DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

The Ghost Feeler
Edith Wharton. Introduction by Peter Haining.
Dufour Edition, Inc./ 188p/ $18.95
ISBN 0720611520

Cover Here's a lovely introduction to the ghost stories of the remarkable Edith Wharton (1862-1937). Along with her admirable (but now seldom read) realist novels, Wharton produced a small but superior sheaf of supernatural stories.

Wharton claimed to be overwhelmingly frightened of horror stories until early in her twenties. She could not sleep in a room that contained a volume of scary stories and even burned them frequently to rid herself of dread. Later, she felt the fear was the result of being what she termed a ghost-feeler, one who senses that which can not be seen. (A ghost-seer claims to see ghosts.) Influenced by an eventual reading of great horror writers as well her friend and mentor Henry James, Wharton became one of the best herself.

Of the nine stories in this collection, four -- "The Duchess at Prayer," "The Fullness of Life," "A Journey," and "A Bottle of Perrier" do not appear in the Wharton standard, the Scribner's edition of The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. "The Duchess At Prayer" is considerably more gothic in tone than most of her stories. It's story of adulterous love and its punishment could have been written by Poe (had he been female and born half a century later). Wharton herself called "The Fullness of Life" "one long shriek." In it, a woman unhappy with her husband dies and meets her soul-mate in the hereafter. Its autobiographical, personal nature (Wharton divorced her husband in 1913) led her to keep it from later re-publication. Although I have no evidence, "A Journey" -- with it's story of a woman concealing her husband's corpse on a train -- may have simply been a bit too morbid for some collectors. "A Bottle of Perrier," is a suspenseful mystery set in an exotic locale. As these nine collected stories show, her work is far more accessible to today's reader than Benson's (or James's) and can still produce real -- or rather unreal -- shivers.

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Copyright © 2003 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.