Sunday, October 26, 2008

Halloween Special: Edith Wharton’s “Afterward” in Shades of Darkness

Odilon Redon's The Night, Cleveland Museum of Art

As we discussed last year, while the horror or ghost story has not infrequently reached great heights, the horror movie genre has generally been a failure. While not a superlative addition to the extremely limited number of superior horror films, Granada Television’s early 1980s series Shades of Darkness nevertheless has interesting features. This anthology show dramatized a number of ghost stories from some of the greatest horror writers like Edith Wharton and Elizabeth Bowen.

The best episode of the series is the dramatization of Edith Wharton’s “Afterward”. Unlike many other ghost stories, Wharton neatly pivots the genre to directly confront modernity, and in addition, the startling reflections of modernity in the past. “Afterward” is a haunted house story – but this time this haunted house story is built upon the economic basis of the large English country house. In essence, the question the story asks is what suffering were these symbols of wealth built upon?

“Afterward” depicts the Boynes, an middle-aged American couple, who, striking it rich through stock market speculation, now wish to flee their drab origins in Wisconsin and purchase a remote and ancient Elizabethan country house in the South of England. Naturally, the house has it’s secrets, but so do the Americans. The American couple initially romanticizes the old house, but really as part of their romanticization of themselves. They prefer to believe that their speculations (eventually revealed to be somewhat dubious in precisely the archetypal American fashion) are buried in a now-forgotten past.

Since the house contains… entity that forces the Boynes to confront their own history which they prefer to forget, the reader / viewer also wonders (since the entity has long been whispered about among the house’s previous owners) what remains buried in the house’s own past. After all, the previous owners of many centuries have seemingly hurriedly decamped for Switzerland........


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