Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Beckoning Fair One” is simultaneously the story of a man who becomes the victim of a vampiric spirit and the story of an artist who seeks to live wholly in the realm of imagination. Though there is sufficient ambiguity to lead a reader to suspect that the spirit may be merely a product of Oleron’s imagination, Onions does not allow the reader to rest in such an opinion. Onions wants his ghost, ultimately, to be real. The main purpose of the ambiguity about the reality of the beckoning one is to emphasize the degree to which she is exactly the ghost most likely to entice an artist of Oleron’s character. Indeed, he is the second of her known victims, an artist named Madley having previously died of starvation while living there. Because the fair one is the right ghost for an artist, the story communicates one main theme, the psychological dangers that threaten an artist who tries to conform his life to his work, to live in the ideal that he imagines.

Onions carefully details how Oleron’s desire for the joy of the ideal blinds him to the absoluteness of the terror that he is pursuing: “To the man who pays heed to that voice within him which warns him that twilight and danger are settling over his soul, terror is likely to appear an absolute thing, against which his heart must be safeguarded in a twink unless there is to take place an alteration in the whole range and scale of his nature. . . . He is even content that . . . joy also, should for working purposes be placed in the category of the absolute things; and the last treason he will commit will be that breaking down of terms and limits that strikes, not at one man, but at the welfare of the souls of all.” Onions represents Oleron’s decline as a falling deeper into this treason until he loses his self and murders his human beloved.