This article contains the summary and analysis of Henry James’ gothic ghost story The Ghostly Rental (1876).
This article series provides a summary of The Ghostly Rental , 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 ghost stories that deals with a haunting of a ghost in a presumably haunted house. The tone and style of the three stories also differs. The haunting of the ghosts reflects and represents the emotional feelings of the haunted persons.
The Ghostly Rental (1876)
The unnamed twenty-two-year-old Narrator has taken a fancy to the old Divinity and decides to study theology at Cambridge university. He also fancies long country walks and upon such a walk he walks towards the town of Medford and he comes to a narrow road he has never traversed before, but he imagines it would be a nice short cut.
He came upon a house that soon caught his interest. ‘I stopped in front of it gazing hard, I hardly knew why, but with a vague picture of curiosity and timidity. (…) There was no sign of life about it; it looked blank, bare and vacant, and yet, as I lingered near it, it seems to have a familiar meaning – an audible eloquence. I have always thought of the impression made upon me at first sight, by that gray colonial dwelling, as a proof that induction may sometimes be near akin to divination; for after all, there was nothing on the face of the matter to warrant the very serious induction that I made.’ He tries to take a look inside the house, but the shutters are closed and the door is locked. At the end of the road he asks a neighbor about the house and her reply is odd and it was believed the house was haunted by ghostly tenants.
He can’t stop thinking about the house and decides to take another look. ‘The melancholy mansion stood there, seeming to gather the winter-twilight around it, and mask itself in it, inscrutably. I hardly knew on what errand I had come, but I had a vague feeling that if this time the door-knob were to turn and the door to open, I should take my heart in my hands and let them close behind me.’ The door was still closed, but instead a solitary figure advanced the house. So the Narrator hides himself away and watches the man bow to the house, and with his key opening the door to enter.
This aroused his curiosity even more and when one day he sees the figure sitting at the graveyard he addresses him. The man tells him, that indeed he had seen a ghost. So the Narrator asks Miss Deborah, who observes and knows all the gossip and more, about this Captain Diamond. She tells him that he killed his daughter when he found out she had a lover, whom he didn’t approve of. He didn’t kill her with his own hands, but with his tongue. ‘”He cursed her – with some terrible oath – and she died!”’ By the hands of her lover. The proof came when he saw her ghost. ‘The ghost re-appeared several times, and finally began regularly to haunt the house.’ It was his only property and he couldn’t leave the house, nor would others rent a haunted house. So the ghost made a deal with him. ‘Leave the house to me! it said; I have marked it for my own. Go off and live elsewhere. But to enable you to live, I will be your tenant, since you can find no other.’
When the Narrator has made up his mind to see this ghost for himself, he waits for the Captain to collect his rent and reluctantly he is let into the house. ‘Slowly – I say slowly, for to my tense expectancy the instants appeared ages – it took the shape of a large, definite figure, and this figure advanced and stood at the top of the stairs. (…) I remember reasoning. I said to myself, “I had always thought ghosts were white and transparent, this is a thing of thick shadows, densely opaque.”’
For days he was still shocked and when the day came the Captain had to collect his rent, his housemaid shows up at the Narrator’s doorstep. He was to come to the Captain immediately. The Captain was very sick, probably on his deathbed and asked the Narrator to collect the rent. Reluctantly the Narrator agrees and goes to the house. Only to discover that the ghost isn’t really ghost at all, but the Captain’s daughter still breathing who tricked him all this time. But when he told her the news that her father might be dying, she cries out; for she saw his white ghost. They both fled the house, leaving a burning candle. The Captain indeed had died at the time she saw his ghost and the next morning the ghostly rental had burned to the ground.
The Ghostly Rental is a genuine ghost story that mainly plays out in the head of the Narrator, his strong imagination. But it’s also a story about a guilty conscience, and of superstition. It’s also a very sad story that tells of wasted precious time in which father and daughter could have made peace with each other.
The Narrator is very willing to believe in a ghost, for it seems to him exciting and stirs his interest in the supernatural. Only more aroused by Miss Deborah’s tale and warning and the Captain’s conviction of his daughter’s ghost. When the Narrator finally sees the actual ghost, he also is convinced. His presumptions are confirmed. It’s a psychological terror that his own mind has conjured up, just like the Captain did. It’s an imagination come to life, and their minds are playing tricks with them.
The Captain put a curse upon his daughter, but in fact he put it on himself, his guilt made him believe she didn’t find peace in death. His daughter pretended all the time that she was a ghost, even colored her face white. But then, she saw her father’s ghost.
The question is what this curse could entail, is it psychological torment, or did the curse come life when the Captain’s ghost did appear to her. Or did she feel as guilty for tricking him, that she was to believe she saw his ghost. The Narrator didn’t see this alleged ghost and so all his adventures eventually lead him nowhere, in the way of proof for the supernatural nor the existence of ghosts. Either way, just like the Captain, his daughter will be haunted the rest of her life and maybe this goes for the Narrator too, for his fears have been awakened.
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 of the Jungle [Summary & Analysis]
- Henry James: De Grey A Romance [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