Michael J. Cummings...©
is true that “I am going to be married, and [I] will tell you what has
led me to that step,” Monsieur Raymon writes in a letter to his friend,
Pierre Decourcelle, the day before the wedding. Raymon's bride-to-be, Mademoiselle
Lajolle, is a middle-class woman of modest means who is “small, fair, and
stout” and has no obvious faults. Raymon has seen her only a few times.
People describe her as “a very nice girl,” one that Raymon says will suit
him until the time comes when he tires of her and pursues other women.
has he decided to marry her?
am afraid of being alone,” he tells his friend.
does not fear intruders, he says. Nor does he fear ghosts or “dead people,”
for he does not believe in the supernatural. There is no life after death,
he is afraid of himself—of having frightful thoughts, of losing his sanity,
of experiencing “a vague uneasiness of mind, which causes a cold shiver
to run all over me.” He even fears the sound of his own voice.
he does not fully comprehend what it is that terrifies him. In an attempt
to escape his fears, he sometimes curls into a ball under his bed covers
and remains there for long periods. His problem began one autumn evening
the previous year. Here is his account:
is drizzling. When Raymon’s servant leaves him alone after dinner, Raymon
feels inexplicably fatigued and depressed. He sits down, then paces, then
builds a fire to ward off the dampness, then goes out to roam the streets
for someone to talk to.
was wretched everywhere,” he says, “and the wet pavement glistened in the
walking between the Madeleine (a Roman Catholic church dedicated to St.
Mary Magdalene, located on the Place de la Madeleine) and Rue de Faubourg
Poissonière (a street), he passes cafes where he sees only sad-looking
people at the tables. After further wanderings, he returns to his building.
After the janitor lets him in, he goes to his room, discovers that the
door is unlocked, and finds a man asleep in a chair next to the fire. Was
it a friend of his? Had the porter let him in? Raymon walks over to rouse
could not see clearly, as the room was rather dark," Raymon says, "so I
put out my hand to touch him on the shoulder, and it came in contact with
the back of the chair. There was nobody there; the seat was empty."
Raymon jumps back. In a moment, his fear subsides as he thinks, “It is
a mere hallucination, that is all.” His eyes simply deceived him. But when
he lights a candle, he notices that he is trembling. Unnerved, he paces,
hums a song, and locks the door. He ponders his experience at length, then
goes to bed and puts out the candle. Several minutes later, he thinks he
sees the man again. He is sitting by the dying fire in the same chair.
When Raymon lights a match, he sees that he is wrong. This time he puts
the chair behind his bed. A short while later, he falls asleep but dreams
of what he had experienced after entering his room. He abruptly awakens
and determines to sit up the rest of the night. But twice more he falls
asleep. Each time he has the same dream. He wonders whether he is going
insane. When daylight breaks, he feels better and sleeps restfully until
rising, he tells himself he had had a fever and a nightmare—nothing more—and
that evening, believing all is back to normal, he dines out and attends
the theater. On his way home again, however, he worries that he will have
another hallucination and wanders aimlessly for an hour before returning
home. He stands outside his door for ten minutes before mustering the courage
to unlock it and enter. After lighting a candle, he enters the bedroom
and looks toward the fireplace. Nothing. But he remains uneasy and does
not sleep well.
that time forward, a fear of being alone grips him. It is as if the specter
of the man is in the apartment, but he does not see it. And even if he
does see it, what of it? He does not believe in such things. Still, he
remains uneasy. He continues to feel the presence of the specter.
if there were two of us in the place I feel certain that he would not be
there any longer, for he is there just because I am alone, simply and solely
because I am alone!”.Setting
story takes place in Paris in the apartment of Monsieur Raymon, the narrator,
as he writes a letter to his friend, Pierre Decourcelle. Paris locales
mentioned in the letter are a theater, a restaurant, and the streets of
the city. The time is approximately 1883.
Monsieur Raymon: Narrator,
who lives in Paris. His apparent hallucinations and nervous state of mind
indicate that he is mentally unstable, as was the author himself, Maupassant,
toward the end of his short life apparently as a result of his earlier
development of syphilis, either congenitally or through sexual contact,
and of overwork and the use of drugs and alcohol. Maupassant died in an
Narrator’s friend, to whom he reveals his fears.
Janitor and Porter:
Men who work in the apartment building where the narrator lives. They are
referred to in the story but are not described or quoted.
of Work and Year of Publication
Terror” (French title, “Lui?") is a short story about a terrifying episode
in the life of an apparently mentally disturbed man. It is one of many
tales of the fantastic—about bizarre or chimerical happenings—that Maupassant
wrote. It first appeared in Gil Blas magazine on July 3, 1883, under
the signature of Maufrigneuse. In 1904, it was published in the compendium
soeurs Rondoli, edited by Paul Ollendorff.
original French title ("Lui?") is a personal pronoun that may mean he,
him, her, it, to him, to her, or to it. In Maupassant's story,
refers to the figure he sees in the chair, as in the following passage:
J'avais peur de
le revoir, lui. Non pas peur de lui,
non pas peur de sa présence, à laquelle je ne croyais point,
mais j'avais peur d'un trouble nouveau de mes yeux, peur de l'hallucination,
peur de l'épouvante qui me saisirait.
I was afraid of seeing him
again. I was not afraid of him, not
afraid of his presence, in which I did not believe; but I was afraid of
being deceived again. I was afraid of some fresh hallucination, afraid
lest fear should take possession of me.
narrator, Monsieur Raymon, tells his story in first-person point of view.
Because he is mentally unstable and because he recounts events only as
he sees or interprets them, the reader cannot be certain that he presents
an accurate account of his experiences.
Raymon suffers from both internal and external conflicts. On the one hand,
he agonizes about his mental state; on the other, he frets about what he
saw on the chair next to the fireplace. True, he rejects the existence
of the supernatural. However, when he hides the chair, he betrays a fear
that the incorporeal intruder is real.
Maupassant’s story, there are no dragons, no werewolves, no sea serpents,
no Frankensteins or Draculas. One can escape such creatures—or slay them.
Instead, there is the worst terror of all: a mind that is out of control.
The story Monsieur Raymon tells is the anguished account of a man haunted
by the bugbears of his own creation. He is powerless to banish them, and
he cannot escape them or kill them. They are part of him; they are his
own obsessional thoughts.
Raymon’s fatigue, anxiety, and melancholy, together with the hallucination,
indicate that he suffers from a serious mental disorder. Maupassant himself
became mentally unstable later in his life apparently as a result of his
earlier development of syphilis, either congenitally or through sexual
contact, and of overwork and the use of drugs and alcohol.
Fear of Insanity (Agateophobia,
his debilitated but still somewhat rational state of mind, the narrator
is afraid of going insane. This fear is relatively commonplace in persons
suffering from anxiety, hypochondria, depression, or other conditions or
disorders. Symptoms of this fear can also manifest themselves in people
who are otherwise normal and mentally stable. Monsieur Raymon's symptoms,
however, suggest the presence of a serious mental disorder.
Women as Mere Objects
Raymon plans to marry a young woman he hardly knows for the sole purpose
of having her keep him company. It is clear that he does not love her and
has no more regard for her than he would for a pet, such as a dog or a
cat. He has no intention of remaining faithful to her, for he tells Decourcelle
appartient enfin à la légion des jeunes filles honnêtes
"dont on est heureux de faire sa femme" jusqu'au jour où on découvre
qu'on préfère justement toutes les autres femmes à
celle qu'on a choisie.
Raymon's callous attitude toward
Mademoiselle Lajolle reflects the mindset of some men toward women in nineteenth-century
Western society. It also suggests the presence of a character flaw that
makes it difficult for him to form a mature and loving relationship with
a woman. Such a flaw would obviously tend to isolate him and exacerbate
his fear of being alone.
She belongs, in a word, to
that immense number of girls whom one is glad to have for one's wife, till
the moment comes when one discovers that one happens to prefer all other
women to that particular woman whom one has married.
climax occurs as Monsieur Raymon recounts the moment when he returns from
an outing to a restaurant and a theater but is reluctant to go into his
bedroom for fear of seeing the phantom. However, after mustering courage,
poussai d'un coup de pied la porte entrebâillée de ma chambre,
et je jetai un regard effaré vers la cheminée. Je ne vis
rien. Ah !... Quel soulagement ! Quelle joie ! Quelle délivrance
! J'allais et je venais d'un air gaillard. Mais je ne me sentais pas rassuré
; je me retournais par sursauts ; l'ombre des coins m'inquiétait.
I kicked open my bedroom
door, which was partly open, and cast a frightened glance toward the fireplace.
There was nothing there. A-h! What a relief and what a delight! What a
deliverance! I walked up and down briskly and boldly, but I was not altogether
reassured, and kept turning round with a jump; the very shadows in the
corners disquieted me.
and paradox are powerful figures of speech in the story. First, the narrator
fears being alone while entertaining the notion that he is not alone. Second,
he appears to believe in the existence of a ghostly presence even though
he declares that he does not believe in such things. Third, he fears the
unknown but is about to marry a woman he knows very little about.
Study Questions and Essay
1. To what extent does Guy
de Maupassant base this story on his own experiences? Provide the answer
in an essay of four hundred words or more.
2. Why did Mademoiselle
Lajolle agree to marry the narrator, Monsieur Raymon?
3. Will marriage solve the
4. If you were the narrator's
friend, Pierre Decourcelle, what would you advise him to do about his problem?
5. After conducting appropriate
research, attempt to diagnose Monsieur Raymon's apparent mental illness.
Then write an essay that presents your findings.