Sunday, September 9, 2007

Short Story Sunday (Gilman, Atherton, and Wharton)

This week, I read three stories from the Witches' Brew collection: "The Yellow Wall Paper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Striding Place" by Gertrude Atherton, and "Afterward" by Edith Wharton. I very much enjoyed all three, and they felt significantly creepier than last week's reading.

"The Yellow Wall Paper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Several people commented on the blog that they weren't huge fans of this story. Aparrently, it's one of those stories that is often part of the high school curriculum, so students have to analyse it to death. I can see how that would make it annoying; however, reading it for pure pleasure, I was impressed! The first sentence is great:
It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer.
The story is written as a first-person diary, kept by a woman who is recovering from a "nervous condition" on the orders of her physician-husband. She's staying in the upstairs nursery, which takes up almost the whole floor, and has hideous yellow wall-paper. The diary covers three months, and as time goes on, the narrator becomes more and more captivated by the paper. It's pretty creepy, and an enjoyable read at twenty pages. Towards the end, Gilman can't resist the temptation to wallop the reader over the head with symbolism, but I'll forgive her. ;)
Favourite Passage:
It is the strangest yellow, that wall paper! It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw-not beautiful ones like buttercups, but old foul, bad yellow things.

"The Striding Place" by Gertrude Atherton
This story is very short: a mere seven pages. However, it has an incredibly creepy last sentence (that I won't share, for obvious reasons). It follows Weigall, who is part of a hunting party a England, and goes out later that night to walk and think. His best friend has disappeared a couple of days earlier, and while Weigall is almost sure that it's a prank, he's still nervous. The writing is very polished; I'd never heard of Atherton before, but I'm impressed with her descriptive ability. For example,
He went down to the river and followed the path through the woods. There was no moon, but the stars sprinkled their cold light upon the pretty belt of water flowing placidly past wood and ruin, between green masses of overhanging rocks or sloping banks tangled with tree and shrub, leaping occasionally over stones with the harsh notes of an angry scold, to recover its equanimity the moment the way was clear again.
I think, based on this story, I'll be seeking out more of Atherton's work.
Favourite Passage:
"You believe in the soul as an independent entity, then-that it and the vital principle are not one and the same?"
"Absolutely. The body and soul are twins, life comrades-sometimes friends, sometimes enemies, but always loyal in the last instance."


"Afterward" by Edith Wharton
I love Wharton's novels, but this was my first experience with her short stories. "Afterward" is rather on the long side, coming in at thirty-five pages, but it needs that length to really develop its narrative. I was most impressed by the first three-quarters of the story, when Wharton is setting the mood. An American couple, having struck it rich through some kind of mining speculation, move to England and settle into an old county seat. They've been told that it has a ghost, but there's a twist: no one realises it's a ghost until long afterward. Hmmm...I wonder what will happen? ;) Wharton's narrative ability is very impressive, but I felt that towards the end the story began to fall apart. Granted, it's told from one character's p.o.v., and that character is very distraught, but I felt the writing slacked a little. Then, it picked back up at the very end. I don't think I'd have noticed the poorer quality of the little penultimate section, except that the writing surrounding it so good. I'd like to get my hands on the collection of Wharton's ghost stories one day (jealous of Petunia). The story also wasn't quite as hair-raising; I think because it's more of a conventional ghost story than the other two. Still well worth reading!
Favourite Passage:
"I should never believe I was living in an old house unless I was thoroughly uncomfrtable," Ned Boyne, the more extravagant of the two, had jocosely insisted; "th eleast hint of 'conveniance' would make me think it had been bought out of an exhibition, with th epieces numbered, and set up again." And they had proceeded to enumerate, with humorous precision, their various doubts and demands, refusing to believe that the house their cousin recommend was really Tudor till they learned it had no heating system, or that the village church was literally on the grounds, and till she assured them of the deplorable uncertainty of the water-supply.

8 comments:

Petunia said...

I felt the same way about Wharton's The Lady's Maid's Bell. It wasn't necessarily scary. There's a ghost but you're left trying to figure out what exactly it's trying to do.

I love hearing about all these other ghost stories. I'm taking notes for next year.

Christina said...

I enjoyed The Yellow Wallpaper even though I had to analyze it for college English. :) It was one of my favorites from that class (the other being An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce).

verbivore said...

I just listened to an Edith Wharton ghost story in the car the other day (my first) - late at night too, so it was doubly creepy. "The Eyes" was an interesting little story about a man who discovers there are eyes staring at him at night from the foot of his bed.

Bybee said...

I really like "Roman Fever" by Edith Wharton. Thanks for reminding me of her...I've got Custom Of The Country on Mt. TBR.

I was lucky to read The Yellow Wallpaper back when it had just been rediscovered and it was still fairly fresh and hadn't been picked to pieces by lit crits. Creeped me out.

Sam said...

I LOVED "The Yellow Wallpaper". I had to read it for a women's studies class at college, and had just started reading it again when I signed up for RIP II. I'm hoping to pick the book back up sometime after October.

Eva said...

Petunia, I'm taking notes for next year too!

Christina, I really enjoyed it as well-I'll have to look up the other short story.

Verbivore, ohhh-I don't think I could listen to a ghost story alone in my car at night. That'd be soooo creepy. It sounds like a good one, though!

Bybee, wasn't it creepy? I have the image of the crouching woman running through my head.

Sam, glad to see another fan!

Waitman Gobble said...

Hi,

Do you accept books for consideration of review?

Have a wonderful day!

Waitman Gobble
Los Altos, California

Eva said...

Waitman Gobble, I'd accept books in return for reviewing them; however, I wouldn't guarantee whether the review would be positive or negative.