Reading Group #3 ('The Horla')

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Reading Group #3 ('The Horla')

abr. 30, 2011, 7:19pm

Alright, here's a shiny new thread to fill with discussion of this claustrophobic masterpiece!

maig 1, 2011, 10:52am

Does Mont San Michel have a particular significance for the genre? I'm sure I've long connected it with the Gothic or horror stories but, for the life of me, I can't remember why.

This has been nagging away at me for the last twenty-four hours until I've now developed a horrid feeling that I might have previously read this story, but so many years ago that I'd completely forgotten it, just leaving the vague connection between Mont San Michel and the Gothic ...

maig 1, 2011, 9:19pm

There's a very Gothic abbey at Mont San Michel, perhaps it's that?

I hate making weird connections in my mind! My least favorite is when I begin to think of a book by its author's name as opposed to its title, because I see the author's name, being at the top of the spine, more often. But my insanity is really beginning to develop because now, in spite of my fear, I even desginate books THAT HAVE THE AUTHOR AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SPINE by their author name instead of their title, just because I know I don't want to!

(My, my...I just read over that. Sorry for that bucket-load of crazy. Whoa!)

Also, I don't think you'd forget having read 'The Horla,' unless it was read at a very busy or stressful time. It sticks.

As for Mont San Michel itself...lovely!

maig 2, 2011, 6:39am

#3 - (My, my...I just read over that. Sorry for that bucket-load of crazy. Whoa!)

Heh-heh! - I promise not to tell anybody.

On the subject of Mon San Michel: a bit of a red herring there, I'm afraid. I've realised I have a painting in the back of my mind, too - and I think it might have been used in the cover design of some book - an anthology of horror stories or something. Just to confuse matters more - I suspect the painting may have just as likely (likelily?) been of St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall.

Back to the story: I've been carefully avoiding reviews and such when I've been hunting up these stories online; but I spent a bit of time googling for alternative translations on this one and couldn't avoid seeing quotes along the lines of 'the story of one man's descent into madness'.

I really don't know what I think about this at the moment. I grant that it can be argued that in the last ten paragraphs the narrator is no longer thinking very rationally - his unthinking manslaughter of his staff, his taking of the most pessimistic possible view of his circumstances with regard to the Horla(s), thus deciding on suicide (suicide because he couldn't live with the horror of what he'd done to his servants would seem a lot more of a rational response, somehow). But what about the rest of the story? Can it really be read as a 'descent into madness'?

Editat: maig 2, 2011, 7:53am

Well, rankamateur, you've discovered the duplicity of the story: the question of whether or not the narrator is going crazy or whether or not the horla(s) actually exist. Maupassant seems to have encouraged both interpretations.

Personally, I feel it's the latter. That said, the diary narrative is always a great way of dealing with an unreliable narrator. But that's too easy for me: the story, in my opinion, is not about the madness of uncertainty, but the madness of certainty, and while our narrator does, I believe, go crazy in the end, it's because he has stumbled onto the gulf of some cosmic horror beyond his comprehension...not because there is some latent madness seething within him that takes the part of delusions involving some alien 'other.'

I also think that it's not necessary to read 'The Horla' as one way or the other; both interpretations can occur simultaneously, with our narrator going insane upon proving to himself that this thing exists, and then convincing himself that it has to be destroyed (his ends, of course, being unable to justify their means). I favor this idea. To me this duality is the story's Gothic heart: the claustrophobia of paranoia and madness, and the terror of certainty all brewing one strange pot of tea.

It's a great story. One of my favorites. What are your thoughts, coming out of it, rankamateur?

Editat: maig 2, 2011, 7:58am

Incidentally, you can see how this story influenced Lovecraft—'The Call of Cthulhu' being the most obvious example. I can see bits of it in 'The Haunter of the Dark,' too, and now I understand why I enjoyed 'The Horla' so much: that's my favorite Lovecraft yarn, and apparently I'm quite partial to invisible alien 'others' that haunt the thoughts of human beings.

Editat: maig 3, 2011, 1:44pm

#5 - Bear with me, isis: I'm trying to find time for a more careful read through it, but life is a little hectic at the moment.

ETA - Where's everyone else - they weren't all invited to that damn wedding, were they?

maig 3, 2011, 2:01pm

The dog ate my invitation!

I read the Horla a long time ago, remember only the outline, and am still searching for the book--I narrowed it down to one bookcase and four shelves. I should be back with a comment tomorrow.

maig 3, 2011, 6:29pm

>7 alaudacorax:

I feel you. Today is my birthday, so no 'Horla' time for me either!

>8 LolaWalser:

HAHAHAHA. Please do, and good luck!

maig 3, 2011, 6:53pm

Oooh! HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our leader, Gothic Goddess Isis!

xoxo--and I hope you get a ton of presents

maig 3, 2011, 6:59pm

I'm glad I checked this thread a last time before heading out, because that just made my day. AHAHAAHAHAHA! I'm not sure 'Gothic Goddess' puts the right spin on the group, but I could care less! That's definitely what I'm claiming under 'employment' on my next Jury Summons or college financial aid slip! I may just slip in the 'Isis,' too...

maig 3, 2011, 8:30pm

Nobody should be given a BB gun on their birthday.

maig 3, 2011, 8:59pm

I've started, but haven't finished yet. I hope to do so soon, but my reading time has been difficult to carve out the last couple weeks.

And happy birthday veilofisis!

maig 4, 2011, 4:41am

Yes, Happy Birthday, veilofisis!

Editat: maig 4, 2011, 4:45am

Thanks all. Fra Salvatore: no pressure, just read it when you can. Also, there's no reason we can't continue to post in previous threads about stories if we have something to say, so don't feel like we've already moved on entirely from the other selections. We'd all like to hear your spin on them. :)

And I agree, varielle, no one should be given a bb gun on their birthday. Now, an anniversary, on the other hand...

Would you like to join our reading group?

maig 4, 2011, 1:52pm

I'm finding this story a bit disturbing.

I've started this post about four times and every time I type that first sentence I hear a little voice in my head shouting, "It's supposed to be disturbing, you prat!" All I can say is that, as well as being a bit disturbing, it's also a bit disturbing (little voice in head - "And your communication skills are crap!")

It's a bit disturbing even before you know the background to the story.

It took a second reading before it dawned on me how thoroughly the narrator is getting all his 'security blankets' stripped away. The very places where he used to feel most safe - the local countryside he loved, the house where he grew up and of which he is now the master, his bedroom and, finally, the inside of his own head are, as he puts it, 'penetrated' (is this just an artefact of translation or does the French have the same connotations of rape?) and become dangerous places for him. It would be quite enough to unhinge anyone.

It almost seemed a bit sadistic of de Maupassant. But then I did a bit of background and found that the story may have had parallels with delusions de Maupassant was actually suffering.

The trouble is, when you get too much of this background stuff on board it gets difficult to judge the story on its own terms.

It's all a bit perplexing and I probably need to think about it some more.

maig 4, 2011, 2:03pm

I agree that the story is quite disturbing. It's also a very modern theme, which is surprising considering the time period; that marriage of 'old classic' with 'awfully uncomfortable,' in a Richard Matheson kind of way, usually catches one off guard, which makes stories like 'The Horla' affecting in a number of ways beyond what's simply written down.

I certainlly found an allusion to rape, and I think the idea of the horla itself has a certain degree of that suggestion about it. It really is unnerving to watch the man, as you said (quite wonderfully) have all his 'security blankets' stripped away. The gradual-ness of it is what I find most fascinating. My favorite scenes in the story are his experiments with the milk and water. In those moments one really has to decide if the man is delusional or not, and I'm left, at that moment, really buying everything he's selling. Which makes the ending that much more complicated, as we've discussed above.

This is my third or fourth time reading this story. Like my favorite, 'The Listener,' 'The Horla' gets genuinely more disturbing every time I read it. Unlike the Blackwood story, however, the fact that 'The Horla' is translated from French adds another layer of removal from the text itself, which lends an even creepier air to an exceedingly creepy piece of fiction...

I certainly agree, by the by, that too much background can make it difficult to look at a story without a bias or a sort of 'retrograde preconception' (if that makes ANY sense at all). Films like DON'T LOOK NOW are like that. Stories like 'The Horla.' Novels like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Lolita. As I say often when recommending things like this, 'the less you know going into it, the better...'

maig 4, 2011, 3:51pm

#17 - ... and I'm left, at that moment, really buying everything he's selling.

Yes, I tend to agree. I see a 'descent into madness', but for genuine reasons as opposed to delusions.

I've only managed two proper readings so far, and, as usual, I suspect there's more there to 'unpack'.

By the way, one of my translations ( has the title 'The Horla, or Modern Ghosts', but the 'Modern Ghosts' doesn't seem to appear anywhere else - anyone know if this is correct? Doesn't really seem to fit.

maig 4, 2011, 4:05pm

By the way, the part about the hypnotism was quite interesting. The idea can be uncomfortabe enough today; it must have been even more so in de Mauppasant's day when so much less was known about it and he is clearly presenting it as having a touch of the supernatural about it - presumably in line with popular opinion.

maig 5, 2011, 12:19am

A few impressions after reading it.

Very creepy indeed. The two moments that struck me the most were the experiments w/ the water and milk. If that happened to me, I would seriously freak out. The other moment was with the servants in the house at the end. I really should have seen that coming a mile away, but I was caught up in the moment.

It was interesting to see all the talk about mesmerism/hypnotism. I believe this was written just after the novel Trilby was published, so I wonder if there is any conscious allusion-making going on.

Also, I wonder how much we read back into the story, when we find out how influential it was on Lovecraft. I wish I didn't know that while reading it, I probably would have imagined this a little differently, or at least found the Horlas more mysterious. But regardless, you can definitely see the influence.

I wasn't terribly disturbed by the story, but that could be because I read it in spurts. I'll have to read it in one sitting and see what comes of it.

I also wonder about the translation I had. I got a Barnes and Noble edition I got at the library, and there is no translator listed anywhere. I'm usually very conscious about translations, so I wonder what would be considered the better translation out there.

maig 5, 2011, 1:01am

>18 alaudacorax:

My copy of Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (which is loads better than that title!) with 'The Horla' has the 'or Modern Ghosts' subtitled.

>20 brother_salvatore:

Interesting observations, Friar...

As for translations, a lot of Maupassant anthologized comes from either startlingly old translations (which doesn't necessarily mean bad...) or translations done by the anthologists themselves. My translation is really creepy, but I'd love to check out some others some time. In fact, it's a little strange that I never have. I'm essentially not a huge Maupassant fan, though, so I've yet to purchase a lovely, noted translation...

As for the story, the milk and water experiment is my favorite part of the story. VERY creepy...

maig 5, 2011, 6:46am

I only found two translations online (after skimming it on, I think, five or six sites), and they were so similar that I'm pretty sure that one was just a slight revision of the other. I assume they're up there because they've been around for years and years and are out of copyright (I assume translations are copyrighted?).

I've been very aware of translators since I bought The Collected Stories of Colette (and, as usual, can't find it when I want to write about it). It has several translators and, on the whole, I love the stories; but there is one translator where they just don't work for me. It makes me wonder just how much of the attraction is to the author and how much to the translator.

maig 5, 2011, 9:33pm

Translations are always a pretty big deal for me, too. In fact, this reservation has kept me from purchasing some extremely expensive (though gorgeous!) books, which means it's probably a good thing for both my reading AND my checkbook...

maig 6, 2011, 4:39am

#22 It makes me wonder just how much of the attraction is to the author and how much to the translator.

I strongly believe the quality of the translation is critical. (Obvious, I know!) I've read some wonderful books which could have been destroyed by poor translation. The translator is often an unsung hero, and in some cases, I believe, a villain who destroys the good work of the author.

Having only one language with any fluency, I am at the mercy of translators for my enjoyment of many classics and wonderful books from across the world. I owe a great debt of gratitude to translators.

I'm taking it as read that the author is vitally important too. Without a good book to translate the translator is handicapped from the very start (or "the get-go"; or "the beginning"; or "to begin with"; or ... All praise the good translator!).

maig 8, 2011, 10:50am

Incidentally, readers, I think we should try a poem with Gothic sensibilities next. My suggestions are:

'Ulalume' -- Poe
'Darkness' -- Byron (my favorite of his, if a little obscure)
'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' -- Coleridge (an obvious choice)


maig 8, 2011, 11:48am

I think a poem is a great idea! I haven't read Darkness (nor heard of it before, shame on me!) but I have it handy in a collection. Coincidentally, I was just looking at Rime last night in the context of Lyrical Ballads. It is such a strange poem, and I've always had a difficult time with it, compared to the rest of Lyrical Ballads, or the Romantics in general.

I think it would be interesting to read all three in historical order. So my vote would be for Rime at the moment. I would find it enlightening to discuss it with others, and maybe help me get beyond my inability to discover it.

maig 8, 2011, 12:54pm

Let's say we tackle all three, then, with a particular focus on the Coleridge, since it is more influential and also, arguably, more complex than the other two.

All three, by the by, make my top ten poems. 'Darkness,' maybe even my top ten pieces of writing period: it's intense, visionary stuff that seems a hundred and forty odd years ahead of its time. I'll be excited to discuss it.

maig 8, 2011, 2:29pm

Three together or one at a time?

I'd never heard of the Darkness, either. Just read it through and it's completely new to me. Um ... won't say any more - I'll save it for the appropriate thread.

maig 8, 2011, 6:13pm

Yeah, three at once. They're all quite different, so we can discuss them seperately and then as a whole, afterwards.

Editat: oct. 31, 2018, 1:15pm

Aaaaaaand heeeeere's HORLA =) Not to be forgotten, nor to lag behind. Seven years of dust is enough.

Bingo. I knew these had to be related somehow. Perfect day for Price. Diary of a Madman (1963)

març 7, 2019, 8:25pm

Found this online, an hour audiobook. Another checked off the list. It really helps to fit these in if I know going in how much time to allocate. Time management takes advantage of another lull. I wish I'd just listened to it six months ago! Procrastination the curse haunts me every Lenten season. Here we go again...

Editat: març 8, 2019, 3:53pm

The discussions about translations are amusing to me. It took me five months to circle back around to this story, written by a Frenchman. Yesterday, I visited another short story, A Twilight by Michel de Ghelderode, a Belgian. Last week I finished reading The Phantom of the Opera by Leroux for the first time, although I'd seen the musical in Toronto in the early 90s. At no time with those three works, was I ever aware of the role of any translator. I guess that is a good sign. It's the most I could hope for without preference.

He should never have saluted that boat, when he didn't know why he wanted to, except for pleasure. Are white boats rare? Is the Rouen Cathedral an important element? Hearing the bells on a fair day. He opened himself up to receiving the horla, as a vampire must be invited in or the victim must enter the room/home willingly. Also, the Wendigo came to mind, the vulnerable one in the group knew more than most and was extremely anxious, but in this case, he knows almost nothing. Perhaps the horla could tell he would not leave his childhood home on impulse, but would try to stick it out, which made him ripe for the picking. It was bizarre that the horla spoke to him to give its name, when he could not find it in his research. I found that unsettling. Almost in denial he was safe, but how, is culpable.

May 8, feeling good, enjoying his home, his roots. By May 12th everything has gone sideways. =(

jul. 3, 2020, 10:41am

I revisited this last night as part of my reading of Wolf's Complete Book of Terror.

I was struck by the diarist's May 12th entry where he speculates on why our mood will sometimes, for no apparent reason, flip from light to dark. I think we've all experienced that (unless it's just me having a few screws loose). I haven't noticed it in previous readings, and I can't quite put my finger on it this time, but he seems to me to be, by implication, raising the spectre of, "What if this happens some time and it doesn't flip back?" Perhaps I'm just imagining it because I've read this a couple of times previously and know what's coming, but it gives an idea of him almost courting the trouble that came to him.

I may have been subconsciously thinking of >32 frahealee:'s idea of having to invite the vampire in---I did run through this thread before rereading the story.

Editat: jul. 3, 2020, 11:45am

>33 alaudacorax: Psychologists and psychiatrists determining mental illness possibilities before handing somebody back to an exorcist dig for that very component. Whether the light to dark transition has any reactionary basis, or whether it flips on and off without pattern or explanation. They seem to spend a lot of time on that very issue, especially if it doesn't go back 'on' or responds violently to the 'light'. Sluggish, spontaneous, brief or extended timeframes seems to make a lot of difference in the field of mental health. Anything outside the predictable. Be careful what you wish for, even secretly, kind of thing. Free will makes all the difference.

jul. 7, 2020, 1:02pm

>34 frahealee:

A large part of the horror, of course, is the narrator gradually having his free will filched away from him. Not to mention his perpetrating horrors of his own when he finally snatches it back.

One thing I'd quite forgotten about this story is the narrator's idea that humankind is done and something else has come to take its place---quite a Lovecraftian idea, as somebody hints above.