Fantastique Aspects In Guy De Maupassant Horror Story Le Horla

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Le Horla, written by the popular French writer Guy de Maupassant, is a horror story composed of fantasy. There are two versions in which the story has been framed, both describing the thoughts of a man who is completely convinced that an ‘invisible being’ is trying to take possession of his mind, and ultimately his body, by wanting to possess it fully.

This essay will discuss the conception of the fantasy character in both versions and what makes the difference. The conception of the fantasy character in both versions of Le Horla by Guy de Maupassant lies in the presentation of the supernatural and nocturnal aspects in both versions of the text, in particular the contrast between the nocturnal and diurnal manifestations.

Le fantastique est assez vaste comme un thème, il est donc essentiel de définir ce que signifie réellement ‘fantastique’ afin de comprendre le contenu de cet essai. Le récit fantastique is not composed of someone who is eccentric, but instead, of an ordinary man with whom the reader can identify (Thérien 35). Fantastic literature generally describes an ordinary man living in the real world, who is suddenly presented with inexplicable (or supernatural) events that surround him, breaking up the notion of daily life (Thérien 36).

According to literary theorist, Tzvetan Todorov, the hero of a récit fantastique constantly and noticeably feels a need to question reality (Todorov 26). That is to say, le personnage questions reality because he “feels contradictions between two worlds, that of the real and that of the fantastic” (Todorov 26). Therefore, the fantastic is conceptualized to be explained “in relation to those of the real and the imaginary” (Todorov 25). These characteristics are essentially what is comprised of the fantastic. Throughout the story, the narrator senses the presence of an invisible being that he has named as ‘Le Horla’, and this fantastic character mentally and physically torments him day and night.

The first sign of progress in the conception of fantasy can be found in the first journal entries, especially in the second version of the Horla. The narrative begins with a realistic tone, starting on a joyful note, ‘What an admirable day! (Maupassant 93, line 1), where the anonymous narrator describes the ‘happiness’ of his existence. The narrative has a pleasant tone, and he notes with nostalgia the place where he grew up, describing his country home and his surroundings. The narrator indicates in the text that his existence was calm and undisturbed, but soon ‘he was taken by strange and inexplicable ailments’ (Maupassant 84, lines 52-53), and this is where the tone becomes depressing and dark for the rest of the story, as the fantasy begins to encroach on the narrator’s realistic environment.

It is only from the second entry in his diary that the narrator experiences sudden changes in emotions and feelings of unease. The narrator suddenly feels ill (Maupassant 95, line 71) and goes to a doctor, convinced that his illness is only physical and will soon disappear. However, as the days go by, it seems that his illness continues to torment him physically and mentally, and he describes it as a ‘…dreadful feeling of a threatening danger, this apprehension of an unhappiness that is coming…’. (Maupassant 95, lines 74-76). These are emotions he feels during the day, which are different from the night. The narrator always feels a sort of looming danger around him. The story continues through an ‘eyewitness account’, and the narrator describes the night experiences, which are characterized by terrifying visions and physical sensations that oppress him.

Using a fantastic tone, Maupassant expresses the narrator’s strange emotions and feelings, evoking fear in the reader. The best way to do this is the way the story is told, which is very different between the two versions. While the first version presents the narrator as a patient in an asylum, the second version presents a first-person narrative of the character’s experiences in the form of a diary. The use of the pronoun ‘I’ is an extremely useful tool to help the reader identify with the character, and the story is told from the point of view of an ordinary man, which ‘is related to the very definition of fantasy’ (Todorov 84). The second version shows a logical progression of events in chronological time, which makes the story more convincing to the reader of the events unfolding because it is recorded in great detail and is very factual.

The narrator records his experiences of strange phenomena and is not aware of what will happen next, which intensifies the experience for the reader as well (Nolin 16). Some of the surprising events that the narrator talks about are the result of scientific experiments that he conducts to confirm that the phenomenon that occurs during his sleep does not come from his own actions. As Todorov mentions (84), ‘if the fantastic appears, it is because the indications of the supernatural are observed by the narrator himself’. This is evident when the narrator observes the movement of objects such as a towel (Maupassant 86, lines 133-134), and the consumption of liquids such as water and milk (Maupassant 86, lines 113-114). Since the main character is not an eccentric being, ‘his language is trustworthy’ (Todorov, page 84). The narrator’s account of the supernatural does not prompt the reader to question him, but rather to find rational explanations for the facts the narrator witnesses (Todorov 85).

Fantasy is capable of allowing the reader, as well as the character, ‘to open the mind to speculation about what science does not yet know and may never know’ (Sandner 53). Questions about the perception of reality arise, leaving the reader and the character hesitating between a supernatural world and the ordinary world of an average man. The narrator, in the second version, shows the reader that forces beyond scientific understanding can take place in an apparently realistic world, and thus ‘break the sense of security provided by the routine of everyday life’ (Therien 36).

In conlusion, we see that the story begins with the narrator nostalgically noting his daily life, and as we begin to think that the story will be enjoyable throughout, it takes a turn and descends into a dark narrative, where the first signs of the fantastic are introduced. The progression in the conception of fantasy is quite rapid as Maupassant’s writing style changes to reflect the deteriorating physical and mental health of the narrator. Horla’s entire story is based on inexplicable events told by an average character, as mentioned above, so that the reader can identify with him (Therien 36).

Through the supernatural and nocturnal aspects, the invisible being makes his presence known throughout the day and night. In order to do so, it brings to the narrator strange sensations, as well as nocturnal experiences to which it is the ocular witness. This leads him to constantly question his perception of reality, and Maupassant does an excellent job of conveying the fantastic in its supernatural and nocturnal aspects.


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