The Horla by Guy De Maupassant: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:03 Peeking at a Diary
  • 0:42 Summary of ~''The Horla~''
  • 4:37 Analyzing ~''The Horla~''
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Is anyone watching you? Are you sure? In the story, ''The Horla,'' the narrator certainly isn't. In this lesson, we'll take a closer look at a summary and analysis of this horror story that plays with one man's mind.

Peeking at a Diary

Have you ever been caught reading something you shouldn't? A diary, perhaps? Maybe it belonged to your sister, cousin, spouse, or friend. Whatever its origins, most diaries contain the private thoughts of its owner and aren't intended to be read by others, except in the case of our narrator in ''The Horla.''

Told in a series of diary entries written by an anonymous narrator, author Guy De Maupassant has allowed us a peek into a strange diary. Do we have an old-fashioned ghost story on our hands or something more terrible involving invisible beings wreaking havoc? Only one way to know; read the story!

Summary of ''The Horla''

''The Horla'' starts off innocently enough. The narrator is lounging in the grass outside his family home, enjoying the weather and the scenery. Late in the morning, a line of boats pass by the house situated on the Seine River.

Before we continue, we should probably identify what horla means, or see how close we can get. Some sources describe the horla as an invisible vampire, while others define it more as an alien being. The author himself created the word, which mirrors the sound of the word ''horror'' and even a French expression (hors là), which means ''outside there.'' Whatever it is, it's tremendously creepy. Now, let's get back to the story!

A few days after the narrator's river-side relaxing, we learn that he's not feeling well. He begins to question the air that surrounds us and how it can influence our well-being: ''One might almost say that the air, the invisible air, is full of unknowable Forces, whose mysterious presence we have to endure.''

The Illness Unfolds

A few days longer, and the narrator's building anxiety has become apparent. He is decidedly ill and ''horribly feverish.'' He decides to see a doctor, but there's nothing wrong with him. Still, the illness persists. The narrator cannot sleep and when he does, he has horrible nightmares that ''somebody is closing close to me, is looking at me, touching me, is getting onto my bed, is kneeling on my chest, is taking my neck between his hands and squeezing it...''

By the beginning of June, the narrator's condition has deteriorated. He feels as though he is being followed. He decides that some time away might do him well, so he plans a journey.

Back from the Trip

A month later, the narrator has returned home, ''quite cured,'' after a lovely trip. He recounts portions of his trip where he took in nature and spoke with a monk about the possibility of ''beings besides ourselves on this earth.'' The monk doesn't do much to alleviate the narrator's fears, giving an illustration of the presence of the wind, there, though it can't be seen.

Almost immediately upon returning home, the narrator becomes feverish and cannot sleep. His nightmares have returned. In fact, he is convinced that someone (or something) has drunk his water in the middle of the night. The next night, he adds milk, wine, bread, and strawberries to his side table and awakens to discover that the water, and a little milk, are once again gone.

On the Road

Thinking more time away might alleviate his symptoms, the narrator takes another trip. While gone, he sits in on his cousin's hypnosis, a mental state where one person can control the thoughts and actions of another. He is rather alarmed at how she could be influenced by another person.

Home Again

By the end of July, the narrator has returned home, and the good times continue until early August when the narrator recounts seeing a rose hovering in mid-air while out in the garden. He questions whether it was a hallucination, which is when someone sees something that's not really there.

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