Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The most striking aspect of the story is its use of narrator. The chief speaker is the “old gentleman with the haunted head,” who tells the story to a group of other men. Among them is the “inquisitive gentleman” who questions the truth of the story after the narrator has finished. The narrator then replies that he heard it from the most reliable source, Wolfgang himself. Thus, Irving gives the reader several possible explanations for the events in the story and also imparts a fascinating ambiguity to the tale.

The reader may, for example, simply accept the student’s story as a true example of demonic possession: The woman was indeed a reanimated corpse sent specifically to ensnare Wolfgang’s soul. Given the student’s already established precarious mental state, however, the reader might address even more disturbing possibilities. Was the woman ever truly alive in Wolfgang’s presence? Because he has necrophilic tendencies, could he have appropriated a corpse and imagined it alive? The fact that the portress at his hotel sees Wolfgang and the woman arrive might bring this reading into question. Is it then possible that Wolfgang himself murders the woman after he brings her to his apartment? Perhaps, but the police officer identifies the woman as one executed previously on the guillotine, so once again this rational answer seems unlikely.

The reader, however, must remember that the source of all this information appears to have...

(The entire section is 408 words.)


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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