Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Doris Ross McCrosson has written of de la Mare: “Should anyone be looking for answers, he has none. . . . He questioned everything, never arrogantly, however, because he believed—in fact, it was the only thing he seemed certain of—that all of life is shot with strangeness and mystery.” The story “A Recluse” bears out this assertion, but it makes certain distinctions: The narrator, Mr. Dash, recognizes the predominance of questions in the story he tells, yet the story does not ask the reader therefore to consider him a mouthpiece for the author, one appropriately aware of the difficulty of what de la Mare called “the whole question of the relation between the living and the dead.” Mr. Dash, as his name suggests, retreats from the truth of what confronts him—an ironic retreat, since he has accused Mr. Bloom of “showing himself incapable of facing facts.” De la Mare’s use of such a narrator forces the reader also to choose between running away and facing facts. The story offers this choice in the form of loose ends, a series of inconclusive elements simply presented by Mr. Dash, but forming patterns of significance—though no firm answers—for the reader.

The gray-faced horseman is one of the first inconclusive elements in the story. Here Mr. Dash, as usual, notices all the right things, even makes some appropriate connections, but adds, “Why I have mentioned him I scarcely know, except that there he was, for an instant, at those gates.” Later he suspects that Montresor’s effect on him has something to do with “the queer gesture and the queerer looks of my cardboard-boxed gentleman on horseback,” but he finds little further reason in the odd encounter. The reader finds himself at first in much the same situation, but hindsight provides a context of significance for the “pseudo-miller” of Montresor.

Horsemen are often messengers or otherwise portentous, and this one mutely fulfills the expected function with his dismissive gesture of “unnecessary violence.” Then Mr. Dash’s quotation of the old song introduces into the picture the traditional association...

(The entire section is 865 words.)