When searching for short gothic fiction to read while on bed rest, I found recommendations for The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe and The Mummy’s Foot by Theophile Gautier. I also read Two Doctors by M.R. James, although I learned later that it is more antiquarian than gothic. But I’ll talk about it just the same.
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar tells of the process by the narrator in mesmerizing a patient who is very near the end of his life. Mesmerism, I just learned, is a form of hypnotic induction theorized by German physician Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer.
“The aim of mesmerism was to rediscover that central point so that the individual might recover the total of his or her psychic energy and the unknown riches within.” (Source: www.mesmerism.com/mesmerism/)
Poe himself was considered among the creative geniuses who practiced mesmerism, alongside Charles Dickens and Alexandre Dumas.
In his story, Poe described the process as one would to a close friend. Here’s an excerpt from his story:
“At five minutes before eleven, I perceived unequivocal signs of the mesmeric influence. The glassy roll of the eye was changed for that expression of uneasy inward examination which is never seen except in cases of sleep-waking, and which it is quite impossible to mistake. With a few rapid lateral passes I made the lids quiver, as in incipient sleep, and with a few more I closed them altogether. I was not satisfied, however, with this, but continued the manipulations vigorously, and with the fullest exertion of the will, until I had completely stiffened the limbs of the slumberer, after placing them in a seemingly easy position. The legs were at full length; the arms were nearly so, and reposed on the bed at a moderate distance from the loins. The head was very slightly elevated.” (Source: The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe)
Before I learned about Poe being a practitioner of mesmerism, I thought the story was one in an essay about his particular belief in hypnosis. The story sounds authentic enough to be real. Whatever the case, this remarkable story, characterized by focus and incredulity, is a highly interesting recommendation.
The second short story I read this week was The Mummy’s Foot. The reading experience felt like a tour from a long street filled with shops of “curiosity-venders” into one particular place of business of a “bric-a-brac dealer”.
The writer did not miss describing in detail what one could see in such a shop, including the owner, such that I was filled with curiosity myself.
“Upon the denticulated shelves of several sideboards glittered immense Japanese dishes with red and blue designs relieved by gilded hatching; side by side with enameled works by Bernard Palissy, representing serpents, frogs, and lizards in relief.
“From disemboweled cabinets escaped cascades of silver-lustrous Chinese silks and waves of tinsel, which an oblique sunbeam shot through with luminous beads; while portraits of every era, in frames more or less tarnished, smiled through their yellow varnish.” (Source: The Mummy’s Foot by Theophile Gautier)
But what do you think will happen to the main character who was looking for a paper weight and found one, a strange little thing? Among all the shiny suggestions, he chooses the foot of Egyptian Princess Hermonthis who is already 30 centuries old in the story. Because of the writer’s laborious descriptions, the climax and ending are short but enjoyable just the same.
On the other hand, James’s Two Doctors brought to mind the two doctors present in Poe’s story to witness the process of mesmerism. But James’s doctors are entirely different. They are from the countryside, both with pointedly contrasting personalities. Such personalities are what moved or propelled the story to the end, provoking the reader (or me, for that matter) to ask, “Did something supernatural really happen in the story?”
You can read The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe here.
I read Two Doctors by M.R. James through my copy of The Oxford Book of English Short Stories edited by A.S. Byatt. But you can read it online, here.
With my comeback to book blogging, I decided to make an attempt at reading several short stories in a week. I’ll be doing similar posts in the future. This endeavor is inspired by Nina’s Winter Tales over at Multo (Ghost).