Friday, June 11, 2010

Andrew's Comments on Le Revenant by Henry Thomson

"There are but two classes of persons in the world—those who are hanged, and those who are not hanged; and it has been my lot to belong to the former." Those haunting words are the preamble to Le Revenant by Henry Thomson and set the stage for the tale that I have picked as the 15th best scary short story from 1800-1849. The title means "The Ghost" in English, but this is misleading since it is about a man who lives through a hanging due to a malfunction. Afterward he watches his coffin being filled with rocks and buried. This is a tale of sensation and in it Thomson gives us one of the best descriptions of a person being led from a jail to the gallows.
I felt the transition from these dim, close, hot, lamp-lighted subterranean passages, to the open platform, and steps, at the foot of the scaffold, and to day. I saw the immense crowd blackening the whole area of the street below me. The windows of the shops and houses opposite, to the fourth story, choaked with gazers. I saw St Sepulchre's church through the yellow fog in the distance, and heard the pealing of its bell. I recollect the cloudy, misty morning; the wet that lay upon the scaffold— the huge dark mass of building, the prison itself, that rose beside, and seemed to cast a shadow over us—the cold, fresh breeze, that as I emerged from it, broke upon my face. I see it all now—the whole horrible landscape is before me. The scaffold—the rain— the faces of the multitude—the people clinging to the house-tops—the smoke that beat heavily downwards from the chimneys—the waggons filled with women, staring in the innyards opposite—the hoarse low roar that ran through the gathered crowd as we appeared. I never saw so many objects at once, so plainly and distinctly, in all my life, as at that one glance; but it lasted only for an instant.
It was first published anonymously in the April 1827 issue of Blackwood's Magazine, then later ascribed to Henry Thomson. The fine writing and compelling storyline ensure that it is one of the best scary stories for the first half of the nineteenth century.

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