“The Spider” is a chilling mystery novella by Hanns Heinz Ewers, published in 1915. The story is set in Paris, in the small Hotel Stevens on Rue Alfred Stevens. The narrative centers on a peculiar series of suicides that occur in room #7 of the hotel, drawing the attention of a medical student named Richard Bracquemont. Ewers, known for his horror fiction, crafts a tale filled with suspense and psychological intrigue, exploring themes of obsession, fear, and the supernatural.

Comprehensive Plot Summary

When the student of medicine, Richard Bracquemont, decided to move into room #7 of the small Hotel Stevens on Rue Alfred Stevens in Paris, three persons had already hanged themselves from the cross-bar of the window in that room on three successive Fridays. The first was a Swiss traveling salesman, found hanging from the window’s cross-bar with the curtain cord. He had been a man of a continually happy disposition, with a secure place in life, and his suicide baffled everyone as he left no note or indication of his intentions.

The second case involved Karl Krause, an artist and high-wire cyclist at the nearby Medrano Circus. He was found hanging in the same manner as the Swiss salesman. Krause was popular, earned a high salary, and appeared to enjoy life fully. His death, like the first, left no clues or explanations, adding to the mystery surrounding room #7.

Madame Dubonnet, the owner of the small, cheap guesthouse, was deeply troubled by these deaths. Her clientele, mostly employees of a nearby Montmartre vaudeville theater, began to move out, fearing the room’s sinister reputation. In desperation, she sought help from her friend, the inspector of police of the ninth precinct. The inspector, eager to assist, placed a police officer in the room to investigate.

This officer, Charles-Maria Chaumié, volunteered for the task. An experienced marine sergeant, Chaumié seemed ideal for the job. He reported nothing unusual for the first few days. However, on Wednesday, he hinted at a clue but asked for more time to confirm its relevance. By Thursday, his behavior became uncertain, and on Friday morning, he spoke of a strangely attractive power the window seemed to possess. That evening, Chaumié was found hanging from the same cross-bar, under identical circumstances.

Chaumié’s death, the third in as many weeks, led to the hotel’s near-desertion. All guests, except a German high-school teacher in room #16, moved out. The teacher negotiated a reduced rent, taking advantage of the situation. The peculiar deaths even caught the attention of Mary Garden, a famous Opéra Comique singer, who bought the red curtain cord, believing it would bring her luck. Despite the sensational nature of the events, they garnered little media attention due to other significant occurrences worldwide.

Richard Bracquemont knew only the official reports of these incidents. Unbeknownst to him, a large black spider had crawled from Chaumié’s mouth when his body was removed, a detail the police omitted from their reports. More than two weeks after the last suicide, Bracquemont moved into room #7 on a Sunday. Determined to solve the mystery, he began documenting his experiences in a journal.

On Monday, February 28, Bracquemont settled into the room. His hostess, Madame Dubonnet, brought him a lavish breakfast, displaying her concern. He unpacked and prepared for his stay, aware of the potential danger but driven by curiosity and ambition. Bracquemont’s bluff about having a plan had secured him the room, and he intended to make the most of his opportunity.

The first few days passed uneventfully. Bracquemont observed his surroundings, noting nothing unusual. However, his attention was soon captured by a woman living across the street, whom he named Clarimonda. She spent her days spinning thread on an old-fashioned spindle, her presence and actions mesmerizing him. Their silent communication through gestures and smiles became a daily routine, deepening Bracquemont’s obsession.

On Wednesday, March 9, Bracquemont admitted in his journal that Clarimonda was the reason he stayed. Her delicate hands, pale face, and black attire fascinated him. Despite his growing infatuation, he felt a mix of fear and excitement, sensing an ominous undercurrent in their interaction. By Friday, March 18, the day of the week when the previous suicides occurred, Bracquemont’s anxiety peaked. He felt an overwhelming compulsion to go to the window and resume the silent game with Clarimonda.

As the clock approached six, Bracquemont experienced a powerful urge to follow Clarimonda’s actions. He watched as she tied a noose with a red curtain cord and hung it from the cross-bar. Despite his fear, he felt irresistibly drawn to imitate her. He cut the cord of his telephone, isolating himself from any help. His journal entries became frantic as he struggled against the compulsion, but ultimately, he succumbed. Bracquemont tied the noose and hanged himself.

The inspector, after repeated attempts to contact Bracquemont, arrived at the hotel at 6:05 PM. He found Bracquemont’s body hanging from the cross-bar, his face contorted in terror, with a large black spider, marked with purple spots, crushed between his teeth. Reading Bracquemont’s journal, the inspector realized the depth of the student’s obsession and the supernatural influence at play.

Determined to uncover the truth, the inspector investigated the building across the street. He discovered that the second floor, where Clarimonda supposedly lived, had been vacant for months. The realization that Bracquemont had been interacting with an apparition added a chilling layer to the mystery. The inspector was left to ponder the sinister force that had claimed the lives of four individuals, its true nature remaining an enigma.

The tragic fate of Richard Bracquemont and the unanswered questions surrounding room #7 at the Hotel Stevens left a haunting legacy. The eerie sequence of events and the supernatural elements involved in the deaths underscored the profound and inexplicable nature of the horror that had unfolded, a mystery destined to remain unsolved

Main Characters

  • Richard Bracquemont: A medical student driven by curiosity and a desire to solve the mystery of the suicides. His journey from a rational investigator to a victim of his own obsessions forms the core of the narrative.
  • Clarimonda: A mysterious woman living in the building across the street, who captivates Bracquemont with her presence. Her silent interactions with him play a crucial role in his downfall.
  • Charles-Maria Chaumié: A police officer who also fell victim to the mysterious forces in room #7, despite his experience and vigilance.
  • Madame Dubonnet: The owner of the Hotel Stevens, who is deeply troubled by the suicides and the negative impact on her business.

Themes and Motifs

  • Obsession: Bracquemont’s growing obsession with Clarimonda leads him to a path of self-destruction, highlighting the dangers of unchecked desires.
  • Supernatural Influence: The unexplained suicides and the mysterious power that seems to compel the victims point to a supernatural force at play, creating a sense of eerie inevitability.
  • Isolation: The physical and psychological isolation of Bracquemont, exacerbated by his cut telephone cord, underscores the helplessness and vulnerability of the characters.
  • Fear and Terror: The story delves deeply into the psychology of fear, showing how it can paralyze and ultimately destroy individuals.

Writing Style and Tone

Ewers employs a gothic, suspenseful tone throughout “The Spider,” drawing readers into the dark and claustrophobic world of room #7. His writing is marked by vivid descriptions and a meticulous build-up of tension. The use of a journal format for Bracquemont’s account adds a personal and immediate feel to the narrative, making his descent into obsession and madness all the more gripping. Ewers’ style blends psychological horror with supernatural elements, creating a haunting and immersive experience that lingers with the reader long after the story ends.

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