As a child, Wharton was haunted by dreams of ghosts and wolves, as well as a sense of a menacing presence at her mother’s front door. A near death experience from typhoid fever resulted in intense nightmares with “formless horrors” and she was unable to sleep in the same room as a book of ghost stories until she was 28 years old.
So what, according to Wharton, makes a good ghost story? “If it sends a cold shiver down one’s spine, it has done its job and done it well,” she said in the preface of The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. Mount staff have a few special Wharton favorites of their own.
“My favorite Edith Wharton ghost story is ‘The Eyes,’” Grace Leathrum, Special Events Coordinator, says. “I love it because instead of using a classic idea of what a ghost should look like, she zeroes in on one terrifying image and uses it to its best effect.”
Johanna Batman, Development Associate, cites “Duchess at Prayer” as not only her favorite Wharton ghost story, but one of her favorite Wharton stories in general. “It’s so wicked!” she says of the gothic tale published in 1900.
House Manager Anne Schuyler’s favorite is “Kerfol,” a chilling tale that is retold on ghost tours in the pet cemetery (stay tuned for more information about The Mount’s pet cemetery in our next post!).
Wharton didn’t think that just readers should be frightened by her ghost stories; she once said, “The teller of supernatural tales should be well frightened in the telling.” Perhaps it was her own childhood experiences which made Wharton into such an effective teller of ghost stories.