See notes for The Great God Pan.

Plot Summary

Mr. Charles Salisbury happens to run into his friend Dyson one night in London. Because the two were school friends, they decide to share a bottle of wine in a local restaurant and exchange stories. Dyson reveals that, after running into financial difficulties, he has decided to take on a literary career and is particularly interested in crime writing, which he claims is a field currently inhabited by a lot of poor writers. It is through his current interest in crime writing that he comes across a story of the missing wife of Dr. Black. He tells Salisbury that he saw a face of a woman that was “not human” in the window of the Black home after Mrs. Black was supposedly missing. The two separate but not after Salisbury gets Dyson to promise to tell him any further details of the story later. Salisbury walks home and encounters a drunk couple. The woman of the couple, while arguing with the man, takes out a crumpled piece of paper and throws it to the floor. The paper happens to land near Salisbury’s feet. He picks it up, but it seems like the writing is nothing more than “sheer folly.” Salisbury gives the paper to Dyson, who is able to put together the pieces. The paper brings Dyson to a small shop in a poor neighborhood of London. Through the writing on the paper, Dyson discovers the name of the shop, the name of the shop-keeper and a rhyme that he must relay to the shop-keeper in order to receive a wooden box. The shop-keeper seems distressed when Dyson appears and relays the rhyme, but gives him the box anyway. Once home, Dyson opens the box. It is revealed through a journal in the box that Dr. Black didn’t kill his wife, but he had her soul removed and turned into diamond, which is also in the box. Once her soul was placed in this new vessel, something else suddenly inhabited her body. Dyson smashes the jewel to pieces, allowing the glowing essence within to be released.

Notes & Quotes

  • Once again, a version of the urban gothic is present in Machen’s writing:

“…I began to study the great science which still occupies me.” “What science do you mean?” “The science of the great city; the physiology of London; literally and metaphysically the greatest subject that the mind of man can conceive… Yet I feel sometimes positively overwhelmed with the thought of the vastness and complexity of London…London is always a mystery.” (89)

The foul paper, from which all pattern or trace of a pattern had long vanished, subdued and penetrated with the crime of the evil street, was hanging in mouldering pennons from the wall. Only t the end of the room was it possible to stand upright, and the sight of the wretched bed and the odor of corruption that pervaded the place made me turn faint and sick. (103)

Once again, London is viewed as maniac, depressed, and complex, much like the narrative itself as well as the characters within both.

  • Dr. Black is at one point described as “a poor garreteer in the backwoods of London” (103). To describe the poor neighborhoods of London as a “backwoods” not only conjures images of the backwoods or frontiers of early America, but it also takes on a racial tone. Decadent authors were concerned with the topic of racial degeneracy and decay, so it makes sense for Machen to depict the ‘wild’ and sinister Dr. Black as a racially inflected white character.

“The Inmost Light” (1894) by Caitlin Duffy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.