This article contains the summary and analysis of Henry James’ unusual gothic ghost story Sir Edmund Orme (1891).
This article series provides a summary of Sir Edmund Orme, the ending or the twist and a short analysis.
Henry James (1843-1916) was an American Author of literary realism and literary modernism. But he has also written ghost stories, stories of the supernatural and the spiritual. His themes compose romance, the fear of marriage, the doppelgänger motif and of course the supernatural that subtly sneaks into real life, ever posing the question if the paranormal is real or not. Often with an unreliable narrator, told in the first person, the events can be explained either by the existence of a real ghost or something that the mind conjured up. His ghost story genre lies in the genre of Romance, where the magical co-exists with everyday life, which creates an eerie uncanny feeling. His stories are always based in the real world of human action, psychology and morality. It therefore is up to the reader to interpret the story as they wish, which can lead to wonderful lively discussions.
This article contains a ghost story that hasn’t so much got a dark feel, but tells about a benign ghost. But it causes some inconvenience and stirs up some truths about the main characters and raises some conflict in the character’s lives.
Sir Edmund Orme (1891)
Narrated by an unknown man a written statement is found about a strange tale. ‘I found these pages, in a locked drawer, among papers relating to the unfortunate lady’s too brief career (she died in childbirth a year after her marriage)…’ It tells the story about a young man who falls in love with the beautiful Charlotte Marden. But it doesn’t tell the story of their courtship, but a strange tale that relates to it in a sinister way. This is his story.
Not only is the Narrator very fond of Miss Marden, her mother, her very likeness has taken a fondness to him as well, for mysterious reasons. ‘It already struck me, in this pair, that the resemblances – the more so that it took so little account of a difference of nature.’ (…) Then there were looks and movements and tones (movements when you could scarcely say whether it were aspects or sound), which, between the two personalities, were a reflection, a recall.’
But when his friend Captain Bostwick takes a stroll with Miss Marden and the Narrator sits with Mrs Marden, something odd happens. ‘She stood a few seconds, with the queerest expression in her face; then she sank upon the seat again and I saw that she had blushed crimson.’ It was as if she had seen somebody in the crowd that frightened her. Still, the Narrator and his friend are invited to dinner, and are welcomed by mother and daughter as good friends.
When one day in church the Narrator takes the opportunity to sit next to Charlotte, another odd thing happens. A man has sit down next to her, without making a sound, but goes seemingly unnoticed by anyone else. After church Mrs Marden rushes to the Narrator. ‘“Did you see him?” He says he has, how could he have not. But Mrs Marden stays awfully secretive about the whole affair.
Till one day, the Narrator sees the gentleman again. ‘This time I saw him better, saw that his face and his whole air were strange. (…) He held himself with a kind a habitual majesty, as if he were different from us. Yet he looked fixedly and gravely at me, till I wondered what he expected of me.’ At last Mrs Marden tells him this man is in fact the ghost of Sir Edmund Orme. He was a man she had wronged. He loved her dearly, and their mothers deeply wanted them to get married. But she met another man Captain Marden and fell in love with him and broke Orme’s heart. He died of it and since then he has haunted her, by appearing at the side of Charlotte. Especially when a man loves Charlotte as much as he did her mother and when this love isn’t reciprocated. It’s a constant reminder of what Mrs Marden did to him and a warning to her daughter not to make the same mistake. But this might be very well the case, as she seems to string the Narrator along, while there are many other suitors.
While Mrs Marden shares her secret and burden of the heart with the Narrator she’s about to make the same mistake as her mother. So the Narrator decides to tell Charlotte about Edmund Orme. ‘The way to save her was to love her, and the way to love her was to tell her, now and here, that I did so. Sir Edmund Orme didn’t prevent me, especially as after a moment he turned his back to us and his head on his arm, against the chimney piece, with an air of gradual dejection, like a spirit still more weary than discreet.’ She thanks him, but wants to be left alone. Although Mrs Marden seems much more lighthearted and unburdened.
Now, the Narrator understands why the ghost of Sir Edmund Orme is always watching. ’He looked strange, incontestably, but somehow he always looked right. I very soon came to attach an idea of beauty to his unmentionable presence, the beauty of an old story of love and pain. What I ended by feeling was that he was on my side, that he was watching over my interest, that he was looking to it that my heart shouldn’t be broken. (…) It was a case of retributive justice. The mother was to pay, in suffering, for the suffering she had inflicted, and as the disposition to jilt a love might have been transmitted to the daughter, the daughter was to be watched, so that she might be made to suffer should she fo an equal wrong. She might reproduce her mother in character as vividly as she did in face. On the day she should transgress, in other words, her eyes would be opened suddenly and unpitiedly to the “perfect presence,” which she would have to work as she could into her conception of a young lady’s universe.’
The Narrator decides to leave both mother and daughter be for a while. After three months he visits Charlotte and her mother again. ‘“Do you like me a little better?” I asked. (…) I had no sooner spoken than she laid her hand quickly, with a certain force, on my arm. “Hush! – isn’t there some one there?” She was looking into the gloom of the far end of the balcony.’ At last the ghost has made himself appear to Charlotte.
The next morning Mrs Marden had taken seriously ill, but wants the Narrator and her daughter to be together. ‘“She has told me – she has told me!” her mother went on. “That you spoke to her again – that you’re very admirably faithful.” (…) “I spoke – I spoke, but she gave me no answer,” I said. “She will now, won’t you, Chartie? I want it so, I want it” the poor lady murmured, with ineffable wistfulness.” Still the only thing Charlotte says is that he is very good to her.
‘A form had constituted itself in the other side of the bed, and the form leaned over Mrs Marden.’ But the Narrator tries to ignore him and so does Mrs Marden. ‘Charlotte got up to give me her hand, and with the definite act she saw. She gave , with a shriek, one stare of dismay, and another sound, like a wail of one of the lost fell at the same instant on my ear.’
This is a ghost story but with a benevolent ghost. At least to the main character, the ghost still haunts Mrs Marden and acts as a warning for Miss Marden. The ghost of Sir Edmund acts in a protective way to the main character to not fall under the spell of either Mrs Marden or Miss Marden. The first claiming him for herself as a confident and a good suitor for her daughter, the other for leading him on. They are both seen as a threat to his well-being and are being punished for the mother’s previous acts for misleading her suitor. Are men feeble hearted and are women devious vultures? And did she eventually marry the main character? Is the wife spoken of who died in childbirth in fact Charlotte or another woman?
Read more about Henry James:
- Henry James: The Turn of the Screw [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Altar of the Dead [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Beast of the Jungle [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: De Grey A Romance [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Ghostly Rental [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Great Good Place [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Jolly Corner [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Last of the Valerri [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: Owen Wingrave [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Real Right Thing [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Romance of a Certain Old Clothes [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Third Person [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Way It Came [Summary & Analysis]
- The Turn of the Screw (Henry James) review