A Recluse Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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In spite of Mr. Charles Dash’s promise to make his record “as full, concise and definite as possible,” this story, like the estate Montresor, wears “a look of reticence.” The plot is straightforwardly, even naïvely, developed, but as the events of the story unfold with increasing complexity, the reader is sent back to earlier parts of the story or out of the story altogether by allusions—to symbolic forms, to folkloric associations, to literary and extraliterary sources. Though on a first reading the story seems all too clearly banal, further perusals fascinate—trap—the reader by revealing ever more frustrating (thus interesting) patterns of inconclusiveness, loose ends not explained by any authorial intervention and beyond the explanatory powers of the narrator, Mr. Dash.

The story proceeds simply enough, Mr. Dash making only the most superficial connections between its parts. His initial musings on life’s “edges”—Walter de la Mare included this story in his collection On the Edge (1930)—give haphazard rise to memories of Mr. Bloom of Montresor, whose estate is for sale, and to the question, “But was it discreet of them to describe the house itself as an imposing mansion?” This question tells the reader much about Mr. Dash, especially in readerly retrospect, for his quibble and his off-hand reason for it—“A pair of slippers in my possession prompts this query”—reveal a fastidious but superficial intellect, quite ready to cry “Distinguo!” but rarely if ever prepared to follow up. In a more serious way, this tendency is revealed in his excessive relief to be gone from the “dismal reminders” of death afforded by his convalescing friend; Mr. Dash notices all the right things but knows the significance of none, as shown further by his comment on the gray-faced horseman: “So far as I can see he has nothing whatever to do with what comes after—no more, at most, than my poor thin-nosed, gasping friend.” These are to Mr. Dash all oddities, remarkable, and so remarked on, but no more.

At first, the reader sees no further than Mr. Dash does, but as this superficial narrator’s observations accumulate, the reader’s role becomes more and more active. As Mr. Bloom remarks in contempt of Mrs. Altogood, vaunting his own occult attainments, “There are deeps, and vasty deeps.” It is an ambiguous comment, yet ambiguity befits a story whose depths remain largely undefined, but whose very lack of definition asks readers to try to plumb those depths, to create them, as it were, in the very act of reading.

Mr. Dash’s actual encounter with Mr. Bloom is compounded of numerous tiny suspenses, each contributing to the almost overwhelming suspense of the story itself, which is then anticlimactically dissipated by the indefiniteness of the apparition seen and by the final paragraph about Mrs. Altogood and her “gallipot of ’tiddlers.’” The initial empty appearance of the house is answered by the emptiness of Mr. Dash himself, though the narrator is typically quick to pull back from what his observation might imply: “His house had suggested vacancy, so did he—not of human inmate, that is, but of pleasing interest!” He returns to this idea later, when he is less inclined to soften its significance: “What was wrong with the man? What made him so extortionately substantial, and yet in effect, so elusive and unreal? What indeed constitutes the...

(The entire section is 858 words.)