadening ugliness of a Middle Western town" 50 ; finally, after much hard work, her husband enjoys a "prodigious windfall" of a particular mine which puts them "in possession of life and the leisure to taste it" With their newly acquired American fortune, they seek an old secluded house in Europe in old England , but they tell the real estate agent that it must be haunted.
Ironically, while the husband writes his long-planned book on the "Economic Basis of Culture," his deceased business partner from the past, whom Boyne has deceived and ruined, comes back to haunt him and finally to destroy him: the New World ghost returns to the Old World to have his vengeance. Meanwhile, the wife, who waits patiently, years even, for the return of her husband, whom the ghost has taken hostage, finds herself "domesticated with the Horror, accepting its perpetual presence as one of the fixed conditions of life" All her visions of painting and gardening disappear as she becomes the harshest critic of culture, by dropping out of the work world and social life altogether: "She watched the routine of daily life with the incurious eye of a savage on whom the meaningless processes of civilization make but the faintest impression" This watching and being watched are crucial factors in Wharton's Gothic, and the visual motif may be read in several ways.
On the most obvious level, the protagonists feel haunted by something which they cannot fathom: in "Kerfol" and in "A Bottle of Perrier," for example, the characters feel eyes gazing at them from behind the window as they traverse the courtyards. Of course, the most nightmarish vision of being watched occurs as a result of technology—as Wharton would show in such stories as "All Souls'. You took up the morning paper, and you read of girl bandits, movie star divorces, "hold-ups" at balls, murder and suicide and elopement, and a general welter of disjointed disconnected impulses and appetites; then you turned your eyes onto your own daily life, and found yourself as cribbed and cabined, as beset by vigilant family eyes, observant friends, all sorts of embodied standards, as any white muslin novel heroines of the sixties!
In such a world, there is nowhere to escape public and private scrutiny, even though the wish to be invisible is there. On another level, the gaze of the eyes does not so much represent the gaze of the other as it does the protagonists' own moral conflict, their own guilt for putting personal business interests above those of their friends; thus, in "The Triumph of Night," George Faxon, recuperating from his nervous breakdown , reads of his friend's death and feels utter remorse: the friend's obituary "stared up at him as if with Rainer's dying eyes" In "The Eyes" the protagonist Culwin seeks his soul in the eyes of others, for he is haunted by his own soul—as reflected in his eyes; in the darkness of night, he has visions of eyes that "hung there and drew me.
I had the vertige de l'abime , and the red lids were the edge of my abyss" To his horror, he finds the eyes are his. Nonetheless, as a good post-Darwinian character, he tries to deny these "hallucinations" through the power of science, explaining them away by attributing the "illusion" to the flicker in the fireplace or the reflection of the mirror. Moreover, he suggests that his ghosts would have disappeared with "a pair of spectacles" He feels that he is "afflicted by an optical or a digestive delusion" 31 but decides not to go to a doctor because he wanted to pursue the eyes' "interesting double life" Thoreau and Emerson, with their Transcendental beliefs, explore similar spiritual realms and similar out-of-body experiences.
Thoreau, for example, speaks of a "certain doubleness" which makes him as "remote" from himself as from another: "However intense my experience, I am conscious of the presence and criticism of a part of me, which, as it were, is not a part of me, but spectator, sharing no experience, but taking note of it" Walden Similarly, Emerson discusses the nature of his dreams in terms of ghostly apparitions and marvels at the easy reconciliation between subjectivity and objectivity in these dreamscapes:.
If I strike, I am struck. If I chase, I am pursued…. However, in his essay, "The Transcendentalist," Emerson, in his attack upon the marketplace, shows the discrepancies between the materialist's and idealist's views and the contradictions which surface through this double vision: "The worst feature of this double consciousness is, that the two lives, of the understanding and of the soul, which we lead, really show very little relation to each other; never meet and measure each other" Moreover, Emerson feels that behind every material fact are levels of some higher spiritual meaning or meanings: "… the highest minds of the world have never ceased to explore the double meaning, or shall I say the quadruple or the centuple or much more manifold meaning, of every sensuous fact" "The Poet" Like her predecessors Emerson and Thoreau, Wharton is deeply concerned with the binary oppositions resulting from the rampant materialism of American culture.
Indeed, Wharton prefers the "ghost-feeler," "the person sensible of invisible currents of being in certain places and at certain hours" over the rational "ghost-seer" who relies upon his senses for truth "Preface" 1.
The Disillusionment Of Edith Wharton
Though she believes that "deep within us … the ghost instinct lurks" 2 , she feels that science and technology are robbing us of this instinct; she chastises those who need scientific or rational data to "believe" in ghosts. For her, "To 'believe' … is a conscious act of the intellect," but superior to this realm is the unconscious: "it is in the warm darkness of the prenatal fluid far below our conscious reason that the faculty dwells with which we apprehend the ghosts we may not be endowed with the gift of seeing" "Preface" 1.
Many of Wharton's ghost stories revolve around ocular deception in the marketplace: a belief in the physical realm with one's earthly eyes or an obsession with one's professional but superficial identity, but finally, the deceived party is made to see the ugly reality of his business ethics through his encounter with the supernatural. Thus, for example, in "The Eyes," every time the protagonist, Culwin, cheats or deceives another character often by being non-committal , he is haunted by dreams of eyes: "What turned me sick was their expression of vicious security.
I don't know how else to describe the fact that they seemed to belong to a man who had done a lot of harm in his life, but had always kept just inside the danger lines" 34, emphasis mine. Though he initially attempts to explain the phenomenon by applying "scientific principles," he ultimately is undone by them, for they are his own eyes. There is often a relationship between the narrator telling the story and the ghost story he tells.
For example, the dilettante-author Culwin in "The Eyes" makes his ghost public and finally realizes his mistake. He has discouraged an artist disciple Gilbert of his from a life of the imagination. By telling him that he cannot write, he relegates him to a tedious life on Wall Street : "He vegetated in an office, I believe, and finally got a clerkship in a consulate, and married drearily in China.
I saw him once in Hong Kong , years afterward. He was fat and hadn't shaved. I was told he drank" Similarly, in "The Triumph of Night," George Faxon, out of a job and on his way to a secretarial job in the country, could have saved his alter-ego Frank Rainer from the manipulations of his Wall Street uncle, but instead, he ignores the signs of the ghost lurking over the mercenary uncle's figure.
Faxon suffers a nervous breakdown and is forced to retreat into solitude, away from the work-world. His doctor diagnoses the problem as "overwork" and advises him "to be quiet for a year.
Just loaf and look at the landscape" The most horrific of Wharton's ghost stories, "All Souls'," suggests that it is not so much ghosts as modern civilization which terrifies man. It is the most modern of men or women who become most victimized by the apparitions; thus, while the servants, the people who live on the land and are close to early traditions, can live in the world of ghosts, the newcomer, the idle rich man or the marketplace success, is most uprooted.
As in the other servant-master Wharton ghost stories, two tensions emerge. There is a disjunction between the new business mentality and an old domestic, agrarian ideal, and there is the attendant rift between social classes, between servant and master with the dynamics often upset, so that the servant is more master of the situation than the master, who is portrayed as paralyzed or diseased and whose intellectual powers atrophy as he loses touch with his hands and body.
The narrator of "All Souls'" significantly, the title suggests the universality of the soul's link with the supernatural , the cousin of Sara Clayburn, the woman who encounters the ghost, insists that ghosts didn't go out when "electric lights came in" She also suggests that it is people like Sara who are most susceptible to ghosts, simply because they suffer from a lapse of the imagination, as they rely heavily on the false light of technology and logic: "it's generally not the high-strung and imaginative who see ghosts, but the calm matter-of-fact people who don't believe in them, and are sure they wouldn't mind if they did see one?
Well, that was the case with Sara Clayburn and her house …" In fact, the narrator's obsession with explaining her haunted cousin's fate may emanate in part from her own "matter-of-fact" rational self, which puts her at the same risk as her "modern" cousin. The cousin-narrator clearly expresses that of all the relatives she is "more likely than anybody else to be able to get at the facts, as far as they can be called facts, and as anybody can get at them" Ostensibly, the cousin-narrator and Sara suffer initially—before Sara's breakdown from the same practical, level-headed outlook on life.
However, the narrator makes the point that one need not retrace one's steps back to England to discover a ghost; in fact, she sounds a great deal like Hawthorne pleading the case that New England would offer as much material for his romances as Old England.
However, once again, the turn of the screw is that the real ghost story, the real terror, belongs to the modern New Englander. Wharton's narrator explains the misconception as she evokes a parody of the traditional ghost story: "As between turreted castles patrolled by headless victims with clanking chains, and the comfortable suburban house with a refrigerator and central heating where you feel, as soon as you're in it, that there's something wrong , give me the latter for sending a chill down the spine!
The real horror then is the wasteland of urban sprawl and suburban uniformity; the frustration comes from not being able to break the continuity of meaningless gestures and conventions. After her husband's death, Sara Clayburn continues to inhabit her husband's Connecticut Colonial estate, which has housed three generations of Clayburns.
Though the Clayburns have been considered a "good influence" on the countryside, it is also obvious that they have exploited the land and perhaps usurped power: "There was a lot of land about it, and Jim Clayburn, like his fathers before him, farmed it, not without profit, and played a considerable and respected part in state politics" It is obvious that one does not need European history to reclaim the sins of the fathers—that New England history does just as well.
Though the Clayburn estate was built in circa , it "was open, airy, high-ceilinged, with electricity, central heating, and all the modern appliances" , and the past and present clash in Sara's All-Souls' night breakdown. The Clayburns, indeed, seem excessively civilized, in the most corrupt sense of possessing the most modern accouterments and in subjugating the wills of the townspeople and servants.
It is rather ironic, then, when Sara suffers from a fall and finds herself totally dependent on the servants, who abandon her for an evening and who, according to the rational narrator, go off on an All Souls' witch's vigil, at the prompting of a ghost. She helped raise funds for their support, and was involved with creating and running hostels and schools for them. She aided women in self-sufficiency by finding them means of employment. With her good friend Walter Berry she toured battlefields and hospitals and tended to the sick which resulted in her diary and essays in Fighting France and The Marne For her efforts she was awarded the title of Chevalier Knight in the French Legion of Honour in Also in she traveled to Morocco of which she wrote about in her collection of travel essays In Morocco Scott Fitzgerald in In Wharton sailed to America to receive the Pulitzer Prize for it.
Edith Wharton died of a stroke on 11 August at Pavillon Colombe. Her funeral service was held at the American Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Paris of which her father was a founding member. Biography written by C. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. All Rights Reserved. I have located a first edition of The House of Mirth. Inside is an inscription saying "Z. Wharton Xmas 0X?
While we have you...
Does anyone have knowledge of a Z. Wharton, or know who John might be? A the book was printed in , I expect the date is very likely '05 as well, and certainly between and Any help? My current fancy with early 20th century american literature has lead me to Edith Wharton. I've read 'the age of innocence' and 'the buccaneers', I plan on reading both 'Ethan Frome' and 'the house of mirth' but after that i'm uncertain. I know these are her most renowned works and i'm looking for advice as to whether i should move past these onto her other writings or if i should move onto another writer.
I'm very fond of her writing style but if her other works aren't very good i don't want to ruin the image i have of her so far. So is anyone familiar with her other works , should i read them? I wrote this biographical essay just recently, and would like some unbiased feedback if possible. Thanks : Picture a young 15 year old girl, dressed in the highest fashion of the late s, sitting at a rosewood desk and writing on a crisp sheet of paper.
Once covered in graceful script, it's set aside in a stack of identical leaves. This could be how Edith Wharton appeared while working on her first novella, published when she was fifteen, which launched her into a passionate career of writing, lasting literally until her death. Many things influenced the unique and well known style of her writing: her childhood and family's high position in society, her marriage, and the disastrous e I cannot see Edith Wharton's "The buccaneers" on the list of works.
This was her last book and unfortunately she died before finishing it. The book was completed by Marion Mainwearing. Could the book be added to the list? Hi, Does anyone have any opinions on Edith Wartons work? In particular "The Buccaneers" which was finished after ediths death in by Marion Mainwearing. If so I would like to hear from you.
Regards- Bookworm I am reading "The Buccaneers" by Edith Wharton. Edith died in before she had finished writing the book.
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Consequently the manuscript was left unfinished for fifty years. Then, working from the author's detailed notes,Marion Mainwaring, Wharton expert and noted writer in her own right, added the final chapters to complete the book. I have searched this site for anything on this book, but can't find anything. I am wondering why this book is not included on this site. Can anyone help? Regards- Charles Did she ever write any story 'lighter, brighter, more sparkling, without heavy shade', like Jane Austen's?
By the way, I love Jane Austen. I'd like to read other authors with the same lighthearted sarcacism and that beautiful language; could someone give me recommendations? Please submit a quiz here. Here is where you find links to related content on this site or other sites, possibly including full books or essays about Edith Wharton written by other authors featured on this site. Edith Wharton Search. Advanced Search.