The Temptation of Harringay by H. G. Wells
The Temptation of Harringay is a short story by Herbert George Wells published for the first time in the St. James Gazette and later in the collection The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents. We’ve been able to read it thanks to what you’ll certainly have guessed is one of our favourite publishers: ABEditore and their Micromondi collection.
The Temptation of Harringay – Plot
The painter known as Harringay picks up an Italian accordion player from the street to make a painting of him. However, as he gets to painting, he keeps making more and more touch-ups to his work. The portrait, then, starts taking on a more and more unsettling look until it finally starts speaking.
What are you willing to do to create a masterpiece? To what lengths would the dissatisfaction toward your own art push you to go? If the devil himself were to one day show themself to you with the offer to solve all of your worries, would you take that offer?
It’s a traditional theme and yet the way it is approached is anything but. Harringay’s desire remains mostly unsaid, to the point that he talks to himself more than he does with an actual partner. If the devil does show themself, they do so of their own volition after hearing those words blown to the wind. And the devil, everyone knows, is an excellent haggler and knows exactly which chord to strike and how to twist the knife in just the right place, if it be necessary. And yet our protagonist does harbour some doubts, which is why a true battle begins, a battle fought with paintbrushes and rhetoric.
The story is brief, but it definitely does not bore. On the contrary, the way the two, straining toward opposite interests, try to make their reasons heard is quite entertaining. The portrait becomes a vessel that allows for the conversation to take place.
Why does the devil choose Harringay to advance his offer? That remains a mystery. Neither the character nor the author gives the reader an explanation.
The devil in art
From Tartini to Paganini, from Faust to Dorian Gray passing through the painter Christoph Haizmann (who was even studied by Freud himself), the theme of the contract with the devil is neither new nor rare in art. Be it fictional characters or real people, there are many legends around all those who have supposedly made such a contract. After all, it is quite evident that the devil himself seems to be attracted by artists and poets and all those who seek a higher state of knowledge. It’s no coincidence that the apple of original sin itself comes from the tree of knowledge.
The cliché of the cursed artist, in any case, isn’t one to underestimate. Many great artists, especially those who deal with and portray darker themes, are often associated with this idea and is that not also an element that contributes to increasing their fame? The devil often represents the taste for what’s forbidden, a kind of sublimation that is the opposite of the canonical one.
Indeed it is a complex subject. If we were to truly analyse this figure in the iconography world we would be talking for hours, if not days. And yet again we could be saying that it is not an accident that very often the devil makes himself seen in the works of painters, writers, and he’s not even a stranger to music. But that’s another topic that we’ll certainly take the time to expand on eventually.