Stuff & Nonsense: Tales of Men and Ghosts by Edith Wharton


18 November 2011

Tales of Men and Ghosts by Edith Wharton


I began reading Tales of Men and Ghosts for the Gothic Challenge, but soon realized it just didn’t qualify -- the stories are packed with melodrama and some psychological horror, but there are no (inhuman) ghoulies, very few ghosties, and nothing I feel could be accurately labeled “Gothic.”

While I generally enjoy Edith Wharton’s short stories, this collection could not hold my attention. The first five stories were interesting and I do recommend them, but everything after “Full Circle” was a real struggle to get through as I found those stories consistently tedious and frequently anticlimactic.
  • “The Bolted Door” -- Suicidal playwright keeps telling people he’s a murderer, but no-one believes him. Eventually goes mad trying to prove his guilt. Or, was everyone else right? Was he always mad and never a murderer?
  • “His Father’s Son” -- A young man, raised to experience every pleasure and social nicety his father missed, deludes himself into believing he is not his father’s son. No, he is the son of the great pianist, Fortune Dolbrowski. He has the letters to prove it. Except, they aren’t his mother’s letters.
  • “The Daunt Diana” -- An impoverished art collector finds his heart’s desire, but cannot afford her. He eventually comes into money and acquires the collection in which she resides, but complete happiness eludes him. He sells the collection off. And buys it back, piece by piece.
  • “The Debt” -- Family of an esteemed scientist is outraged when his protégée starts dismantling their father’s theories and puts forth his own.
  • “Full Circle” -- Successful novelist hires a failed novelist to answer his fan mail. Out of guilt, successful novelist starts writing letters to himself to keep failed novelist employed, but he’s not the only one writing fake letters.
  • “The Legend” -- Family takes in a homeless man a friend thinks might be an intellectual genius who died years ago. Just so happens that family hosting homeless man is headed by scholar renowned for his interpretations of genius's work. Didn’t actually get to the end of this story, because all the talk of Pellerin and Pellerinism made me feel like I was back in college, trying to slog my way through Atlas Shrugged.
  • “The Eyes” -- (1st ghost story) Over cigars after dinner, a man tells his friends about having been haunted by a pair of eyes at various points in his life. Was he really haunted by eyes? Were they a Dorian Grey type motif, showing the man's depravity of soul? Or was the man, in a round-about-fashion, just trying to tell his newest protege he was no good and no longer wanted?
  • “The Blond Beast” -- Millner becomes secretary to a tycoon, befriends the son, becomes entangled in some immoral business shenanigans, possibly betrays the son for the father, refuses his thirty pieces of silver, quits his job. (It took me three attempts to get through this story and I hated every character in it).
  • “Afterward” – (2nd ghost story) American couple purchase an antiquated, atmospheric English country house which, they are told, is inhabited by a mysterious ghost they won’t know they’ve seen until well afterward. And that is precisely what happens.
  • “The Letters” -- Lizzie is swept up in a passionate (but chaste) affair with her pupil’s father. Then the wife dies, he goes away, and Lizzie sends him letters, but never hears from him. Then, one day, there he is. She marries him and learns a hard truth about marriage.

In a word: blarg.

Tales of Men and Ghosts by Edith Wharton (Amazon Digital Services, Kindle Edition)

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