Saturday, March 27, 2010
Close Reading Questions for Le Fanu's "The Familiar"
1. According to the OED, the word “familiar” has several possible denotations, including:
• 1. a. Of or pertaining to one's family or household. (Now rare, and with mixture of other senses.) Of an enemy: That is ‘of one's own household’: lit. and fig. Of habits: Pertaining to one's family life, private, domestic
• 1. d. familiar angel: a guardian angel. familiar devil, spirit: a demon supposed to be in association with or under the power of a man.
• 8. Free, as among persons intimately acquainted, unceremonious; occas. Too free, taking liberties with; also in to make familiar with.
• B. b. An officer of the Inquisition, chiefly employed in arresting and imprisoning the accused.
How might all of one of these definitions help us read or interpret the story? What is ultimately so “familiar” about Barton’s condition?
2. Unlike Mr. Jennings, Barton is a hardened heretic, and even after numerous visitations, he insists, “I can’t pray…there is something within me that will not pray…The idea of an eternal Creator is to me intolerable—my mind cannot support it” (61-62). What role do you feel Barton’s skepticism plays in the story? Does he ultimately undergo a transformation?
3. Is “The Familiar” a story of the uncanny—or simply a ghost story? Do the events and visitations have elements of the uncanny, or does the fact that other people see it—or think they see it—remove this from the realm of psychoanalysis (or metaphysical medicine)?
4. Why do you feel the “frame” of Dr. Hesselius has been almost entirely removed from this story, existing only at the very beginning and end of the story? Is there a reason we hear this story almost completely second-hand, instead of from the doctor’s personal observations?