Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Wharton, Edith

(1862-1937) US writer whose many novels sharply examine US society, the focus of her most successful work – like The Age of Innocence (1920) – being on the oppositions between private passions and the world. EW's technical facility is very considerable, and is applied with some strictness to the unfolding of genuinely serious stories, involving acutely observed men and women facing moral cruces, not always happily. She wrote about 12 stories of genre interest, all Supernatural Fiction, almost all involving Ghosts. The first – "The Fulness of Life" (1893), a minor Posthumous Fantasy – does not appear in later collections published within EW's lifetime. The remainder – first assembled (along with other work) in Tales of Men and Ghosts (coll 1910), Xingu and Other Stories (coll 1916) and Here and Beyond (coll 1926) – are assembled in Ghosts (coll 1937; vt The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton 1973). "Afterward" (1910) is set in a country house where ghosts are never recognized as such until afterwards, which is too late. "The Eyes" (1910) is a superb study of sexual ambivalence, ending in a self-confrontation that some critics have likened to the revelations exploded in the climax of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). In "Pomegranate Seed" (1931) a widower who has remarried receives letters from his demanding dead wife: the last letter beckons him presumably to the Underworld. "All Souls'" (1937) marries virtuoso descriptions of snow and isolation to a chillingly evoked rendering of the theft of a day. Subtle and stalwart, EW is a central 20th-century practitioner of the Ghost Story. [JC]

other works: The Muse's Tragedy: And Other Stories (coll 1990) ed Candace Ward and The Ghost-Feeler: Stories of Terror and the Supernatural (coll 1996 UK) ed Peter Haining, both including "The Fulness of Life".

Edith Newbold Wharton


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.