This story is set in a 1920s that never was (the story was written in the 1890s), and is a tale told from the point of view of Hildred Castaigne who, with the help of the 'Repairer of Reputations', Mr. Wilde, seeks to be claimed as The Last King of The Imperial Dynasty of America, and that his cousin Louis Castaigne stands in his way. The story reveals, over time, that Hildred has both read The King in Yellow and suffered a nasty fall from his horse, both of which are, it is suggested, in part way responsible for his delusions of grandeur and his attempts to ensure his ascension to the throne
Mr. Wilde shows Hildred that one can make a living as a "Repairer of Reputations" and has already employed many, especially in the newspapers to repair the reputations of those who have come to Mr. Wilde. After already amassing a small army under his employ and the rich and powerful in his pocket, he tells Hildred it is now time to confront Louis about giving up the throne to him. Louis is also falling in love with Constance Hawberk, daughter of an armorer (believed to be the Marquis of Avonshire) whose storefront is underneath Mr. Wilde.
Mr. Wilde finds a man named Vance, who sought to have his reputation repaired on account of embezzlement. Wilde and Hildred school him on the history of the Imperial Dynasty of America and the King in Yellow, and commission him to execute Constance (at this point, it is stated that Hildred is suppose to have already murdered his doctor) and that night Hildred confronts Louis and makes him read the Imperial Dynasty of America, and makes him concede the throne to Hildred. Louis agrees, just to entertain Hildred who gets offended and pulls a knife, underlining the point that Constance is dead just as his Doctor Archer is and threatens to kill him if he marries anyone else. Hildred hurries back to Mr. Wilde, on the way seeing Vance run into the lethal chamber, ensuring his writ of execution has been carried out. He storms up the steps to Mr. Wilde, killing his cat along the way only to find Mr. Wilde on the floor, throat torn open. Hildred is carried out of the apartment kicking and screaming, seeing a very disturbed Louis and Constance as he's carried out.
Fate of Hildred Castaigne
An editor's note at the end of the story tells us: "Mr. Castaigne died yesterday in the Asylum for Criminal Insane."
Hildred is an unreliable narrator. Much of what he describes is indicated to be inaccurate, a product of his madness, although the extent of his delusion is unclear. It may be that what he says is essentially correct, or he may be hallucinating wildly (especially as the 1920s he describes are nothing like what really came to pass); he could even still be in the 1890s and creating a fantasy world set in the future. However, it is equally plausible that his view of the world is accurate and that his cousin and Doctor Archer are attempting to con him. The truth of the matter is for the reader to ponder.
The Repairer of Reputations is, in many ways, the beginning of the King In Yellow cycle, a cycle that continues to expand. Whilst there were stories that may have inspired the collection of short stories, this one is the one that first grants us our first hints of the play, and of the mysterious figure of the King In Yellow. It is interesting, therefore, that it plays down a lot of the supernatural elements that have appeared since. There is suggestion of an Imperial Dynasty that harkens to the mystical figures in the play, but more than anything the story is a story of madness and delusion, rather than one of terror. It's also speculative fiction, inventing a future timeline for those who read the stories when Chambers wrote them, before the 20th century had begun. Potentially this is a future that Chambers imagined might have arisen from the publication of the play, which means the whole Chambers timeline is a very different (and potentially more fantastic) timeline than the one Lovecraft creates, and into which Derleth extrapolates the meaning of Hastur.
Not only does this rather more mundane, if imagined, world present a unique setting amongst the more terrifying alternatives amongst the collected Mythos, it also creates a point of divergence for any stories that reference it. Does the story take place in Chambers' imagined timeline, with its suicide booths, large parks and wide streets, in some strangely familiar but alien America? Or are these the details left to us by a madman, nothing more than delusion?
Stories that touch on The Repairer of Reputations include:
- The River Of Night's Dreaming - wherein a Doctor Archer discovers a copy of the play that apparently belonged to a Constance Castaigne
- The Repairer of Reputations (Trail of Cthulhu) - a scenario set entirely in the alternative vision of New York.
- In The Unmasking, Hildred Castaigne is named as having completed (or intended to complete) the previously unfinished play.
- Hildred Castaigne is also the name of the patient in Dreams Of The Yellow King (who may or may not be the same character as the protagonist in this story).
- The title of the poem My Reputation Repaired references the story whilst incorporating elements such as Suicide Chambers and the Imperial Dynasty of America.