On J. Sheridan LeFanu's Green Tea

This article contains spoilers regarding Green Tea. If you do not wish to know how this story progresses and ends, please stop reading.

In J. Sheridan LeFanu's Green Tea (1871) we learn the story of the Rev. Mr. Jennings, through the letters of Dr. Hesselius.

As Jennings accounts to him, he became afflicted by a peculiar malady. It happened one day, having began a work "upon the religious metaphysics of the ancients," which was "not good for" "the Christian mind." Having gone far out of the way to read a collection of particular volumes, he finds himself in an omnibus late at night. After the last passengers, but himself, got out when they "had reached an old house [...], with four poplars at each side of the door."

Shortly thereafter, his mind having gone back to the texts, he sees something. "I had observed in the corner opposite to me at the other side, and at the end next to the horses, two small circular reflections, as it seemed to me of a reddish light. They were about two inches apart, and about the size of those small brass buttons that yachting men used to put upon their jackets."

He goes about thinking on what these objects could be. "I had not solved the puzzle, and it became in another minute more odd, for these two luminous points, with a sudden jerk, descended nearer and neared the floor, keeping still their relative distance and horizontal position, and then, as suddenly, they rose to the seat on which I was sitting and I saw them no more. My curiousity was now really excited, and, before I had time to think, I saw again these two dull lamps, again together near the floor; again they disappeared, and again in their old corner I saw them."

He works his way towards the end the lights came from. Being dark, he moves his head towards the lights. "They shifted position a little as I did so. I began now to perceive an outline of something black, and I soon saw, with tolerable distinctness, the outline of a small black monkey, pushing its face forward in mimicry to meet mine; those were its eyes, and I now dimly saw its teeth grinning at me."

Jennings brings his umbrella up, but it passes through the monkey. Horrified, rightly so, he gets out of the omnibus early, but finds that the monkey follows him home. At first it followed him around, but later it moved to more extremes, blocking his view of things, and finally even telling him to do things. He was with brief times of peace, however, as the monkey would sometimes become very agitated, and leave. However, as the monkey would come back, the peace was short-lived.

Skipping ahead further, Dr. Hesselius is confided in, and he promises to help, when the monkey next arrives. However, the doctor is away when Jennings is next visited, and he kills himself. We then find a scientific explanation to Jennings' case, and how the doctor would have been able to solve it, if Jennings' "hereditary suicidal mania" had not been his end.

LeFanu had the workings of a great horror story, or strange tale. Unfortunately, in my opinion, his scientific explanation, when we were expecting something much more spiritual, is it's downfall.

While I cannot find it in H.P. Lovecraft's Supernatural Horror in Literature at the moment, I believe it was he who was most against such an abrupt, natural, explanation for the events. Dr. Hesselius believes that it was Jennings' drinking of green tea that changed his chemistry, and could be reversed.

While this is certainly horrific in itself, it would be far more so if his studies were the cause of the monkey. Then, instead of Jennings' suicide before Hesselius arrived, it could be during. Turning away from Jennings' now dead body, the doctor could be ready to shout for help, when he sees the small black monkey near the dead man's body, looking up at the doctor. By attempting to help Jennings, he is now afflicted with the same curse.

Instead of something supernatural and horrifying, our fears are somewhat allayed by this explanation. In my opinion, a truly unfortunate turn. Leading up to the conclusion, however, is a powerful story, on par with LeFanu's Uncle Silas.

The edition used here was Green Tea and Other Strange Tales.