Queries and Replies: “Afterward”

Name: Barbara MacRobie
Email: bmacrobie@gmail.com
May we publish your name and email address?: Yes
Comment: In every text of “Afterward” that I have found online and in print in libraries, when Robert Elwell’s spirit encounters Mary in the garden, she tells him that her husband cannot receive him and he should come back.

“Then I’m afraid, this being his working-time, that he can’t receive you now. Will you give me a message, or come back later?” The visitor, again lifting his hat, briefly replied that he would come back later, and walked away, as if to regain the front of the house. As his figure receded down the walk between the yew hedges, Mary saw him pause and look up an instant at the peaceful house-front bathed in faint winter sunshine; and it struck her, with a tardy touch of compunction, that it would have been more humane to ask if he had come from a distance, and to offer, in that case, to inquire if her husband could receive him.

But this makes no sense at all in light of the stunning conclusion:
“Oh, my God! I sent him to Ned — I told him where to go! I sent him to this room!” she screamed out.
No, she didn’t – she turned him away!

HOWEVER, in the version of this story that I first read, in an old collection of short stories, Mary at first turns the visitor away but then seeing his obvious dejection feels compassion and tells him he can go to the house to see if Ned will receive him and adds, “You’ll find him in the library.”

Can anyone explain this discrepancy? Did Edith Wharton revise the story but somehow the first version is what keeps getting reprinted? And can I find the much scarier version anywhere?


One thought on “Queries and Replies: “Afterward”

  1. dhefko

    The error in the text of “Afterward” that you point out can be traced to the story’s appearance in _The Century Magazine_ (pg. 321). Full text available here:

    By the time of its printing in Wharton’s collection _Tales of Men and Ghosts_ (pg. 323), the error has been corrected. Full text available here:

    In my experience as a reader, it wasn’t unusual for Wharton to make these kinds of revisions to a story in the time between its magazine publication and its appearance in a book.

    Subsequent editions that have printed the revised text include the following:

    _The Collected Short Stories of Edith Wharton_ (Volume II), edited by R. W. B. Lewis (1968).

    _The Stories of Edith Wharton_ (Volume 2), selected by Anita Brookner (1990).

    _The Muse’s Tragedy and Other Stories_, edited by Candace Waid (1990).

    _Souls Belated and Other Stories_, edited by Helen McNeil (1993).

    _The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton_ (1997).

    Dan Hefko

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