Herbert describes the ghost in the house as one who looks into shelves and drawers that no longer exist. Like the ghost, Arthur is someone searching for a past that no longer exists. When he returns to his own home physically transformed by the spirit of Sabathier after his sojourn in the Widderstone churchyard, he discovers that the domestic values that have kept his household and marriage together for seventeen years are a fragile illusion that become strained and eventually broken.
Inevitably, Arthur comes to realize that the spirit of Sabathier, which, though out of place in the modern age, hungers for life as he himself hungered for life while a young man. Sabathier haunts Arthur much the way the ghost haunts the Herbert residence, and both represent incarnations of the past trying to reassert themselves.
The Herbert residence is imbued with a strong sense of the past. It seems much older than the nearby Widderstone churchyard, arising from its surroundings like a natural part of the landscape, and it is filled with antiquarian books on all manner of subjects. Herbert is a scholarly man knowledgeable about history, including the history of Sabathier. Grisel offers Arthur a type of consolation that he compares to the love his mother showed him as a child. It is no wonder that Arthur comes to a sense of the man he once was during his stay there.
Widderstone. Centuries-old churchyard, a short walk from the Lawford residence. Its unconsecrated ground is the site of Nicholas Sabathier’s grave, where Arthur Lawford’s possession occurs. Though the vicar of the parish describes it as a beautiful spot, Lawford’s family and friends consider it an improper place for Arthur to take a walk; they view his decline following his experience in the churchyard as his just deserts for this transgression. Arthur’s attraction to the site is solid evidence of his difference from those around him.
Lawford home. Comfortable middle-class home in suburban England. Arthur Lawford, his wife Sheila, and his daughter Alice have lived unremarkable lives in the house until Arthur’s takeover by the spirit of Sabathier, after which Arthur feels himself an intruder and an outsider. The house represents a past from which Arthur becomes an outcast, never to return. Eventually, he refers to it as a “great barn of faded interests.”