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Dare's Gift Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator asks himself if he is sure that the event of the previous year really happened, for he thinks “the whole episode, seen in clear perspective, is obviously incredible.” He knows that haunted houses are merely hallucinations, neurotic symptoms, or optical illusions because the supernatural has been banished in the modern scientific age. However, he must admit that for once in his life as a corporation lawyer in Washington, D.C., the impossible really happened.

The story begins with the narrator’s desire to find a place in the country for his wife, Mildred, who has suffered a nervous breakdown. On a fishing trip, he discovers what seems to be the perfect place, Dare’s Gift, a vacant house on the James River near Richmond, Virginia. Although the narrator’s wife likes the house, saying that it affects her like a “magic spell” and that entering it is like stepping into “another world,” she does not seem to be herself after moving into the house. The narrator knows that her mind is unhinged when he discovers that she has written a letter to expose an illegal transaction made by his law firm that he told her about in confidence.

When Pelham Lakeby, an elderly local doctor, is brought in to examine Mildred, he strongly urges the narrator to get her away from the house as soon as possible. He tells the narrator some of his theories about old houses with memories. When the narrator asks if the house is haunted, the doctor says it is “saturated with a thought. It is haunted by treachery.” The doctor argues that although an act dies, the idea is immortal. He describes an event that took place fifty years earlier.

The doctor tells the story of Lucy Dare, who lived in the house during the last years of the Civil War. He says that...

(The entire section is 468 words.)