A Revenant Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Though the title “A Revenant” proclaims that this is a ghost story—and it is—it reads more like an essay, a discourse more on ideas than on events or characters. In this aspect, the story’s structure is twofold: It is a duel of intellects between Professor Monk and the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe, the professor’s assertions about Poe followed by Poe’s rebuttal. The story is also a study of Professor Monk—limited as his character is by academic habits of mind and waffling prudery—and as such its structure, like the professor’s lecture, is fourfold: a lengthy introductory section establishing time, place, and characters; a synopsis of the professor’s lecture up to 8:46 p.m., when the present action of the story begins; the continuation of the lecture to its end; and two responses, the chairman’s public response followed by Poe’s private one.

The introductory section establishes two sides to Professor Monk’s character: his habitual complacency and his present profound disquietude. The former is revealed in the professor’s preference for “a sober and academic delivery,” in his rejection of gestures and any sort of staginess, in his determination to appeal to the intellect alone, in his “modest satisfaction” with this lecture and its systematic organization. His disquietude is expressed by his sudden sharp awareness of where he is, his acute sense that he is alone, and the “amazing rapidity” of the speculations that agitate his thoughts. Mediating between these two aspects of Professor Monk’s state of mind is the “challenge” offered by the darkly cloaked stranger at the back of the hall, of whose presence, apparently, only Professor Monk is aware.

The professor’s lecture seems an odd tissue of qualifications, full of “but” and “though,” “on the other hand,” and “nonetheless.” In the portion of the lecture preceding 8:46

(The entire section is 802 words.)