Friday, March 19, 2010


Edith Wharton (1862–1937)
From Edith Wharton: Collected Stories 1911–1937

This selection has been reposted, with a newly researched and more detailed introduction here.

World War I left Edith Wharton “haunted by the dead” and “Paris became for her a spectral and melancholy city,” remarks Hermione Lee in her recent biography. The decimation of Wharton’s beloved France affected and infected her writing, but the “strangest piece of fiction to come out of her war years was a story called ‘Kerfol’” (1916). A wealthy bachelor, urged by friends to purchase a home in Brittany, finds the estate of Kerfol devoid of human presence and populated instead by a pack of eerily silent dogs. Directed to a regional chronicle by a local resident, the narrator reads the 200-year-old account of a woman terrorized by her jealous husband, a mysterious and gruesome murder, and the sensational trial of the survivor—a mix that R.W.B. Lewis calls “one of Edith Wharton’s finest exercises in the imagination of violence, terror, and the erotic.”

*   *   *
You ought to buy it,” said my host; “it’s just the place for a solitary-minded devil like you. And it would be rather worth while to own the most romantic house in Brittany. The present people are dead broke, and it’s going for a song—you ought to buy it.” . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.


Unknown said...

"he must have talked with Pascal. . . ."
I don't understand this reference. Will someone please explain?

Roberta SchulbergGoro said...

I guess this story is alright for a whodunnit. So-so reading.

Anonymous said...

@Amanda: Famous as a proponent of the “scientific method,” Blaise Pascal, like HervĂ© de Lanrivain, converted to Jansenism. Later in life Pascal underwent a “mystical” experience. Wharton here is making a little joke about reason and faith, science and ghosts: see the Wikipedia entry on “Pascal’s Wager.”

Unknown said...

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

A little anti-climactic when seen in the light of later gothic fiction but a fine piece of its period. I enjoyed the tight construction and the irony at the end.

Pam said...


Blaise Pascal, the famous mathematician, became a Jansenist. The narrator presumes he must have met Herve at some point.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the setting of the narrarot reading this from a dusty old volume of family history and describing the red-crayon drawing. It added to eerie-mystery feeling. The last line was pretty good too.

Unknown said...

too many thanks I enjoyed it.