This story had the potential to be a masterpiece. The pacing, the cascade of hints that gradually snap into focus, and most of all, a character that really does come across as the “very apotheosis of hatred”– wow! As I was reading it I wanted to compare it to Edgar Allan Poe, even. Then I got to the end and the spell was shattered.
I don’t know what it is with Francis Stevens, but she is downright stingy with her payoffs. The Philosopher’s Stone from “The Nightmare” had the potential to “upset the financial systems of the entire world.” At the end, though, it turned out be good for only about a million rubles. The Citadel of Fear introduces a mythical city that has “a lumber-room– for gold!” It was loaded with all kinds of solid gold urns, vases, chests, and furniture. At the end, though, it turns out that the gold on these relics is nothing more than a “thin coat laid over solid-copper.”
Here in “Behind the Curtain”, the diabolical plot we are shown turns out to be nothing but a dream. This is precisely the sort of anticlimax that Lovecraft warned against. If he had written it, there would be some sort of kicker that only comes clear in the final paragraphs– something that would make you think that this horrible person is ten times worse than you initially thought. In contrast, Francis Stevens not only has a penchant to leave no mystery unexplained, she leaves the reader puzzling over just how a guy whose subconscious is brimming over with viciousness can blithely decide he’s fine with his wife sleeping around on him.
Just like incomprehensibly vast treasures in reality turn out to be nothing special, the “apotheosis of hate” here is little more than a putz. Whatever horror and wonder and suspense were conveyed is, in the end, fairly well defused. That’s maybe a legitimate way to write a story, I guess… but Lovecraft’s way is better.