Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 401
The protagonist of this story is an unnamed narrator, about whom we know relatively little, except that he is a man who is sufficiently well off to employ a coachman and various other servants, and who seems to live on his own, apart from these servants. At the beginning of the story, the narrator is relatively calm, but is anxious that he seems to be becoming ill. In order to fend off this illness, he takes a holiday to Mont St Michel, but there he meets a monk who tells him of local superstitions, and when he returns, he finds that other members of his household are sick too. As time wears on, he becomes increasingly convinced that he is being haunted by some unseen force. Ultimately, thinking he has lured this force into his room and shut it in, the narrator sets his house on fire. At the end of the story, his voice has become increasingly unhinged, and it seems that he may kill himself for fear that the being is not dead.
The being, called the Horla by the narrator, is the force which looms larger and larger in the narrator's life. At first, it seems that he may be afflicted by sleep paralysis, but the narrator becomes convinced that the Horla is drinking and eating things laid out for him in the night, and is pursuing the narrator as he goes about his daily business. Eventually, the narrator believes he has seen the Horla as a sort of mist which visits him in the night. At the end of the story, the Horla is— perhaps, or perhaps not—destroyed. Ultimately, it is unclear whether the Horla really exists at all.
A monk who the narrator meets at Mont St Michel tells him various stories of what exists in the world beyond our general understanding. He sets the narrator to thinking about the supernatural.
Various servants of the narrator appear in the story, but particularly the coachman, Jean, who is also unwell.
The narrator also visits his cousin, Madame Sable, who is holding a dinner party alongside a doctor, Dr. Parent, who is a hypnotist. Dr Parent hypnotizes Madame Sable, and the narrator is amazed when she does exactly as he said she would and comes to his hotel to request five thousand francs. This convinces the narrator that more things are possible than he had assumed before.
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