When you think of the writer Edith Wharton, “scary” probably isn’t the first word that comes to mind. It may, in fact, be the last. The author of novels such as The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence is known mainly as an observer of high society mores and romantic foibles—not as conjurer of ghosts.
But among Wharton’s publications is a little-known volume of paranormal tales, The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. And, as someone who regularly seeks out frightful entertainment (whether in the form of a film, a book, or TV show), I can say without a doubt, it’s the most chilling work of art I’ve experienced. Every October, I reread it, to put myself in the mood for the Halloween season. And, over the years, my friends and family have become accustomed to my annual evangelizing on its behalf.
The eleven stories contained in the book aren’t scary in the way that, say, The Ring is scary (although I confess that I also love The Ring). On the whole, they eschew gore and “He’s behind you!” suspense, focusing instead on the everyday moral horrors each of us carries out, and that each of us, at some time or another, becomes haunted by.