The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

A Beleaguered City is a fantastic, speculative ghost story that takes stock of the changing beliefs of nineteenth century Europeans regarding religion and the supernatural. Very popular in the nineteenth century, it went out of print until late in the twentieth century. It can be seen as one of the first attempts to include within the realm of fantasy stories the areas of inquiry usually associated with religion.

Semur is a rather dreary French provincial city participating in the general malaise of France after that country’s defeat by Germany in the Franco-Prussian War. Martin Dupin, mayor of the town as well as owner of the great estate of La Clarière, is a progressively inclined man who is skeptical of traditional religious faith. While strolling about the city on a summer evening, Dupin is approached by Paul Lecamus, an eccentric man with a strong visionary streak who has not been emotionally whole since the death of his wife. Lecamus informs Dupin that a great portent has occurred. This news is soon confirmed by several others. Dupin is stunned, when he arrives at the place described by Lecamus, to see thousands of dead people returned to life and solemnly parading. Dupin cannot believe his senses, but the uncanny spectacle is confirmed when giant letters in the sky spell out a message of summoning from entities who describe themselves as “Nous Autres Morts”—French for “we other dead.”

The sedate, comfortable,...

(The entire section is 569 words.)