My KPFA - A Historical Footnote


A Little Edith Wharton Ghost Story

My dramatic production for KPFA of Erik Bauersfeld’s adaptation

of Edith Wharton’s Roman Fever is my only justification for

ncluding here this little fragment of ghostly reality.



For several months Mary and I have been reading our way through the remarkable fiction of Edith Wharton. Some of it consists of long forgotten ghost stories that I had read as a child. Yesterday evening I had been reading one of these on my Kindle and was on my way home on the London tube. A young woman started to sit down on the tip-up seat next to mine but it slipped out of her grasp and I caught it just in time to prevent her falling to the floor.

I laughed.

—These things are a trap!

She smiled back at me. She was in her early twenties and looked vaguely hippie, more in her face than in her clothes, which were ordinary and of a dark color—nothing exotic and no tattoos, nose rings or rainbow hair.

She said a few words, so softly that I couldn’t make them out over the roar of the train until in the middle of a sentence I caught the words Edith Wharton.

—Edith Wharton! Are you reading her?


—Have you read The Custom of the Country?


—You must! It’s probably her best novel!

I launched into a quick lecture on Wharton’s upbringing in an old New York family, how she had educated herself from her father’s extensive library of the standard classics, bought mostly for display, and how she had gradually become acquainted with the intellectual fringes of New York society, who regarded her as something of a prodigy. My companion listened attentively, nodding occasionally.

When I’d finished my little ten-minute summary she spoke again, so softly that I couldn’t understand her. I caught the words “my boy friend” and “I don’t live with him” and then the name William Burroughs suddenly came through.

—William Burroughs?! I knew Burroughs—and Bryon Gison! I worked with them years ago!

She smiled.

—I thought so. . . This is where I get off.

I was dazed! What could she have meant?!

—This is one of the most amazing exchanges I’ve ever had with a total stranger! I won’t give you my card—it couldn’t get any better than this!

She nodded agreement, smiled again and got off the train.

8 July 2014