Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The structure of “Dare’s Gift” is typical of the nineteenth century supernatural mystery story genre. The first half focuses on the present inexplicable behavior of the wife and her rational husband’s puzzlement. The second half focuses on the quasi-scientific explanation for an occurrence that formerly would have been considered supernatural. What the doctor provides as a scientific explanation for ghosts is the spiritual residue of a past powerful event; such events, he reasons, never really die but remain as a kind of invisible atmosphere that can “infect” the susceptible.

The narrator, a man of reason himself, tells the story in a rational, straightforward, realistic fashion, with no suggestion that the events, no matter how incredible, take place within the realm of the supernatural. The doctor, the conventional man of science, tells his story in much the same way. However, the doctor is old enough and wise enough to know that neither superstition nor science can explain everything. He has a great deal of respect for what he calls the “Incomprehensible.” Thus, the style of the doctor’s story is not only scientific but also metaphysical.

“Dare’s Gift” is a hybrid, somewhere between the early nineteenth century supernatural tale common before Edgar Allan Poe and the twentieth century psychological story that arose after Maupassant. It begins with an inexplicable phenomenon, raises the ambiguity about whether the event really happened, focuses on an obsessed character choosing an idea over individual concerns, sets up a story-within-a-story told by a wise old doctor that provides a quasi-scientific, metaphysical explanation, and portrays the listener as a puzzled man of reason caught in the middle between the old supernatural and the new scientific explanation for what the doctor calls the great mystery of the incredible.

At the end of the story, the old doctor theorizes about the difference between a single powerful experience and the series of ordinary experiences that make up a life. He says that Lucy drained the whole of experience in an instant, leaving nothing except the “empty and withered husks of the hours.” She now remembers nothing about the betrayal because she felt too much during the act to ever feel again. “After all,” the doctor says, “It is the high moments that make a life, and the flat ones that fill the years.”


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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