The Horla by Guy de Maupassant (1887)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror August 25, 2015
“I began to see myself through a mist in the depths of the looking-glass,
in a mist as it were through a sheet of water …”
The mysterious invisible. Unfathomable powers. Phantoms from the void. This short story may be a psychological horror story—de Maupassant’s most famous story—but it is also a masterpiece of suspense and a finely constructed narrative by a writer who was institutionalized shortly after the publication. The Horla in French means “the outsider there.”
Sanity vs. doubts of sanity, vs. insanity vs. a real phantom. Our protagonist has an irritation of the nerves. He lives alone, unmarried, and begins to have recurring nightmares of a creature crushing and choking him in his bed night after night. Rest and relaxation make no improvement. Soon enough we find that an invisible being is feeding on milk and water inside the bedroom and slowly but surely taking possession of our sad and tormented young man.
There’s a line in this story that struck me: “When we are alone for a long time we people the void with phantoms.” I especially like how de Maupassant makes the reader feel that everything happening is false and at the same time makes you feel that everything is real. What a writer!
de Maupassant published over 300 short stories and 6 novels. H.P. Lovecraft found inspiration from The Horla for his The Call of the Cthulhu.
“I entered literary life as a meteor, and I shall leave it like a thunderbolt.” –Guy de Maupassant
Read the short story at Gutenberg.org (Scroll down to The Horla)
Listen to the audio at Librivox on YouTube.com
Watch the 1963 film (a loose adaptation), starring Vincent Price, “Diary of a Madman” on YouTube.
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