Vocabulary in Afterward

Vocabulary Examples in Afterward:

I 7

"frisson..."   (I)

The noun “frisson” describes a sudden feeling of excitement or thrill. Here, Mary uses it to describe the only reason she perceives her husband would want to see a ghost—for the thrill.

"discarded as too ineffectual for imaginative use...."   (I)

“Ineffectual” here means not producing the desired effect—assumedly the terror and mystery associated with a ghostly “haunting.” The ghost continues to be rendered as a commodity, which is soon disregarded by the Boynes when it fails to provide requisite entertainment or “usefulness.”

"beyond the mullioned panes the downs were darkening..."   (I)

Mullions are divisions between a window or door and are used for architectural support and for decoration. They are common in older architecture. The “downs” here refers to the South Downs, a range of chalk hills that extends across the southeastern coastal counties of England. The Boynes enjoy sitting in their new house next to the fireplace while the sun sets and night falls across the downs.

"sepulchral sound..."   (I)

A “sepulchre” is a tomb in which someone is buried. So, traditionally something “sepulchral” is related to a tomb or burial. However, over time the word “sepulchral” has become less tied to this literal definition and can also merely mean something gloomy or somber. In this context, Wharton has created a play on words, as both meanings can be invoked. Mary’s tone is undeniably somber, but she is also speaking of a ghost, something associated with death and the supernatural.

"“But if it’s once been identified as an unearthly visitant, why hasn’t its signalement been handed down in the family? How has it managed to preserve its incognito?”..."   (I)

This sentence has a number of phrases that may prove confusing at first glance: the phrase “unearthly visitant” refers to the ghost; signalement is a French term that in this context would most accurately translate to “description”; the adjective “incognito” describes a person who has their identity concealed. Mary Boyne wonders why, once someone learns of what the ghost looks like, they haven’t passed this knowledge down to others in the family. Mary is surprised that the ghost is able to remain a complete mystery, even after numerous people have seen it.

"“Well, there’s Lyng, in Dorsetshire. It belongs to Hugo’s cousins, and you can get it for a song.”..."   (I)

Dorsetshire is the archaic term for Dorset, a county in South West England on the English Channel coast. Lyng is the name given to the house. The colloquial idiom “You can get it for a song” means that something can be purchased very cheaply. Discerning readers will pause here to wonder why exactly this house is so inexpensive, as perhaps there is more to this house than meets the eye.

"they had rejected, almost capriciously, several practical and judicious suggestions..."   (I)

The adverb “capriciously” describes actions that are impulsive or unpredictable. The word is modified here with “almost,” suggesting that when the Boynes rejected “judicious,” or wise suggestions, for housing, they did so with such haste that it seemed almost as if they had forgone good sense or judgment. This description suggests that the Boynes are willing to forgo “practical” options in order to realize their romantic notion of a traditional English country manor, with all its old-fashioned trimmings.

"confabulation..."   (III)

The noun “confabulation” is another word for an informal discussion or conversation, such as having a chat or familiar conversation with a friend.

"Lyng was not one of the garrulous old houses that betray the secrets intrusted to them...."   (IV)

The adjective “garrulous” means excessively talkative. Again, Lyng is portrayed as a character in its own right, more of a silent observer than a participant in the action. Mary is convinced that the house could tell her what happened to Ned if she could only find a way to force it to reveal its secrets. The mystery of Ned’s disappearance deepens, and readers begin to wonder if they will ever find out what happened to him.