Edith Wharton was born into an affluent American family in 1862 and lived the majority of her life in New York City’s high society. Despite being constrained by the social expectations circumscribed by her affluence, Wharton was a keen, explorative woman and a prolific writer. Wharton is best known for her novel The Age of Innocence (1920), for which she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1921, and novella Ethan Frome (1911). Wharton, however, wrote many short stories as well. Her book Tales of Men and Ghosts (1910) is a collection of several short stories including “Afterward,” a ghost story about a haunted house told in five parts. “Afterward” touches upon gothic stereotypes, constraints placed upon women, and the greed and conflict that inevitably come with wealth.
The story begins with an American couple, Ned and Mary Boyne, and their friend Alida Stair. Ned recently benefited from a business deal with the Blue Star Mine, which brought the Boynes into money. Now, Ned and Mary are looking for a romantic countryside home in England in which to retire. Over tea with Alida at her home in Pangbourne, England, they discuss which home would be best to buy. Ned and Mary are very focused on the idea of living in the country. The couple discard many sensible houses that Alida suggests. Finally, she mentions a house called Lyng in Dorsetshire. For Ned and Mary, Dorsetshire sounds like the ideal place for a romantic yet archaic country home. In fact, they expect and want the home to be uncomfortable, joking that a house in the countryside must have a ghost for it to be worth purchasing. Alida tells them that there is a ghost at Lyng, but that they wouldn’t know until “long, long afterward.”
After moving into the Lyng house, the couple notices nothing in particular and soon forgets the discussion over the ghost. Two months later, Mary reflects on what Alida said. Mary has noticed her husband acting strangely. He is often exhausted, uninspired, and goes on long walks alone. In wondering about Ned’s change of behavior, Mary feels that it must have to do with the house and the supposed ghost. Mary remembers a moment when they had just moved in. She and Ned had gone up onto the roof. There, Ned had seen a man walking toward the house dressed in all gray and had anxiously chased after him. Mary, who is short-sighted, couldn’t see the figure clearly. When she asked her husband if he had found the man, he claimed that the man was of no importance. Upon remembering this, Mary thinks that Ned was hiding something.
Mary is looking through the window when she believes she sees the ghost walking towards the house, but she soon realizes that it is her husband. When he enters the house, she tells him that she thought he was the ghost. They argue over when the ghost will appear. While sitting in the parlor, Ned gets some mail. After he reads his letters, he sits across from Mary, who notices that his countenance has changed entirely. He seems happier and no longer tired. Ned hands Mary a letter addressed to her. Upon opening it, she sees a newspaper clipping about Ned’s business, the Blue Star Mine, being sued by a man named Robert Elwell. Mary realizes how little she has tried to understand her husband’s work, and she worries about how her happiness rides upon his success. Ned reassures Mary that the suit has been withdrawn and that the news article is old. He tells her that he just found out that day that the suit had been withdrawn, and he assures her that everything will be all right.
The next day, Mary feels a sense of security in her husband and her life. She is happy and walks about her garden in the morning. While on her walk, she sees a young man approach. He seems hesitant, and she asks him what his business is. He claims he wishes to see Ned Boyne. Mary refuses him, as it is Ned’s working time and tells him to return later in the afternoon. When it is lunch time, however, Ned Boyne is not in his study or...
(The entire section is 1,252 words.)