Pomegranate Seed

by Edith Wharton

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 718

Part I ‘‘Pomegranate Seed’’ opens as Charlotte Ashby enters the vestibule to her New York home and pauses before entering the house. She has paused to remember the course of her brief marriage to Kenneth Ashby, and to consider the mysterious events that have clouded their recent months together. Kenneth Ashby, a lawyer, is a widower whose marriage to Charlotte has apparently healed the grief he felt at the death of his first wife, Elsie Ashby. Charlotte has moved into the house Kenneth had shared with Elsie, and come to feel at home there. Kenneth has even moved the portrait of Elsie that had hung in his library up to the nursery of his two children, in order that Charlotte might feel herself to be the mistress of the house. When they returned from their honeymoon, however, Kenneth found waiting for him a mysterious letter in a gray envelope. Charlotte never learned the contents of the letter, addressed to Kenneth in a woman’s handwriting, but from its effects on her husband— withdrawal, sadness, and perhaps a touch of fear— suspects it is from a former lover. Several similar letters have arrived for him since the honeymoon, each one deepening Kenneth’s withdrawal and Charlotte’s suspicion. Charlotte enters the house at last and finds that yet another letter is waiting for her husband.

Part II Troubled by the most recent letter’s arrival, Charlotte decides to spy on Kenneth when he comes home. Positioning herself behind the door to the entry hall, Charlotte watches as Kenneth opens the letter, reads it with an expression of great sadness and, to her dismay, kisses the paper on which his mysterious correspondent has sent the unknown message. Charlotte comes out of her hiding place and accuses Kenneth of maintaining a correspondence with a former lover. Kenneth denies this, maintaining that the letters are about business. When Charlotte confronts him with his having kissed the letter, Kenneth continues to evade her questions and finally ends the conversation without having shown Charlotte the letter’s contents.

Part III Alone now, Charlotte reflects upon the former happiness of her brief marriage and resolves to help Kenneth in any way she can. She considers seeking Kenneth’s mother’s assistance. Mrs. Ashby is a forthright, practical person with whom Charlotte has always felt a bond. To go to his mother about the letters, however, would be a violation of Kenneth’s privacy, and Charlotte rejects the idea. At dinner Charlotte suggests to Kenneth that they go away together for a vacation to relax Kenneth’s nerves. Kenneth declines the offer, putting Charlotte off with vague explanations of his inability to travel. It occurs to Charlotte that Kenneth won’t leave New York because his mysterious correspondent will not let him go. Kenneth weeps when his wife challenges him with this suspicion, and then agrees to leave town with her.

Part IV When Charlotte wakes up the next morning she finds that Kenneth has already left the house, telling the maid to inform her that he plans for them to begin their vacation that very day. Charlotte is to expect news of when they will sail. When Charlotte telephones Kenneth’s office, however, the secretary tells her that Kenneth has gone out of town. Hours pass with no word from Kenneth, and when evening comes Charlotte is worried and visits Kenneth’s mother in hopes of an explanation. Mrs. Ashby has heard nothing from her son and is surprised to learn of their sudden plans for a holiday. Together the two women return to Charlotte’s house only to discover that another gray letter has arrived in their absence. Charlotte...

(This entire section contains 718 words.)

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is resolved to open the letter and get to the bottom of things.

Once out of its envelope the letter proves to be almost illegible, its letters pale and faint. Charlotte is able to make out only the words ‘‘mine’’ and ‘‘come.’’ She remarks: ‘‘I suppose everything’s pale about a ghost.’’ This is the first time the story uses the word ‘‘ghost,’’ but it is an appropriate term, for as Mrs. Ashby reaches for the phone to call the police, the impression is given that Kenneth has answered the call of Elsie, his first wife, and gone to join her in the other world.