The Outsider is one of those Lovecraft stories where the title doesn’t ring a bell, but the plot does; then I read Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe and realised I was getting the two mixed up. Or was I? They are very similar indeed, although for some reason, Lovecraft’s version is the one I seem to remember better.
The central character is unnamed, and the story starts with him recounting his life so far in a crumbling, ancient castle where everything is dark, damp and covered in lichen. Actually, it sounds a bit like my shed, but I digress. Our Leading Man has never spoken, either to himself or anyone else, and has no companions of any kind. Being lonely, he decides to escape his surroundings and seek company, which he does when he stumbles onto a ball being held in a nearby castle. Unfortunately, something about him causes everyone to scream loudly and run away, which puzzles Our Leading Man until he sees himself in a mirror.
You can probably work the plot out from that little précis alone but as a piece of descriptive writing, it’s wonderfully Gothic. All the classic Gothic tropes are there; darkness, ruin, isolation, horror and a hint of the supernatural. Lovecraft admitted it was his homage to Poe, so it’s very possible that the similarity to Masque of the Red Death is deliberate – but the difference is that we are never told who Our Leading Man actually is in Lovecraft’s tale. We can speculate and assume as much as we like, but we are never told, and I think this is really quite charming. I shall have to dig out my volumes of Poe again and do a proper Compare and Contrast between the two stories. I think I shall find it enlightening. I will certainly find it enjoyable.