Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In its turn, this studied ambiguity is amplified by those stylistic qualities that distinguished Le Fanu from other horror writers of his era. There is no omniscient narrator, only a series of admittedly subjective accounts from the various characters. Trappings that are often featured in ghost stories appear but are not thrust on the reader. The aged volumes of Emanuel Swedenborg and of German medical-philosophical cogitations are shown discreetly; gloomy scenes of the doctor’s crepuscular visits to Mr. Jennings’s house are presented quite in passing, as part of the larger scheme of Dr. Hesselius’s narrative. Some effects are achieved obliquely, as when the doctor realizes that Mr. Jennings is watching him from beyond a mirror. The spectral monkey itself is presented only as the clergyman seems to have perceived it, in colors and outlines; ultimately it becomes a hissing sound that appears to emanate from within Mr. Jennings’s very ears.

In other respects the narrative style is understated but forthright, both in the introduction and in the ten letters of Dr. Hesselius. Most sentences are simple and direct, with the exception of a few convoluted passages wherein Dr. Hesselius holds forth on medicine and spiritualism. Very few words are emphasized, and then generally from the characters’ direct discourse; there are few exclamations or questions, save for when the characters themselves utter them. The effect, though seemingly subdued and understated, actually intensifies the unfolding sense of approaching doom that imbues this work.