Maupassant’s Horror

26Nov09

Guy de Maupassant’s short horror tale The Horla (the out there) is excellent ground for darkly vitalistic speculations. The gothic tale, one of the many celebrated in Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature” is told in a series of diary entries. The author who at the start revels in the wonders of nature (the stream, the flowers etc) soon falls ill and writes:

“Whence come those mysterious influences which change our happiness into discouragement, and our self-confidence into diffidence? One might almost say that the air, the invisible air, is full of unknowable Forces, whose mysterious presence we have to endure.”

The narrator then goes on to discuss the phenomenological bankruptcy of existence, of the lingering problem of the invisible. The narrator attempts to stroll through nature in order to revitalize himself but he is repeatedly struck by shivers. The trees begin to dance around him, the earth heaves and a horrible solitude takes him. The man has a discussion with a monk about local superstitions, about a murmuring often heard in the sand:

“How is it that I have not seen them?”

He replied: “Do we see the hundred-thousandth part of what exists? Look here; there is the wind, which is the strongest force in nature. It knocks down men, and blows down buildings, uproots trees, raises the sea into mountains of water, destroys cliffs and casts great ships on to the breakers; it kills, it whistles, it sighs, it roars. But have you ever seen it, and can you see it? Yet it exists for all that.”

I was silent before this simple reasoning. That man was a philosopher, or perhaps a fool; I could not say which exactly, so I held my tongue. What he had said had often been in my own thoughts.”

Further in the text:

“Ever since man has thought, since he has been able to express and write down his thoughts, he has felt himself close to a mystery which is impenetrable to his coarse and imperfect senses, and he endeavors to supplement the feeble penetration of his organs by the efforts of his intellect. As long as that intellect remained in its elementary stage, this intercourse with invisible spirits assumed forms which were commonplace though terrifying. Thence sprang the popular belief in the supernatural, the legends of wandering spirits, of fairies, of gnomes, of ghosts, I might even say the conception of God, for our ideas of the Workman-Creator, from whatever religion they may have come down to us, are certainly the most mediocre, the stupidest, and the most unacceptable inventions that ever sprang from the frightened brain of any human creature.”

The narrator slips into the mad rationalism of cosmicism: “We are so weak, so powerless, so ignorant, so small — we who live on this particle of mud which revolves in liquid air.”

Maupassant’s tale ends with the narrator contemplating suicide – unable to deal with the indestructable horror of the invisible.

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