The Tale of Terror eBook

Edith Birkhead
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 261 pages of information about The Tale of Terror.

In The Haunted and the Haunters, or The House and the Brain, which appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine in 1859, Bulwer Lytton lays aside the sin of over-elaboration and ornamentation that so easily besets him, and relies for his effect on the impalpable horror of his story.  The calm, business-like overture, the accurate description of the position of the house in a street off the north side of Oxford Street, the insistence on the matter-of-fact attitude of the watcher, and on the cool courage of his servant, the abject fear of the dog, who dies in agony, all tend to create an atmosphere of grave conviction.  The eerie child’s footfall, the moving of the furniture by unseen hands, the wrinkled fingers that clutch the old letters, the faintly outlined wraiths of the man and woman in old-world garb with ruffles, lace, and buckles, the hideous phantom of the drowned man, the dark figure with malignant serpent eyes, shadow forth the story hinted at in the letters found in an old drawer.  Haunted by loathly presences, the watcher experiences a sensation of almost intolerable horror, but saves himself at the worst by opposing his will to that of the haunters.  He rightly surmises that the evil influences, which seem in some way to emanate from a small empty room, really proceed from a living being.  His interpretation is skilful and subtle enough not to detract from the simple horror of the tale.  A miniature, certain volatile essences, a compass, a lodestone and other properties are found in a room below that which appeared to be the source of the horrors.  It proves that the man, whose face is portrayed on the miniature has been able through the exertion of will-power to prolong his life for two centuries, and to preserve a curse in a magical vessel.  He is actually interviewed by the watcher, to whom he unfolds his remarkable history, and whom he mesmerises into silence on the subject of his experiences in the haunted house for a space of three months.

Lytton realises that it is not only what is told but what is left unsaid that requires consideration in a ghost story.  His reticence and the entire absence of any note of mockery or doubt secure the “willing suspension of disbelief” necessary to the appreciation of the apparently supernatural.

In A Strange Story, which, at Dickens’s invitation, appeared in All the Year Round (1861-2), Bulwer Lytton further elaborates his theories of mesmerism and willpower.  He explains his purpose in the Preface: 

“When the reader lays down this strange story, perhaps he will detect, through all the haze of Romance, the outlines of these images suggested to his reason:  Firstly, the image of sensuous, soulless Nature, such as the Materialist had conceived it.  Secondly, the image of Intellect, obstinately separating all its inquiries from the belief in the spiritual essence and destiny of man, and incurring all kinds of perplexity and resorting to all kinds
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The Tale of Terror from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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