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The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P.…

The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward (1941)

by H.P. Lovecraft

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Randolph Carter tales (5; mentioned)

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Lovecraft must be the only author whose works I've read and don't mind certain things most readers seem to hate. Yes, it can be slow. Yes, he can be overly descriptive. Yes, there is an omniscient narrator. Yes, there is lots of retelling. And in most cases, some of those annoy me too.
However, all of it pales in front of his extraordinary imagination and the atmosphere you find in his stories. It doesn't matter if it is a short story or a longer one. He is one of a kind and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is one of those stories that shows just how great Lovecraft was.'What horrors and mysteries, what contradictions and contraventions of Nature, had come back after a century and a half to harass Old Providence with her clustered spires and domes?' It starts with the escape of Charles Dexter Ward from a private hospital near Providence, Rhode Island. He 'was placed under restraint most reluctantly by the grieving father who had watched his aberration grow from a mere eccentricity to a dark mania involving both a possibility of murderous tendencies and a profound and peculiar change in the apparent contents of his mind'. Charles seemed to switch his personality to the one from eighteenth century. Even his physical appearance was changed. The last person to talk to him before his escape is his family physician, Dr. Marinus Bicknell Willett. The only thing left in the room is a strange blue powder. 'This is no common case—it is a madness out of time and a horror from beyond the spheres which no police or lawyers or courts or alienists could ever fathom or grapple with.' From there, the story goes back to where and when it all started. From Ward's unhealthy interest in his ancestor Joseph Curwen who came from Salem during the witch-hunt trials to all the changes everyone noticed. It goes even further in the past, because there is a story within a story here. Who was Joseph Curwen? What did he do? What happened to him? Why would someone try to erase every trace of him? From Ward's research, private letters and rare diaries he managed to find, he found out that his ancestor 'was marvelled at, feared, and finally shunned like a plague'.

You already know where Charles Dexter Ward would end up, but his path from a solitary young antiquarian to the changed man the doctor left in that hospital room is a remarkable story. Considering that Dr. Willett is the one who brought him into this world, the ending is extraordinary and the doctor one of my favourite characters I've read. ( )
  Irena. | Nov 3, 2015 |
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is the latest magisterial Lovecraftian publication from the University of Tampa Press. What connection could a Florida university have with a staunch Rhode Islander like HPL? Interestingly, RH Barlow of De Land, FL was a correspondent and friend of HPL who served as his literary executor. UT Press has made a small industry of publishing Lovecraftiana, including A Comprehensive Bibliography and Oh, Fortunate Floridian (the letters of HPL to RH Barlow). A major player in these publications has been ST Joshi, the eminent Lovecraft scholar, who edits these books. As you might guess, the content has been more of interest to readers fascinated with HPL’s life, with scholars and with collectors, rather than to general readers. Well, it is a university press!

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is their latest foray into Lovecraftian publishing. TCOCDW was written very quickly in 1927 and HPL never really made efforts to have it published during his lifetime. There are several reasons why it now merits an urgent recommendation. The production is simply wonderful. I have the hardcover and it is simply a beautiful book to behold. The editing is by ST Joshi and we may safely consider this to be a definitive edition, superseding all others. There are copious notes on the text by Mr. Joshi which do a wonderful job of keeping everything in its proper context. You can read the novel through but it helped me immensely to stop and refer to the notes. We then have a marvelous afterward by Mr. Joshi. Not only is it very scholarly but it is also quite readable, as interesting it its own right as the text itself. Finally we have the crowning glory of the book, a series of photographs of buildings from Lovecraft’s Providence by Donovan K. Loucks. For those of us not lucky enough to have trod the streets of Providence in the footsteps of HPL and Poe, these add immeasurably to the reading experience. I cannot imagine a better way to experience The Case of Charles Dexter Ward; anyone who is a serious Lovecraftian simply must have a copy.

Now of course I could wish for one more thing and that would have been a street map of Providence with these locations marked out, and perhaps a map of greater Providence with neighboring towns indicated. Well I looked them up online myself and I guess I can’t be too greedy.

The fly in the ointment of course, is HPL’s text itself, which even he did not have high regard for. For idle dabblers and or those new to Lovecraft, TCOCDW is not the place to start. I remember reading a version of the text at age 14 and it did not leave any sort of favorable impression, what with all the references to colonial Rhode Island that made no sense to me then. I got lost in a salad of words and names. Even today I find it almost to be a caricature of HPL’s writing. It can be viewed as a stepping stone on his way to his greater masterpieces, a sort of farewell to supernatural fiction and a turning towards science fiction. I read it as a personal love letter from HPL to Providence with a horror story thrown in.

At the very least, the paperback is none too expensive and The University of Tampa Press has given us a model of how all of HPL’s works should be presented. I can only hope for more wonders from this source. ( )
4 vote carpentermt | Jan 17, 2011 |
This is my favorite Lovecraft story. I like the slow, careful build-up, the prose and the sense of creeping horror. And I liked the fact that in this story, at least, the good guys (using the word guy loosely) won.
  xenchu | Apr 23, 2010 |
That's definitely the creepiest of the creepiest stories of all time! Here Lovecraft used all his talent to freak all his readers with a diabolic scheme filled with a frightful environment full of madness! Here the main character has discovered through Joseph Curwen's manuscripts (An ancient resident involved with macabre subjects) some obscurities of the underworld. The more he gets involved with those things, the more he changes in a queer and sinister way. All the facts about the terrible deeds of Mr. Curwen and Charles’s insane behavior are described step by step by a third person (Charles's doctor, Mr. Willett).

Lovecraft doesn't used to write long stories, but he made it perfectly. I grant this as a masterpiece and it’s the best of his works I ever read! ( )
  lsepulveda | Mar 31, 2010 |
This was the second Lovecraft story I read, after At the Mountains of Madness, so at the time I knew next to nothing about Lovecraft's mythos and other writings. (That didn't last long, though.) Now with two volumes of his work under my belt, this is still the story that has stuck with me the most. It takes a while to get into, and the old-fashioned, stuffy prose doesn't help the slow start, but once things start picking up with terrible revelations and horrible implications, there's no putting it down. I find it fascinating how Lovecraft is able to pull off such a terrifying story with no gratuitous visuals. Everything is implied rather than shown directly. When describing a monster, in this story at least, Lovecraft doesn't go into actual physical descriptions, but instead simply describes how terrifying in appearance the creature is. And the genius of it is, it works. The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is easily the masterpiece of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. ( )
1 vote saltmanz | Jan 6, 2009 |
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» Add other authors (62 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lovecraft, H.P.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Blommestein, Bob vanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miller, IanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Niessen-Hossele, J.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whelan, MichaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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From a private hospital for the insane near Providence, Rhode Island, there recently disappeared an exceedingly singular person.
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Fine blueish-grey dust!


Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345354907, Mass Market Paperback)

Incantations of black magic unearthed unspeakable horrors in a quiet town near Providence, Rhode Island. Evil spirits are being resurrected from beyond the grave, a supernatural force so twisted that it kills without offering the mercy of death!

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:43 -0400)

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