Tag Archives: catalepsy

Becoming Death

The Death of Olivier Becaille by Émile François Zola (late 1800s)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror    December 8, 2015


Her kisses were the last. Olivier Becaille is dead. His wife Marguerite drops to her knees beside his bed and covers his hands with kisses. “Olivier, answer me. Oh, my God, he is dead, dead!”

But Olivier thinks, no, death is not complete annihilation. He could still hear and think, but could not move a single muscle or utter a single sound. Olivier desires to say to Marguerite, “No, my darling I was only asleep. You see I am alive and I love you.” 

A doctor arrives and confirms it. The man is indeed dead and funeral and burial preparations are made.

 I wanted to cry out that I was not dead! My last hope vanished. If I did not wake before eleven on the morrow I should be buried alive. The coffin had been dragged into the center of the room.



What is more terrifying than being buried alive? This story by Émile Zola is truly a tale of terror. You might recall another famous story by Poe The Premature Burial, another somewhat gruesome tale on this literary theme (catalepsy, a physical condition that mimicks death). This story, I promise you, has high emotional suspense. The ending is heart-breaking; I dare you not to gasp.



Paul Cezanne reading to Émile Zola

Émile Zola, a Nobel Prize nominee in 1901 and 1902 was a writer who exemplified 19th century literary realism, known as naturalism (everyday reality as opposed to Surrealism or Romanticism). One of Zola’s more famous quotes: “I am little concerned with beauty or perfection. I don’t care for the great centuries. All I care about is life, struggle, intensity.”

You can read The Death of Olivier Becaille at Gutenberg.org.


imgresFor the ultimate appreciation of this author (and since there is no audio version of The Death of Olivier Becaille) I found an audio by Librivox of Zola’s Jean Gourdon’s Four Days. This is an exquisite short story of four singular days, in spring, summer, autumn, winter, in Jean’s life and his love of Babet. Tender romance, war, tragedy, family trials, and the famously wild Durance River. The pastoral descriptions are vivid, the prose evocative by a writer who clearly is a master of naturalism literature. I absolutely loved this story for its deep expression and the arc of one man’s life told in a space of four days. Please sit back and have a listen to what is probably Zola’s finest piece of fiction.

Listen to Jean Gourdon’s Four Days by Librivox (1.75 hours), at YouTube.com.

Read Jean Gourdon’s Four Days (1880) at OnlineLiterature.com  (novella length, about 80 pages)


If you’d like to actually see the famous Durance River and have a heart-stopping visual of this river in France, visit this YouTube video link for a 4-minute ride on its rapids. La Durance



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Tenant of the Grave

The Premature Burial  by Edgar Allen Poe  (1844)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror    September  24, 2013

How do you feel about being buried alive? Who best could write about this horror than the Mr. Edgar Allan Poe with his magnetic prose and his unparalleled aptness of the pen.


Since next week begins October, the official Halloween month, and since I am planning on featuring a “Women in Horror Month” for Tales of Terror, I wanted to be sure to get a Poe short story to you to kick off the scariest month of the year. Halloween month wouldn’t be fulfilling without a Poe story. So, prepare yourself for a dark tale today.

Merciful God, being buried alive! Of all the human horrors to endure, is there a greater fear? Living in the 1800s, this fear was far more common than today with all our medical devices to declare the dead as truly dead.

From the opening lines …There are certain themes of which the interest is all-absorbing, but which are too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction … So we are plunged into the nonfiction, or so we think. We are introduced to several case histories (there are over one hundred well-authenticated cases) of people who were buried alive.  We learn of a Baltimore woman who although buried in the family vault, broke out of her coffin.  And then there is the young and beautiful Mademoiselle Victorine Lafourcade, buried in the village graveyard. Unbelievably, she is dug up and saved by her lover.


Our narrator, a nervous sort, is obsessed with tombs, cemeteries, and worms. Nightmares plague him of being buried alive in a locked coffin. Why? He has a peculiar disorder called catalepsy, an affliction that causes a human to enter a deathlike trance—possibly for days or weeks. Hence, being declared dead in error and buried alive in a locked coffin remains a living terror for him. What can he do to prevent this destiny?

Come into the realm of the nethermost Hell with our narrator. He will tell you that the boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague.

Read the text at Classic Lit


Watch the internet film of The Premature Burial directed by Ric White, Willing Heart Productions (40 minutes). The performances are not exactly stellar (I’m being kind here) and the script is literally a screaming melodrama, but still this is a decent adaptation of Poe’s masterpiece.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBMSZozsY54

If you are a Netflix member, you can get the film starring Ray Milland, directed by Roger Corman (1962). Here’s the 4-minute preview trailer. This film is perfect for Halloween night.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9E7PZllXjI



Images are from The Black Box Club:


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Filed under dark fantasy, Edgar Allan Poe, fiction, graveyards, horror, quiet horror, short stories, tales of terror