J. Nicole Jones at The Paris Review:
In a preface to her ghost stories, Wharton writes, “I do not believe in ghosts, but I am afraid of them.” Following an attack of typhoid as a child, Wharton writes in her autobiography, A Backward Glance, that she returned from the brink of death with “chronic fear” that felt like a “choking agony of terror.” Well into young adulthood, she would not sleep without a light and a maid present in her room. “It was like some dark, indefinable menace, forever dogging my steps, lurking, and threatening,” she writes, and I could not help but think of Hilary Mantel’s childhood encounter with an indescribable evil in her family’s garden. Must all women be visited by terror so consistently and from such a young age? The rumors of paranormal activity at the Mount began after the house become an all-girls school in the forties, and intensified when the theater troupe Shakespeare and Company took residence there in the seventies. The performers were kicked out more than a decade ago in a landlord-tenant dispute that seemed, publicly, not related to the supernatural. Even so, nothing attracts the devil more than a group of adolescent girls, except for maybe a group of actors.