This article contains the summary and analysis of Henry James’ romantic gothic ghost story De Grey: A Romance (1886).
This article series provides a summary of De Grey: A Romance, the ending or the twist and a short analysis.
Henry James (1843-1916) was an American Author of literary realism and literary modernism. But he has also written ghost stories, stories of the supernatural and the spiritual. His themes compose romance, the fear of marriage, the doppelgänger motif and of course the supernatural that subtly sneaks into real life, ever posing the question if the paranormal is real or not. Often with an unreliable narrator, told in the first person, the events can be explained either by the existence of a real ghost or something that the mind conjured up. His ghost story genre lies in the genre of Romance, where the magical co-exists with everyday life, which creates an eerie uncanny feeling. His stories are always based in the real world of human action, psychology and morality. It therefore is up to the reader to interpret the story as they wish, which can lead to wonderful lively discussions.
This article contains one of his romantic ghost stories with female protagonists upon whom doom befalls when it comes to love. The story deals with the fear or hope of marriage, which leads to death, a curse or jealousy.
De Grey: A Romance (1886)
‘It was the year 1820, and Mrs De Grey, by the same token, as they say in Ireland (and, for that matter, out of it), had reached her sixty-seventh spring.’ She became a woman of her age and a widow. Nevertheless she was placid and elegant, handsome and amiable and had suffered no misfortunes, blessed with good health. But for Mr. Herbert her live-in priest, she lives in seclusion even more so now her son Paul has left for Europe upon reaching his twenty-third year.
Mr. Herbert was an English gentleman and an intimate friend of the late George De Grey with whom he traveled across Europe. ‘But in Venice, for reasons best known to themselves, they bitterly and irretrievably quarreled. Some persons said it was over a card-table, and some said it was about a woman.’ De Grey went back to America and Herbert repaired to Rome, to a monastery studying theology. After De Grey married Mrs. De Grey he wanted to reconcile but died soon after Herbert arrived, who has stayed ever since and became Paul’s tutor.
Now Mrs. De Grey is in need for companionship of a gentlewoman. Attending church she notices two strangers, an ill looking woman and her daughter. When after a couple of weeks the daughter attends church alone with such sadness on her face that Mrs. De Grey felt the need to inquire about her sorrow. The girl’s name was Margaret Aldis and she was taken in by Mrs. De Grey to serve as her companion. ‘Here, steeped in repose and physical comfort, rescued from the turbid stream of common life, and placed apart in the glow of tempered sunshine, valued, esteemed, caressed and yet feeling she was not a mere passive object of charity, but that she was doing her simple utmost to requite her protectress, poor Miss Aldis bloomed and flowered afresh.’
And gazing upon a portrait of Paul she immediately lost her heart. But Herbert tried to attenuate her affection. A letter from Paul changed everything, in which he tells Mrs. De Grey he had married, but that his wife died shorty after and that he was coming home. Upon this Herbert’s face turned pale and ghastly white. ‘He rose to his feet, seized her in his arms, and pressed her on his neck. “My child! my child” he cried, in a broken voice, “I have always loved you! I have been harsh and cold and crabbed. I was fearful. The thunder has fallen! Forgive me, child. I’m myself again.” But his troubles were far from over.
When Paul returned home, Margaret’s affections weren’t vanished and upon looking at her, Paul too fell in love.
When Paul and Margaret fall in love, never has anyone witnessed such a happy love. Which concerns Herbert even more and he confides in Margaret to warn her. He tells her about the family curse that goes far back in time. ‘“One of the race, they say, came home from the East, from the crusades, infected with the germs of the plague. He had pledged his love-faith to a young girl before his departure, and it had been arranged that the wedding should immediately succeed his return. Feeling unwell, he consulted an elder brother of the bride, a man versed in fantastic medical lore, and supposed to be gifted with magical skill. By him he was assured that he was plague-stricken, and that he was in duty to bound to defer the marriage. The young knight refused to comply, and the physician, infuriated, pronounced a curse upon his race. The marriage took place; within a week the bride expired, in horrible agony; the young man, after a slight illness, recovered; the curse took effect.”’ This fate was brought upon every man in this race ever since. And now that Herbert found out that it wasn’t his bride whom Paul loved dearly, but Margaret, he fears for her life.
Margaret doesn’t head his warning and defies the curse. Mrs. De Grey has out-lived her husband after all. But it wasn’t a loving marriage and his first real love died. “I revoke the curse, I undo it. I curse it!” she said solemnly.
But when the marriage arrangements were in full preparations, Paul became ill, pale and acquired a sudden morbid intensity, while Margaret became fresh with energy and charm and full of confidence and more mature. While the lovers make plans for the future, Herbert urges her to leave to save them both. But it’s too late and they’re too much in love and young of heart. When one day Paul doesn’t return from horseback riding, Margaret goes out looking for him and finds him, sick and hurt, and dying. She then realizes she has killed him.
This is a true love story that tries to defy the curse of death. Mrs. De Grey still doesn’t want to believe in a supernatural curse upon her son’s life. Whether or not it was in fact a supernatural family curse, it is stated that it is always the survivors who suffer the most. The curse didn’t allow Paul and Margaret to be together for their love was sincere and genuine. Their love doomed not only both or either one of them, but also the survivors. For Herbert did come to love Margaret and probably so did Mrs. De Grey. The foreboding gloom hovering over the couple in love, was implied by Herbert several times. First there are the rumors about George and him being in love with the same woman in Venice. Then his emotional outburst, his worried gaze and finally his warning to Margaret. It’s a devastating story with a supernatural twist, that you can either deny, or accept as a ghost story of romance.
Read more about Henry James:
- Henry James : The Turn of the Screw [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Altar of the Dead [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Beast in the Jungle [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Ghostly Rental [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Great Good Place [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Jolly Corner [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Last of the Valerri [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James : Owen Wingrave [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Real Right Thing [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Romance of a Certain Old Clothes [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: Sir Edmund Orme [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Third Person [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: The Way It Came [Summary & Analysis]
- The Turn of the Screw (Henry James) review