The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
"How Love Came to Professor Guildea" (1897)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
“How Love Came to Professor Guildea” was written by Robert Hichens and first appeared as “The Man Who Was Beloved” (Pearson’s, October 1897). Hichens (1864-1950) was a British author, prolific in his lifetime but nearly forgotten today. “How Love Came to Professor Guildea” is the best-known of his stories.
Professor Guildea is a cold and dispassionate scientist and lecturer. Father Murchison is a warm, generous priest who “viewed the world with an almost childlike tenderness.”1 They are an odd couple, and a pair which no one would guess would become friends, and yet they do. They have many long conversations together in which they discuss a variety of topics, including love. Professor Guildea thinks that love is irrelevant. He helps humanity through his work, and he believes that his feelings for humanity are unimportant compared to the results of his work. Father Murchison thinks the reverse, that “given your powers, you would be far more useful in the world with sympathy, affection for your kind, added to them than as you are.”2 They agree to disagree. But one day Professor Guildea becomes convinced that something is inside his house with him, something only he can sense. One night he saw something on a bench in the park across the street from his house; when he went to see what it was, it was gone, but when he returned to his house he was sure that it, whatever invisible thing it was, had followed him into the house. And as the days go by Guildea becomes convinced that the thing is stupid–idiotic, even–but that it feels love and affection for him, two feelings that Guildea not only does not welcome but feels are intolerable. Murchison is dubious, but after hiding behind a curtain and watching Guildea’s parrot react to the invisible presence Murchison is convinced that Guildea is correct. Matters grow worse, to the point where the invisible creature is crawling into bed with Guildea, “squeezing, with loathsome, sickening tenderness, against my side.”3 Murchison urges Guildea to flee London, and Guildea goes to Paris, to give a lecture, but the creature follows him there. Murchison, ailing from the being’s constant attention, gives it his hate, and eventually it leaves, but as it does Murchison dies of “failure of the heart.”4
“How Love Came to Professor Guildea” is one of those classics of nineteenth century horror fiction which should be much better known than it is. It has several virtues. Hichens writes in a turn-of-the-century style, with modern-feeling dialogue and without any of the ponderous Bulwer Lytton rhetoric to labor through. Hichens has a deceptively good style at setting scenes. He does not ladle on the adjectives, but his visual and aural descriptions are subtly effective at making scenes come to life in the reader’s mind. Hichens makes the skeptic rather than the believer the victim of the haunting, a canny inversion of the horror story cliché. And “Professor Guildea” has one excellent Moment. Most good horror stories have one or two Moments that stick in the reader’s mind, the classic example being the knocking on the door in W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw.” The scene when the parrot reacts to the presence of the invisible ghost and then has his head scratched by it is the Moment in “Professor Guildea.” But although it is well-crafted “Professor Guildea” is not frightening, simply because it is clear from the start that the invisible spirit is not malevolent and loves Professor Guildea rather than wants him dead.
“How Love Came to Professor Guildea” is fine work.
Print: David Hartwell, ed., The Dark Descent. New York: Tor, 1997.
1 Robert Hichens, “How Love Came to Professor Guildea,” Tongues of Conscience (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1900), 269.
2 Hichens, “Professor Guildea,” 275.
3 Hichens, “Professor Guildea,” 327.
4 Hichens, “Professor Guildea,” 339.