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Obsession in the King in Yellow –

Obsession in the King in Yellow

Thursday , 4, May 2023 2 Comments

This is is a guest post by Matthew Pungitore:

Obsession in The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers; a Sentiment, or Review

By Matthew Pungitore


Benvenuti, signore e signori, my ladies and gentlemen! I am Matthew Pungitore, and in this article, I’ll be briefly discussing, con amore, my personal opinions on the theme of obsession (or the similarities between obsession, lovesickness, illness, and art?), in Robert W. Chambers’ illustrious coup de maître: The King in Yellow. Mostly, this informal review is based on the general impressions I get from reading the full work as well as from the atmosphere its stories, as a gestalt, give off like gold-glittering smoke wafting up from yawning Acheronian chasms. In this, Chambers’ collection, obsession is a protean Chimera taking many forms, creating various offspring, and leaving transformative, psychic, or strange remnants (e.g., convalescence, ambition, admiration, adoration, jealousy, sorrow, impulsiveness, phobia, aversion, neurosis, anger, stalking, guilt, lovesickness, romance, or delusion); woe usually follows or is caused by those who are afflicted by the illness of obsession, of desire, of enchantment—a disease spread by battle, places, beauty, artworks, music, precious objects, or precious people; and sometimes two different types of love will suffer or clash against one another, as in a war, such as love for power versus romantic love, or romantic rivalries. Obsession, like vengeance, is another one of love’s many aspects, and to my eye, love and its maladies, whether love perverse or in ruins, forsooth are—O grim Love!—at the heart of this book.    

The Review

In The King in Yellow, many events or details within its stories could be seen as metaphors or symbols for lovesickness and for wanting love, meaning, or order in a world that has none to offer. In the work, there are also, what I would consider to be, designs of romance betwixt people, unrequited love, love for art and/or artworks (in any of their forms), love for beauty, love for an ideal, and love (or lust) for the unattainable or mayhap the taboo; furthermore, the stories show love when it is threatened, lost, or when it turns into obsession or to the chasing of phantoms—i.e., aesthetics, the past, the dead, power, and idées fixes. There are characters who are more as dogged demons, meant to break, trap, or threaten the heart, the soul, or love, respectively; in addition, there are characters in the work who, to me, symbolize love’s outcasts, or victims (like puppets, Harlequin-fools, and Pierrot-clowns), and these outsiders, usually romantics, are terrorized by poverty, war, guilt, despair, loss, rejection, betrayal, or melancholy.

Certainly, obsession is the unifying theme throughout the book, in my eye; moreover, like the book’s other themes of melancholy, loss, misery, and madness, the plot is surrounded by haunting tones of romance, artistry, allure, and absurdity. Life is absurd, and the Sisyphean is ever present here. The King in Yellow reflects that desolation brought to those touched by desire or vain fixation; each story within this work demonstrates vanity’s and obsession’s powers, as well as how our obsessions, like art and love, have the ability to spread, to liberate or make us prey, to sicken us and everything and everyone around, or they can condemn us to perdition.

Regardless, there is an absolute concord with symbols, artifice, and the beautiful in this book; beyond its weird-fiction characteristics of warnings, unease, and madness, farther than its fear of Aestheticism, Decadence, and the weird, The King in Yellow nevertheless possesses a passionate fixation for the Aesthetic and the weird; simultaneously, the Decadent mood dances athwart its pages like boisterous demimonde bohemians in a pallid mist of commedia dell’arte ghosts.


Despite some of the book’s stories flaunting faint glisters of hope, or at least delight amidst rising upheaval and turmoil, much like chaos in a dying heart, and this is purely my personal interpretation, but upon reaching the end of The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers, I couldn’t help but feel as if I had been reading, with each story, a phantasmagoric representation of the jaundiced melancholy tasted, like a mouth flush with blood, when one is beaten by the pitiless tricks of the Fates and wounded by Cupid’s bitter bow, tossed down to a Tarpeian doom, pushed into an insane world; such a state of depression is like being abandoned to helplessly wander—reminiscent of Psyche’s accursed wandering (as in The Golden Ass by Apuleius). The King in Yellow portrays obsession in many forms and with various disguises, yet it couples obsession, including passion of any kind, whether a story’s outcome looks optimistic or not, with darkness and enigma. Megalomania, madness, guilt, decadence, disrepute, a jilt, an unrequited love, lost innocence, lost love, ill Love: all and/or any of these could be Chambers’ titular king.


Lo, for man, when by Love pursued, likewise is by Ate shadowed. Ahimè, che inferno! Be it a twofold assault, a mortal’s passion, since on our wight hearts receiving red injuries from Eros’ incensing arrows, are not our mortal hides, at that very instant, smitten livid withal by the noxious wheel of Nemesis? Oh, what vitriol green she is of yellow ruin!

Matthew Pungitore is the author of The Report of Mr. Charles Aalmers and other storiesFiendilkfjeld Castle, and Midnight’s Eternal Prisoner: Waiting For The Summer. Matthew has written essays, reviews, articles, and more for the DMR Books blog. He has written articles that have appeared on the Aureus Press blog and the Castalia House blog. Matthew is the author of the article “The Peacock, the Flower, and the Hermit” (IronAge Media blog). He has also interviewed Alex of Cirsova Magazine (the interview appeared on the Castalia House blog). His story “To a Dead Soul in Morbid Love” will appear in Cirsova, Fall 2023!

  • bruce purcell says:

    I was surprised to see ‘I was glad she had become ‘fly’ when I read it. No idea ‘fly girl’ meant ‘tough chippie’ in 1910.

    • Interesting indeed.

      Were there any other words in Chambers’s book The King in Yellow that intrigued you? His verbiage is dense and fantastic, which sometimes affects a surfeit of obscurity.

      Thank you for reading my article, Bruce!

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