“Disinterment, The“

   Short story (4,600 words); written in collaboration with Duane W.Rimel, September 1935. First published in WT(January 1937); corrected text in HM.
   The unnamed narrator awakes to find himself in a hospital bed in a private clinic — a “veritable medieval fortress.” He then remembers that he had contracted leprosy while in the Orient and had appealed to his friend, Marshall Andrews, for help. Andrews, a surgeon of dubious reputation, persuades the narrator to spend nearly a year in his castle undergoing treatment. Then Andrews goes to the West Indies to study “native” medical methods. Returning, Andrews claims that he has found a drug in Haiti that could simulate death, even to temporary rigor mortis. The plan is to inject the narrator with the drug, have him declared dead, interred in a grave, and then resurrected. In this way the narrator could assume another identity without the stigma of leprosy. As the narrator wakes, he feels the lingering effects of the drug, and he seems paralyzed. Gradually the paralysis passes, but movement of arms and legs is still painful and jerky. There seems to be some kind of alienation between the narrator’s head and the rest of his body. Tormented by dreams and suspecting that some nameless experiment has been made upon him, he staggers out of bed, finds Andrews sleeping in a chair, and kills him with a candelabrum. He later kills Andrews’ butler, Simes. Going outside, he approaches his manor house and enters the family cemetery. He comes to his own tombstone, begins to dig up the grave, and finds to his horror his own headless body: Andrews had transplanted his head upon the body of an African American from Haiti.
   HPL discusses the story in a letter to Rimel of September 28, 1935: “First of all, let me congratulate you on the story. Really, it’s splendid—one of your best so far! The suspense & atmosphere of dread are admirable, & the scenes are very vividly managed…. I’ve gone over the MS. very carefully with a view to improving the smoothness of the prose style—& I hope you’ll find the slight verbal changes acceptable” (ms., JHL). The critical issue is what to make of this statement (the manuscript or typescript, with HPL’s putative corrections, does not survive). The fact that HPL refers to “slight verbal changes” should not lead us to minimize his role in the tale, since this may simply be an instance of his customary modesty. Rimel maintains that HPL performed only slight revisions on the story; but if so, then Rimel never came so close to imitating HPL’s style and idiom. The tale bears some resemblance to HPL’s early tales of the macabre, notably “The Outsider.”
   See Will Murray, “Facts in the Case of ‘The Disinterment,’” LS No. 17 (Fall 1988): 30–33.

An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. .

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