The Terror
(French Title: "Lui?")
A Short Story by Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Year of Publication
The Title
Irony and Paradox
Study Questions
Essay Topics
Complete Text in French
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More Stories by Maupassant
Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings...© 2008
.......It 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. 
.......Why has he decided to marry her?
.......“I am afraid of being alone,” he tells his friend.
.......He 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 maintains.
.......Instead, 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.
.......Yet 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:
.......Rain 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. 
.......“It was wretched everywhere,” he says, “and the wet pavement glistened in the gaslight.”
.......While 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 him.
......."I 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."
.......Terrified, 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 noon. 
.......After 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.
.......From 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. 
.......“But 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!”.

.......The 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 asylum.
Pierre Decourcelle: 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. 
Mademoiselle LaJolle: Narrator’s bride-to-be.

Type of Work and Year of Publication

.......“The 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 Les soeurs Rondoli, edited by Paul Ollendorff.

The Title

.......The 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, lui 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.


.......The 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. 


.......Monsieur 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. 


Inescapable Terror

.......In 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. 
.......Monsieur 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, Maniaphobia)

.......In 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

.......Monsieur 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 that

Elle 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.

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.

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. 


.......The 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, he enters:

Je 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.

Irony and Paradox

.......Irony 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 Topics

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 narrator's problems?
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.