This is supposedly the first story written by Lovecraft, and it flows perfectly into his predilection for madness. The story follows Jervas Dudley, the quintessential unreliable narrator, in his descent into madness.
Jervas states at the beginning of the story that he loves reading ancient tomes; books that no one else ever reads, who’s subject matter is strange and malignant. He has no social life and he derives much of what he understands about life from these convoluted books.
Then one day he happens upon a tomb. It is in the location of his neighbor’s (The Hydes) burned down house. He begins spending much of his time there, hiding out and sleeping in front of the partially ajar, padlocked tomb.
One day a voice from the tomb tells him to go to his attic, where he finds a key to the padlock and enters the tomb. He spends much of his time there, but at the same time, his father becomes concerned for his mental well being, so he sends a “spy” to watch over him. Listening in on the conversation, Jervas is confused to hear the spy tell his father that he spends all his time sleeping outside of the tomb, not inside as he knows to be true. He also develops a fear of lightning and storms, which is what destroyed the Hyde’s mansion in the first place.
Then while in the tomb he attends a party held by the Hyde’s and everyone seems so realistic and the mansion is back to its former glory, that is until Jervas’ Father and the spy grab him. In the struggle lightning started to flash and it exposed a box on the ground with the initials J.H. and inside was a statue of a young man with an uncanny resemblance to Jervas.
The story ends with one of the servants, supposedly going into the tomb and finding a coffin with the name Jervas on it.
This can be read in two different ways. The first is that the narrator, who is confined to a madhouse, has pushed his brain into thinking about the strange dealings of the netherworld by reading all those tomes instead of interacting with others. Then his half sleep for weeks on end in front of the tomb, his mind played games with him and he imagined everything.
It is easy to correlate that the Hyde’s were his ancestors, and once the mansion was destroyed the family built a new one close by. It stands to reason that during that time there was a young man by the name of Jervas Hyde (J.H.) who’s coffin the servant found at the end of the story. Because of this Jervas Dudley thinks everything is about him, because he has no other basis in reality.
The other way to read it (and the one I quite prefer) is that Jervas found something in the attic, that began to possess him. It made him desire to be with his ancestors, and the spirit of Jervas Hyde had somehow begun to merge with Jervas Dudley. They began to see and experience the same things. One could even conjecture that Jervas’ father knew this was happening, and that is why he was relegated to the asylum.
In either case, it was a fun read, though much shallower than the other Lovecraft I’ve read to date. This was supposedly in his straight horror days, which people say is uninspired, but it has a beautiful reminiscence to Poe and tales like “The Fall of the House of Usher”.