One man descends into madness. One author visits this story three times, working it again and again as he descends himself serving time in an asylum between versions. First published in the newspaper, then re-written as a letter and finally a long version published shortly before the author was institutionalized.
The Horla is Guy de Maupassant’s story of how one man succumbs to madness. It’s very like an Edgar Allen Poe tale, or Charlotte Gilman Perkins’s story The Yellow Wallpaper. It’s a very popular topic in short stories. Easy to see why since it was written during the time period when psychiatry is in its infancy, the 1880’s. Madness was a major concern.
In de Maupassant’s story, the narrator begins to suspect that he is going mad when strange things begin happening, glasses of water set by his bedside are empty in the morning though he cannot recall drinking them. Events escalate and soon the narrator believes he is being pursued by as being he calls a Horla. Eventually, he is taken in by doctors who are convinced he is mad though he remains certain he is not.
From the ending of the original version:
Gentlemen, I know why you are gathered here today, and I am ready to tell you my story, just as my friend Dr. Marrande has asked me. For a long time he thought I was mad. Today he is not sure. In a little while, you will all know that I have as healthy, as lucid, as perceptive a mind as your own, unfortunately for me, and for you, and for all of humanity.
While the final version de Maupassant wrote of this story, the first one featured in my edition translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell, is clearly the best one, I enjoyed reading all three Horlas. They are different enough to make each one worth reading. I’m not all that familiar with Guy De Maupassant’s work, but after reading The Horla, I’d like to be.