Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

De la Mare’s discursive intentions have been tempered in “A Revenant” by the machinery he employs to lend both mystery and importance to the presence of a ghost at Professor Monk’s lecture. His gradual introduction of the stranger, for example, piques the reader’s interest primarily by what is not told. Initially, no reason is offered for the professor’s disquiet, but a series of incomplete ideas leads to the latecomer’s introduction; “one single exception,” “he knew why,” “Then what was wrong?” are offered, paragraphs apart, without completion, raising questions in the reader’s mind: Who is the exception? What is the reason the professor knows? Why does he not answer the question?

Again, Professor Monk’s “punctual interruption” is presented in terms appropriate to the occasion. The story’s first notice of the “sudden, peculiar, brief, strident roar” describes it thus: “On his way to the Hall he had noticed—incarnadining the louring heavens—what appeared to be the reflected light from the furnaces of a foundry. Possibly it was discharging its draff, its slag, its cinders.” The next explicit notice of this infernal interruption occurs when it takes the position of a place-name in the specter’s statement, “I am from . . . ” It is noticed again as Professor Monk hesitates before leaving the anteroom of the lecture hall. This foundry’s presence, then, provides a structurally significant objective correlative for the revenant’s larger meaning when he asks, “Is there not a shade of the Satanic in these streets?”

Finally, the “piercing cold” of the specter’s hand acts on Professor Monk as spiritual shock therapy: “A sigh shook him from head to foot. A slight vertigo overcame him. He raised his hand to his eyes. For an instant it seemed to him as though even his sense of reality had cheated him—had foundered.” De la Mare has, then, used the ambivalent reality of life and death, waking and sleeping, to call into question the limitedness of Professor Monk’s sense of the reality of art and the imagination; the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe is sent to remind Professor Monk—and the reader—that logic is only half the tale and that the transcendent invites “cachinnation” only from “fools.”