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Brander Matthews (1852–1929).  The Short-Story.  1907.

By Fitz-James O’Brien  (1828–1862)

Notes to What Was It? A Mystery

THIS brilliant Irish-American was killed in the Civil War before he was thirty-five. He left a group of striking tales, akin to those of Poe, by whom he had been chiefly influenced; and yet he had originality of his own and abundant invention. He lacked the swiftness, the directness, and the certainty of his master; and the short-story here selected has a compactness not always found in his other efforts. It was written in 1859; and it seems to have suggested to Guy de Maupassant his even more powerful “Le Horla.” To adjust O’Brien’s narrative to the plan of this volume a few omissions have been made.
The originality of the invention is most evident, and there is a realism in the story-form which is more than mere similitude. The matter-of-fact telling of the tale recalls De Foe, while the theme itself suggests Poe. But Poe would never have condescended to the prosaic plaster cast at the end.