Thursday, October 18, 2012

James-A-Day: The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance

This is a truly grotesque story, and I think also more mysterious than usual.  Uncle Henry, a stern and unforgiving rector, has gone missing, and we get the story of the search from a series of letters addressed to the narrator's brother.

The heart of the story is a nightmare of a Punch and Judy show which somehow serves to hint at what really happened to Uncle Henry.  The nightmare is really more of a vision than an ordinary dream, and it's horrifying:

The stage got perceptibly darker as each crime was consummated, and at last there was one murder which was done quite in the dark, so that I could see nothing of the victim, and took some time to effect. It was accompanied by hard breathing and horrid muffled sounds, and after it Punch came and sat on the foot-board and fanned himself and looked at his shoes, which were bloody, and hung his head on one side, and sniggered in so deadly a fashion that I saw some of those beside me cover their faces, and I would gladly have done the same. But in the meantime the scene behind Punch was clearing, and showed, not the usual house front, but something more ambitious—a grove of trees and the gentle slope of a hill, with a very natural—in fact, I should say a real—moon shining on it. Over this there rose slowly an object which I soon perceived to be a human figure with something peculiar about the head—what, I was unable at first to see. It did not stand on its feet, but began creeping or dragging itself across the middle distance towards Punch...
Punch is pretty nightmarish anyway, but MRJ makes it about seventeen times worse.

The innkeeper with a grievance against Uncle Henry may have murdered him.  Or maybe a monster got him, or maybe Punch did.  I'm not at all sure.  What do you think happened?

"Fuseli's foul sketch" -- a nightmare

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