“The Red Room” is a short story written by H. G. Wells, first published in the March 1896 edition of The Idler magazine. The story is told as a first-person narrative.
The unnamed narrator is visiting Lorraine Castle to spend a night in the supposedly haunted Red Room, where the young duke had died. The castle had been deserted by its occupants eighteen months earlier, and left in the charge of three infirm old caretakers, with whom the narrator is in conversation as the story begins. Despite vague warnings, the narrator asks to be shown to the Red Room, but instead the old people give him a candle and directions. He leaves them to ascend to his room with their words “It’s your own choosing” ringing in his ears.
Initially confident, the narrator becomes increasingly uneasy once inside the room, even with a revolver in his pocket. He attempts to conquer his fear by lighting candles, but keeping the candles lit in the draughty room proves to be very difficult. Each time a candle is snuffed out, the narrator’s fear and paranoia increases, and he begins to imagine that the draughts are guided by a malevolent intelligence. As the narrator’s fear reaches a crescendo he rushes for the door, but in the darkness stumbles and strikes himself heavily against the bed. Staggering back he either strikes or is struck by other heavy furniture, “battering [himself] … to and fro in the darkness” until he is rendered unconscious by a final heavy blow to the forehead.
The caretakers, who find him in the morning, feel vindicated when the narrator agrees that the room is haunted. They are eager to hear a description of the phantom, but he surprises them by explaining that there is no ghost residing in the room. The room is haunted by fear itself.
“The Red Room” is a horror story in the manner of Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849), and the supposed ghost of the Red Room emblematic of human nature itself. The narrator’s final words of explanation to the three old people when they ask what is haunting the room – “The worst of all the things that haunt poor mortal man … Fear!” – is an echo of Roderick Usher in Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”.
- H. G. Wells bibliographyA list of the novels and short stories written by H. G. Wells during the more than fifty years of his literary career.