NYRB: Edith Wharton's "Ghosts," with Hernan Diaz, Roxana Robinson & Ed Simon

October 28, 2021, 6:00 PM

Join us for a chilling discussion of Edith Wharton's collection Ghosts, with Hernan Diaz, Roxana Robinson, and Ed Simon. This event, presented as part of our ongoing series with our friends at NYRB, will take place on Zoom. Register here:

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No history of the American uncanny tale would be complete without mention of Edith Wharton, yet many of Wharton’s most dedicated admirers are unaware that she was a master of the form. In fact, one of Wharton’s final literary acts was assembling Ghosts, a personal selection of her most chilling stories, written between 1902 and 1937.

In “The Lady’s Maid’s Bell,” the earliest tale included here, a servant’s dedication to her mistress continues from beyond the grave, and in “All Souls,” the last story Wharton wrote, an elderly woman treads the permeable line between life and the hereafter.

In all her writing, Wharton’s great gift was to mercilessly illuminate the motives of men and women, and her ghost stories never stray far from the preoccupations of the living, using the supernatural to investigate such worldly matters as violence within marriage, the horrors of aging, the rot at the root of new fortunes, the darkness that stares back from the abyss of one’s own soul.

These are stories to “send a cold shiver down one’s spine,” not to terrify, and as Wharton explains in her preface, her goal in writing them was to counter “the hard grind of modern speeding-up” by preserving that ineffable space of “silence and continuity,” which is not merely the prerogative of humanity but—“in the fun of the shudder”—its delight.

Hernan Diaz is the author of three books, most recently the novel, Trust, forthcoming from Riverhead in 2022. A finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award, he is also the recipient of a Whiting Award and edits an academic journal at Columbia University.

Roxana Robinson is the author of ten books — six novels, three collections of short stories, and, most recently, a biography of Georgia O’Keeffe. Four of these were chosen as New York Times Notable Books, two as New York Times Editors’ Choices.

Ed Simon is a staff writer for The Millions and a contributing editor for the History News Network. He is the author of several books, including Pandemonium: A Visual History of Demonology, forthcoming from Abrams in December 2021.