Tuesday Terror! Afterward by Edith Wharton

Ghostly retribution…

 

delphi whartonA few weeks back, Ethan Frome won the People’s Choice Poll for a place on my TBR (it’s still to be read). Rather than buy that book alone, I did as I always do for the classics and downloaded The Complete Works of Edith Wharton from my favourite Kindle publisher, Delphi. As I perused the Contents, I was reminded that, like so many writers of her generation and before, Wharton had made her own contribution to the horror story field with a collection entitled Tales of Men and Ghosts. My next trip was to Goodreads where each of the six top reviews named the story Afterward as being one of the best – which makes it a natural choice for this week’s…

TUESDAY TERROR!

“Oh, there is one, of course, but you’ll never know it.” The assertion, laughingly flung out six months earlier in a bright June garden, came back to Mary Boyne with a sharp perception of its latent significance as she stood, in the December dusk, waiting for the lamps to be brought into the library.

Ned Boyne has made his fortune in a mining speculation in America, and now he and his wife Mary have moved to England. As they search for their ideal home, they want a house with a bit of history and atmosphere – and preferably its own ghost. Eventually they settle for Lyng, a Tudor house in remote Dorsetshire. No electric lights, antiquated plumbing – just the thing to suit the Boynes’ romantic ideas; and as their friend tells them, there is indeed a ghost, but they won’t know it’s a ghost – not till ‘long, long afterward’.

There is a ghostly aspect to this story, but there’s also quite a strong mystery element. Why is Ned Boyne showing all the signs of being worried and anxious? What’s the truth of how he made his money in the mine? Why is one of his erstwhile colleagues suing him – and why has that lawsuit now been withdrawn? As Mary gradually finds out the answers to these questions, the ghostly and the real world collide, shattering all her certainties…

“But who was the gentleman?” Mary gasped out, with the sharp note of some one trying to be heard through a confusion of meaningless noises.

“That I couldn’t say, Madam.” Trimmle, standing there by the lamp, seemed suddenly to grow less round and rosy, as though eclipsed by the same creeping shade of apprehension.

Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton

This is a beautifully crafted story where the actions of the living are as chilling as those of the spirit world. It reminded me very much of the style of Conan Doyle, in fact – one of those Holmes’ stories where some crime that has happened in a far away land comes back to haunt the characters years later, when they have settled into a seemingly blameless and respectable existence. In this case, the haunting takes on a ghostly aspect, but guilt and revenge are at the root of the story as much as they ever are in Holmes. Mary is a great female character – strong and intelligent, and although she does almost swoon at one point it’s justifiable under the prevailing circumstances. The old house adds a touch of Gothic to the story, and Wharton very effectively uses the idea of all the things the house must have witnessed over the years to give a feeling almost of inevitability to the plot. And the whole thing is told in a nicely understated manner that in no way detracts from the underlying tension.

Then of a sudden she was seized by a vague dread of the unknown. She had closed the door behind her on entering, and as she stood alone in the long, silent, shadowy room, her dread seemed to take shape and sound, to be there audibly breathing and lurking among the shadows. Her short-sighted eyes strained through them, half-discerning an actual presence, something aloof, that watched and knew…

More chilling than terrifying, but very well written with an interesting plot and some excellent characterisation – this has whetted my appetite very nicely for reading more of Wharton’s work.

Fretful porpentine rating: 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:         😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

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33 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Afterward by Edith Wharton

  1. FictionFan – It definitely sounds like one of those stories where the fact that it didn’t get full FP marks doesn’t matter as much, because the story is so well crafted. And of course, there’s the writing style too…

    • Really an excellent short story, Margot. I liked her style of writing very much and this was a proper story with a beginning, middle and end, which isn’t always the case in ghost stories. Looking forward even more to reading Ethan Frome now…

    • Oh, you’re so…modern! It’s easy – you just have to be rich enough to have a massive staff of servants to go round lighting real fires and gas lamps and dealing with…er…plumbing issues.

      Let’s just say there was a certain poetic justice about the whole thing…

        • *laughing loads* What happened to the tough adventurer? How are you going to hunt yetis and all that sort of stuff if you can’t survive without electricity? What’s an mbox? Interesting to see that Mic runs on electricity though – is he an android?

          Ah, you’d have to read it to find out the answer to that. Shall I add it to your TBR?

          • Good noodles! Shamed for life. Well, when you go on an adventure, that’s different. You expect to be uncomfortable. An mbox is an audio interface. Microphones plug into that, and that plugs into the computer. It’s better than plugging a mic right into a computer. (Better sound.) He is not an android! What is an android?

            You shall not, madam!!! But you shall give me the answer!

            • Ah, your desire for all the comforts of a domesticated existence have now been explained. A new pair of slippers must seem quite adventurous to you now…

              I see! Thank you! A humanoid robot – well, if he’s not one what does he need electricity for?

              Shan’t! And you can’t make me! So there!

            • *chuckling* Well, you set yourself up for it P. RQ! You’ll have to do something extra-heroic soon to restore your reputation…

              That’s good, because that must mean there’s a difference between the Professor and a mic too…

              Compliments, charm, chocolate…

            • Hmm…are you sure? Because FF’s life would be so much duller without her favourite hero doing deeds of derring-do…

              Oh, it wasn’t meant to be a choice…

            • Dangerous and heroic acts of courage…

              True – your ladies wouldn’t like it…and anyway you’ll have given them all the chocolate.

            • Nonsense! See how confused all this slushy stuff is making you?

              *chuckling* So I’m a pug and a goose, am I? No wonder you’ve never taken me to the PL for dinner… *sticks tongue out unashamedly at mean C-W-W* (Do geese have tongues?)

            • Well, well, dadblameit! That sound slushy!

              I’m not sure. I’ve never eaten a goose–which is a good thing, I suppose. It’s a way of saying “you silly” in professorish. You mean, you’d like to go to dinner with me?

            • Derring-do is a fine old word, and always refers to male heroes so it can’t be girlish!

              Oh, you’ve promised to take me to dinner in the PL many times, but you never do. I’ll wait and go for dinner with you in your castle.

            • Is that my problem, sir?? You’ve heard it now – there’s a first time for everything!

              Are you confusing me with Ruber? No, as your guest in the castle, I shall expect to be waited on hand and foot…that seems fair, doesn’t it?

  2. Well, my dear (Lady F laughs her very evil laugh) I think I can safely render your fretful porpentine rating several notches higher, by informing you that having succumbed to downloading THE COMPLETE WORKS you should really count each work as one book and so (cackling in manic hysteria) by my reckoning your TBR is…………..in treble figures!!!!!!!

    Worth it for Wharton, but treble nonetheless

    • You are so cruel!! But I shall ignore you – I must, since I think I have about sixteen of these collected works now – so I reckon I could end up close to 4 figures…*faints*

  3. I think you and LF enjoy putting spells on your readers so they spend all their time trotting down to the local bookstore and coming back under stacks of books—-forcing them to succumb to eReaders. I will not be broken, I say. I employ minions who will carry the books, although several have been disappearing daily. Perhaps I’m losing them under piles…..

  4. I have not read Edith Wharton. Apparently, that needs to be remediated. The whole house thing reminded me of a series of which I cannot recall the name about a young American woman is left a house from her aunt. The aunt’s posthumous presence is discernable, and the aunt writes notes to the niece giving her clues. Nothing profound, but nice light reading.

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