The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
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In August 1925, Lovecraft's Aunt Lillian sent him an anecdote about the house at 140 Prospect Street in Providence. Lovecraft wrote back: "So the Halsey house is haunted! Ugh! That's where Wild Tom Halsey kept live terrapins in the cellar--maybe it's their ghosts. Anyway, it's a magnificent old mansion, & a credit to a magnificent old town!"[1] Lovecraft would make this house—renumbered as 100 Prospect—the basis for the Ward house in Charles Dexter Ward. The following month, September 1925, Lovecraft read Providence in Colonial Times, by Gertrude Selwyn Kimball, a 1912 history that provided him with aspects of Charles Dexter Ward, such as the anecdotes about John Merritt and Dr. Checkley.[2] A possible literary model is Walter de la Mare's novel The Return (1910), which Lovecraft read in mid-1926. He describes it in his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature" as a tale in which "we see the soul of a dead man reach out of its grave of two centuries and fasten itself on the flesh of the living".[3] The theme of a descendant who closely resembles a distant ancestor may come from Nathaniel Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables, which Lovecraft called "New England's greatest contribution to weird literature" in "Supernatural Horror in Literature".[4] Another proposed literary source is M. R. James' short story "Count Magnus" also praised in "Supernatural Horror in Literature" which suggests the resurrection of a sinister 17th century figure.[5] [edit] Reaction Lovecraft was displeased with the novel, calling it a "cumbrous, creaking bit of self-conscious antiquarianism".[6] He made little effort to publish the work, leaving it to be published posthumously in Weird Tales by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. [edit] Plot summary The title character, Charles Dexter Ward, is a young man from a prominent Rhode Island family who (in the story's introduction) is said to have disappeared from a mental asylum after a prolonged period of insanity accompanied by minor, but unheard-of, physiological changes. The bulk of the story concerns the investigation conducted by the Wards' family doctor, Marinus Bicknell Willett, in an attempt to discover the reason for Ward's madness and the physiological changes. When Willett learns that Ward had spent the past several years attempting to discover the grave of his ill-reputed ancestor, Joseph Curwen, the doctor slowly begins to unravel the truth behind the legends surrounding Curwen, an eighteenth century shipping entrepreneur rumoured to have been an alchemist, but in reality a necromancer and mass-murderer. As Willett's investigations proceed, he finds that Charles had recovered Curwen's ashes, and through the use of magical formulae contained in documents found hidden in the wizard's former town house in Providence, Rhode Island, was able to call forth Curwen from his "essential saltes" and resurrect him. Willett also finds that Curwen, who resembles Charles enough to pass for him, has murdered and replaced his modern descendant and resumed his evil activities. Unfortunately for Curwen, due to culture shock, he is unable to entirely successfully impersonate Charles - his lack of understanding of the modern world leads to him (as Charles) being certified insane and imprisoned in an asylum.

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