A reading of a classic horror story
‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ is a Gothic novel in miniature. All of the elements of the Gothic novel are here: the subterranean secret, the Gothic space (scaled down from a full-blown castle to a single room), the gruesome crime – even the hovering between the supernatural and the psychological. In just five pages, it’s as if Edgar Allan Poe has scaled down the eighteenth-century Gothic novel into a story of just a few thousand words. But what makes this story so unsettling? Closer analysis reveals that ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ centres on that most troubling of things: the motiveless murder. You can read the story here.
First, a brief summary of ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’. An unnamed narrator confesses that he has murdered an old man, apparently because of the old man’s ‘Evil Eye’ which drove the narrator to kill him. He then describes how he crept into the old man’s bedroom while he slept and stabbed him, dragging the corpse away and dismembering it, so as to conceal his crime. He goes to some lengths to cover up all trace of the murder – he even caught his victim’s blood in a tub, so that none was spilt anywhere – and then he takes up three of the floorboards of the chamber, and conceals his victim’s body underneath. But no sooner has he concealed the body than there’s a knock at the door: it’s the police, having been called out by a neighbour who heard a shriek during the night. Read the rest of this entry
A reading of a classic short story
The 1911 short story ‘Sredni Vashtar’ contains many of the ingredients we find in Saki’s best fiction: it challenges the idea that children are innocent and free from designs or cunning (or, indeed, evil), it pricks the pomposity of adults and their conservative treatment of children, and it suggests a kinship between children and animals, something we can also observe in Saki’s earlier story, ‘Gabriel-Ernest’. But ‘Sredni Vashtar’ might also be considered a darker version of the familiar trope found in children’s fiction: the idea of the child having a wish granted. It might also be viewed as a satirical take on religious practice and observance. The story is shot through with Saki’s celebrated wit, and deserves closer analysis. You can read the story here.
First, a brief summary of the plot of ‘Sredni Vashtar’. Conradin, a young boy of ten, has a deadly disease. He lives with his cousin and guardian, Mrs De Ropp, whom he dislikes. He likes to spend his time in the garden shed among the two living companions he likes: a hen and a ferret. The latter has become more than a pet: Conradin has made him the basis of his own personal religion, and he worships the ferret as a god, giving it the name ‘Sredni Vashtar’ and bringing it offerings of stolen nutmeg. The shed has become his own private church. Read the rest of this entry
A reading of a classic short story
Some short stories can say all they need to do in just a few pages, and Kate Chopin’s three-page 1894 story ‘The Story of an Hour’ (sometimes known as ‘The Dream of an Hour’) is a classic example. Yet those three pages remain tantalisingly ambiguous, perhaps because so little is said, so much merely hinted at. Yet Chopin’s short story is, upon closer inspection, a subtle, studied analysis of death, marriage, and personal wishes. Written in April 1894 and originally published in Vogue in December of that year, the story focuses on an hour in the life of a married woman who has just learnt that her husband has apparently died. You can read ‘The Story of an Hour’ here.
What happens in that brief hour, that story of an hour? A married woman, Mrs Louise Mallard, who has heart trouble, learns that her husband has died in a railroad accident. Her sister Josephine breaks the news to her; it was her husband’s friend Richards who first heard about the railroad disaster and saw her husband’s name, Brently Mallard, at the top of the list of fatalities. Her first reaction is to weep at the news that her husband is dead; she then takes herself off to her room to be alone. She sinks into an armchair and finds herself attuned to a series of sensations: the trees outside the window ‘aquiver with the new spring life’, the ‘breath of rain’ in the air; the sound of a peddler crying his wares in the street below. She finds herself going into a sort of trancelike daze, a ‘suspension of intelligent thought’. Read the rest of this entry