How thin, how fragile the veil between madness and sanity. How poorly marked, how laxly guarded the border between the visionary and the dreamer. And let us never forget that the man who calls himself an emperor is no lunatic as long as the people bow to him.
My diary remains in the Kingwood. There it shall remain; I don't need any reminders just at present. Last night I dreamed of Aldergate. Today I am so very, very tired.
But! Never mind my troubles - great and terrible deeds are a-doing. "The Repairer of Reputations" is a story well before its time. It comes from a collection called "The King in Yellow," published by Robert W. Chambers in 1895, and has been immensely influential; the spreading tendrils of this story may be seen squirming their way through almost all of the weird fiction and cosmic horror of the past century. Old H.P. Lovecraft certainly enjoyed it, and for all he may have written slightingly of Chambers he wasn't shy about lifting some of his most beloved tropes from this and other of his stories.
Have you read "The King in Yellow?" I should hope not, for your sake. However, in the immortal words of Mark Twain: Now you've asked for it, and I'll give it to you, because there ain't anything mean about me - but if you find you don't like having your sanity ripped from you by an exquisite tide of horrifying truth, you won't have anyone to blame for it but your own self. The Repairer of Reputations, by Robert W. Chambers.
I am a fraud, and a coward.
Let’s get that out of the way right at the start . Having made my bold declaration of intent to grab a spade and start digging up my past, I have failed utterly to do so. I could make excuses; in fact, I shall
- I was dreadfully tired after I recorded this episode. That’s not unusual – pretty typical, actually – only this time I fought the demon Morpheus, because I wanted to read more Saki. I’d never really dug into him before, because my prison library only includes this one story, Sredni Vashtar, as part of a collection. Now I’ve found the whole lot available online, and I gorged myself until the darkness claimed me. Then, of course, I was utterly useless for days and days, and had a pretty nasty crick in my neck from passing out in an armchair.
- My diary smells odd. It's a musty, ashy sort of smell, and I don’t like it. Petty? Obviously. All the same, I don’t like touching it, don’t even like being near it. And yes, I’m well aware that it’s all Psychology 101 stuff, bad associations with traumatic experiences and so forth. I’m sure it’s very weak and contemptible of me to have shut the thing up in the Kingwood, but that’s a compromise we’ll both just have to live with for the moment. I can look at it through the glass; it can look at me, if it likes. We’ll be ready for each other one day. Or not. I am not a prophet.
Anyhow, if I can’t bring myself to read my own diary I can at least read that of Maupassant’s distinguished spade-wielding assassin. I do hope you enjoy it. And, as an added bonus, I’ve stuck Sredni Vashtar into this episode as well! All praise be to the hutch god, and may we never forget the power of positive thinking.
Care to read them for yourself? Here's The Diary of a Madman, by Guy de Maupassant
. And here's a link for Sredni Vashtar, by Saki
- while you're there, you may as well read the whole book. It's got an introduction by A.A. Milne, who must have had rather a different perspective on the relationship between imaginative small boys and the animals they love.
There’s a poem I recall reading ages ago. It goes something like:
Tumpty-tumpty cannot rest
Because every mother's son
Travails with a skeleton.
And truer words were never spoken! It’s a fearful bore, having always to be wrestling our immortal bits hither and thither, knowing that they’re bound to get the best of us in the end. As if that weren’t bad enough, the poor fellow in this story – ‘The Cold Embrace - finds himself loaded down below the Plimsoll mark with more than the usual cargo of mementi mori.
I’m not sure if he’s to be pitied, exactly. He’s hardly the most sympathetic protagonist. Pity me instead: I’ve got precisely the opposite problem. We’ve all got a past of one sort or another, and I find myself irresistibly drawn to the long-shut door of a closet which I’ve no doubt is full-to-bursting with skeletons. A wiser Adrian might leave well enough alone. The thing is, I’ve been such a hermit for so long – so utterly removed from my old life – that the contents of my personal ossuary may all have crumbled to dust by now. In that case, I’d quite like to get inside and do a bit of spring cleaning.
Ah, well. Another problem for another day.
Oh, and you can read the story for yourself here: The Cold Embrace, by Mary E. Braddon