Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The grotesquerie of Alain, Sire de Malétroit, the gothic setting, and the bizarre circumstances of the story all demand a high level of verisimilitude. Stevenson provides this in at least two ways: the omniscient point of view and the accumulation of descriptive details. The objective narration by the all-knowing author gives a sense that an actual event that took place in September, 1429, is being reported. Stevenson’s style includes few similes and metaphors, as if he fears they may interfere with the reader’s direct perception of what is going on. To create a feel for the Middle Ages, which Stevenson also masterfully accomplishes in another short story, “A Lodging for the Night,” the author embellishes his narrative with such terms as “bartizan,” “embrasure,” “weir,” “buttresses,” “salle,” “damoiseau,” and “messire.” The Christian names of Denis, Alain, and Blanche, as well as the place names of Chateau Landon and Bourges, also contribute to the medieval ambience.

The description in this story, particularly of physical setting, is so filled with sensory detail as to be almost photographic in its vividness. Denis’s fearful journey through the dark passageways is vivified by such phrases as the “touch of cold window bars,” “denser darkness” which threatens “an ambuscade or a chasm in the pathway,” and the “strange and bewildering appearances” of the houses where the darkness was not as absolute. In the final moments of the story, the cock crows, heralding the dawn, and the daylight arising from the east grows “incandescent and [casts] up that red-hot cannon ball, the rising sun.” It is at this moment of dawn that Denis and Blanche, now lovers, give their full consent to each other. If the symbolism is somewhat obtrusive, it is also effective in this strange tale of medieval romance.