Edith Wharton’s Ghost Stories (reposted for Halloween)

A monster, a zombie, or a silent house?  Which is the scariest?

Photo by Cecily McGuckin

The last…according to Edith Wharton.

And she’s not the only writer (or artist) of that opinion.

I remember reading an interview with Sir Anthony Hopkins years ago. He was asked about his portrayal of the character Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs.   How did he go about playing the role of such a frightening character?

Mastering the art of stillness.

That was the key.  I remember him saying that the combination of his physical stillness — along with the activity that went on behind his eyes — was what made the character so frightening. Remember him standing perfectly still in that prison cell?

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton, a collection of short creepy stories, uses the same approach.  No blood.  No fangs.  No outright monsters.  Just layers of silence, stillness, confusion, and doubt.  Unsettling stuff, indeed.

The last story in the book, All Souls’, is told by a narrator.  It’s a story about a cousin who has fractured her ankle and must remain in bed until the doctor returns on Monday.  That night, as a snowstorm hits, she struggles to remain calm within a large house in a remote countryside.  In the early hours of morning, she is in agonizing pain.  She calls her servants. No one answers; the phone has been disconnected.  She’s forced to crawl through the large empty house looking for life.  Where has her trusty maid gone? Where is the butler?  Poor Mrs. Clayburn.  Snowbound with a broken leg à la James Caan in Misery 

Silence. Only silence.

More and more the cold unanswering silence of the house weighted down on Mrs. Clayburn.  She had never thought of it as a big house, but now, in this snowy winter light, it seemed immense, and full of ominous corners around which one dared not look…More than once she had explored the ground floor alone in the small hours, in search of unwonted midnight noises; but now it was not the idea of noises that frightened her, but that inexorable and hostile silence, the sense that the house had retained in full daylight its nocturnal mystery, and was watching her as she was watching it…

Flowers for Jane Austen

At last evening’s JASNA-NY’s event, after a wonderful presentation by Linda A. Chisholm, Ph.D., Columbia University who teaches the history of landscape design at the New York Botanical Garden, each guest received a small packet of seeds.

Some of Jane Austen’s favorite flowers include Sweet William, Columbine, and Cottage Pinks.  The seeds of these flowers can be found at any local nursery.

Wouldn’t it be nice if — in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death and as a gesture of love and appreciation for her works, as well as a symbol of rebirth — we all planted some of her favorite flowers?

Just as flowers bring beauty to the world so do the works of Austen.  I am grateful for both.

 

Random Acts of Kindness

Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call.

That’s all it took for me to actually change someone’s life.

Chicken Soup for the Soul:  Random Acts of Kindness is in bookstores today.  My story, Taking Action, is about the day I helped someone get a job by simply making a phone call.  It cost me nothing…but changed a life.  Sometimes, that’s all it takes….a little action.  So get inspired, be hopeful, help that friend (or stranger!) in need.  Imagine, just imagine, if we all did one random act of kindness each day.  Oh, what a different world it would be!

Ann Radcliffe and being brave

It’s hard to be brave.

But knowing that you’re doing the right thing, knowing that you’re acting out of love, infuses one with a strength that transcends all understanding.

I’ve been reading The Italian by one of my favorite authors, Ann Radcliffe.

Her words are lyrical and of course…sublime.  She is the same author who wrote The Mysteries of Udolpho (one of Jane Austen’s favorite novels).

The Italian is a gothic tale, a romance in which the power of darkness attempts to keep two lovers apart.  Within the religious walls of a remote convent, over rocky mountains, steep cliffs and palaces, the natural and supernatural collide.

At one point, our hero, Vivaldi begs the help of an Abate.  Helping Vivaldi would go against the Abate’s wicked superior, so — out of weakness — he declines.  It’s disappointing and sad.  He fails to find his courage.  I see this characteristic in many people today and am sometimes guilty of being weak myself.

Being brave is hard, but we must always be brave enough to show compassion, do what is right, and help someone in need.

In this Abate, a mildness of temper, and a gentleness of manner were qualities of less value than is usually and deservedly imputed to them; for, being connected with feebleness of mind, they were but the pleasing merits of easy times, which in an hour of difficulty never assumed the character of virtues, by inducing him to serve those for whom he might feel.  And thus, with a temper and disposition directly opposite to those of the severe and violent abbess, he was equally selfish, and almost equally culpable, since by permitting evil, he was nearly as injurious in his conduct as those who planned it.  Indolence and timidity, a timidity the consequence of want of clear perception, deprived him of all energy of character; he was prudent rather than wise, and so fearful of being thought to do wrong that he seldom did right.  

– Ann Radcliffe, The Italian