Le Horla by Guy de Maupassant

“What a wonderful day! – Quelle journée admirable!”

What a lovely start to the story.  The narrator describes himself reclining on the lush grass of his yard under a gorgeous plane tree.  He loves his house and the region of his forebearers close to Rouen. The Seine flows lazily alongside his garden and in early afternoon he spots a parade of ships drawn by a tugboat, including an impressive Brazilian three-mast ship, gleaming white and he is filled with such joy at the sight that he salutes the magnificent vessel.

Five days later, he claims that he has been seized by a fever, a mysterious force that makes him feel rather sad more than sick.  His despair grows and in spite of seeing a doctor, it continues to worsen.  Finally, he decides to take a short trip to set him aright, visiting Monte St. Michel, and while he does return refreshed and certain that he is cured of his malady, he relates a curious experience that he had at the monastery.

While being guided by a resident monk, the monk tells him that at night the local folk often hear two goats bleating, one with a strong voice and one with a weak voice, and while some people discount the tale, fishermen have seen a faceless shepherd leading two arguing goats, one with the head of a man and one with the head of a woman.

Monte St. Michel
source Wikipedia

Our narrator is perplexed.  Surely if rational beings other than ourselves existed we would have encountered them by now.  The monk, however, gives a perceptive reply:

“Do we see even the hundred-thousandth part of what exists?  Take the wind, for example, which is the greatest force in nature, which knocks men down, demolishes buildings, uproots trees, sends up the sea in mountains of water, wrecks cliffs, and throws mighty ships against the shoals, the wind that kills, that whistles, that moans, that groans —- have you ever seen it, and can you see it?  It exists, regardless.”

With the sickness coming back upon him, the man agonizes with nightmares, and the unexplained consumption of water and milk from his carafes in the morning.  Escaping to Paris, he has an unsettling experience with a doctor, a clairivoyant, which further cements his mental exploration of other-worldly phenomenon.  Yet again when he returns home he experiences an increasing unease and a consciousness of an entity which has invaded his home, apparently from the Brazilian schooner that he glimpsed months ago.  He is distaught, deranged and we can only guess at the outcome as he attempts to dispose of this being who has not only penetrated his home but his soul.

“Woe to us!  Woe to man!  He has come, the … the … what is his name … the .. it seems as if he’s calling out his name to me, and I can’t hear it … the … yes … he’s calling it out … I’m listening … I cannot … say it again … the … Horla … I heard it … the Horla … it is he … the Horla … he has arrived!”

It may sound odd to say, but this was one of the more delightfully suspenseful short stories that I’ve read in awhile.  While I believe that we cannot control what happens to us in life, we can control our reactions to it, yet in this story, the man’s self will is appropriated to an extent that he loses part of who he is.  His mind, while not necessarily possessed, is subjugated by a force that is able to manipulate his thinking and apprehending.  What could be more terrifying? Complete loss of control.  It makes an extraordinarily creepy tale.

Next week, I have a children’s classic on slate, The Tanglewood Secret by Patricia St. John.  With my unexpectedly busy life that has left me little time for reading, I just hope I can finish it and review it in time!

*** Note:  I did read ¼ of this short story in French before my brain gave out and time began to run away from me.  An accomplishment nonetheless, but it made me realize that I need much more practice with this excellent language!

Week 3 – Deal Me In Challenge – Four of Clubs

0 thoughts on “Le Horla by Guy de Maupassant

  1. Congratulations on reading at least of it in French, that's not easy. My sister worked as an au pair in Bourdeaux and by the time she left she could read Maupassant, so I know that is hard. I can read comics in French so that's where I'm at.

    When I read the Horla, I got the impression that Mapassant was taking evolution to the next logical conclusion. Why should humans assume that they are the end of the food chain? Why shouldn't there be beings higher than us and furthermore why is it less moral for them to hunt humans than for humans to hunt animals lower than them?

    Did you get that or did I interpret that wrong?

  2. That's an interesting premise and I had to think about it. Honestly, I didn't pick that up at all, the reason being is that the entity doesn't seem more clever than the narrator, it just is able to play with his mind, and not even in a possession-type of way, more like it's the narrator playing with his own mind. The entity runs when the narrator attempts to catch him, and it doesn't seem to be able to follow him away from his house (not sure why, since he obviously was able to get off the boat and come ashore). So it's not like the "ghost" has evolved past or beyond humans at all, it just has the ability to freak the narrator out. I'm still pondering whether his mental aberrations were the direct result of the entity or himself. I'm thinking that Maupassant deliberately left us guessing.

    As for the "hunting" scenario, I'm not sure. Maupassant didn't really go into detail about the "outbreak" in Brazil, so it would be hard to formulate a conclusion. And since he spent so little time on it, I'm wondering if it's a minor point of the story. In any case, you've given me some wonderful possibilities to ponder, Sharon. Thanks! I almost want to go back and read it again! 🙂

  3. I remember reading this more than a decade ago and I loved the way, the story said so much and yet did not say much.

  4. it sounds very like one i read by Geoffrey Household once, with creatures lurking in the bush, waiting to spring… i think it was Dance of the Dwarfs… anything by GH is good, i've found… nicely timed post, tx…

  5. Tip to keep French fun and withing daily reach: Try http://www.lefigaro.fr
    There are small articles about news, books, films….really short ones that you can read quickly. I have a subscription…but even without it you can read some interesting bits!

  6. I've always wanted to read this one! I read a selected collection of Maupassant's shorts awhile back (which I wrote a post back on my old blog, but I haven't transfered over yet to my current one) and was really impressed. The collection didn't include The Horla though and everyone always mentions that story.

  7. Actually, I chose the Horla on a recommendation from someone else, so there you go! I'll watch for the transfer of your reviews. This indeed was a good one and I imagine his others are quite good as well. I'm looking forward to reading more Maupassant!

  8. I've read this story a couple times and even posted about it (just briefly, though) a few years ago https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/2779/
    I'd also forgotten that the protagonist's seeing of the Brazilian ship was the catalyst for his "troubles".

    I've always wanted to explore him further, too, as I've probably only read five or six of his stories. I need a Maupassant suit for next year's Deal Me In! 🙂

  9. I very much enjoyed your reviews.

    If I can make a confession, I sometimes struggle with short stories, so this one was a pleasant surprise. A suit of Maupassant indeed seems like a recipe for great reading experience!

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