|“||All animals markedly disliked her, and she could make any dog howl by certain motions of her right hand.||„|
|~ Daniel Upton|
She was born in 1905 to Ephraim Waite and an unnamed mother who "always went veiled." A native of Innsmouth, Asenath's home was generally avoided due to the boarded attic windows and "strange sounds sometimes floated from within as evening drew on."
After the "death" of her father, Ephraim, Asenath attended the all-girls school, Hall School, in Kingsport. She later enrolled in Miskatonic University - becoming the only known female student to attend the institution - where she studied medieval metaphysics. It is at university, during a gathering in the student rooms, where she met Edward Pickman Derby, who became almost instantaneously infatuated with her. They soon married and purchased a house in Arkham, Asenath brought with her three unpleasant servants from her home in Innsmouth and a hoard of ancient tomes and books.
Years pass, and it is noted that Asenath ages incredibly, producing "premature crow's feet". Less and less is seen of both Asenath and her husband throughout this time. Edward tells of strange stories about Asenath and her father:
|“||I was there, where she promised she wouldn’t take me... A minute before I was locked in the library, and then I was there where she had gone with my body—in the place of utter blasphemy, the unholy pit where the black realm begins and the watcher guards the gate... I saw a shoggoth—it changed shape... I can’t stand it... I won’t stand it... I’ll kill her if she ever sends me there again... I’ll kill that entity... her, him, it... I’ll kill it! I’ll kill it with my own hands!||„|
|~ Edward Pickman Derby|
It is during their marriage that Asenath attempts to exploit her husband's weak will by "exchanging personality". After apparent months of mental abuse at the hands of Asenath, Edward finishes their relationship after but a few years of marriage. Edward dismisses her servants and burns most of her books, including her copy of the Necronomicon.
Asenath is eventually "killed" by her husband after he "smashed her head in" with a candlestick. However, Asenath's presence still lingers, even after Edward buries her body beneath a mound of boxes in the cellar, and Asenath eventually succeeds in "exchanging" with her husband - transferring her spiritual essence into his body, and vice versa. However, her husband was admitted to the Arkham Sanitarium and thus, Asenath was confined to a cell there. She manages to persuade those at the Sanitarium that Edward's "reason has suddenly come back," however, she is unsuccessful in persuading his best friend, Daniel Upton - who sees that it is not Edward's true personality.
Edward - now inhabiting Asenath's putrefying corpse - manages to deliver a letter to Daniel that reads:
|“||Dan—go to the sanitarium and kill it. Exterminate it. It isn’t Edward Derby any more. She got me—it’s Asenath—and she has been dead three months and a half. I lied when I said she had gone away. I killed her. I had to. It was sudden, but we were alone and I was in my right body. I saw a candlestick and smashed her head in. She would have got me for good at Hallowmass.
I buried her in the farther cellar storeroom under some old boxes and cleaned up all the traces. The servants suspected next morning, but they have such secrets that they dare not tell the police. I sent them off, but God knows what they—and others of the cult—will do.
I thought for a while I was all right, and then I felt the tugging at my brain. I knew what it was—I ought to have remembered. A soul like hers—or Ephraim’s—is half detached, and keeps right on after death as long as the body lasts. She was getting me—making me change bodies with her—seizing my body and putting me in that corpse of hers buried in the cellar.
I knew what was coming—that’s why I snapped and had to go to the asylum. Then it came—I found myself choked in the dark—in Asenath’s rotting carcass down there in the cellar under the boxes where I put it. And I knew she must be in my body at the sanitarium—permanently, for it was after Hallowmass, and the sacrifice would work even without her being there—sane, and ready for release as a menace to the world. I was desperate, and in spite of everything I clawed my way out.
I’m too far gone to talk—I couldn’t manage to telephone—but I can still write. I’ll get fixed up somehow and bring you this last word and warning. Kill that fiend if you value the peace and comfort of the world. See that it is cremated. If you don’t, it will live on and on, body to body forever, and I can’t tell you what it will do. Keep clear of black magic, Dan, it’s the devil’s business. Goodbye—you’ve been a great friend. Tell the police whatever they’ll believe—and I’m damnably sorry to drag all this on you. I’ll be at peace before long—this thing won’t hold together much more. Hope you can read this. And kill that thing—kill it.
At his friend's request, Daniel Upton went to the Arkham Sanitarium and shot Edward Pickman Derby - effectively killing Asenath and cremating the remains.
According to one account, she is the alter ego of Elspeth Waide created by Howard Phillips Lovecraft based on Robert Black's Commonplace Book. Elspeth is the daughter of Edgar Waide, and they were both possessed by an older ancestor whose first stolen body was Mathilde Roulet, presumably making this entity her husband Etienne Roulet. (EXP: Providence)
Asenath is "dark, smallish, and very good-looking except for her overprotuberant eyes".
Lovecraft also writes of her remarkable abilities, posing as a magician of sorts in school. Asenath is able to conjure thunderstorms - though this is seldom believed by others, who usually laid it to an uncanny knack at prediction. Asenath is also detested by animals, being able to " make any dog howl by certain motions of her right hand." Additionally, she is renown around Miskatonic University for being a hypnotist of sorts,
|“||By gazing peculiarly at a fellow-student she would often give the latter a distinct feeling of exchanged personality—as if the subject were placed momentarily in the magician’s body and able to stare half across the room at her real body, whose eyes blazed and protruded with an alien expression.||„|
Asenath Waite is one of only few prominent female characters within Lovecraft's stories (Lavinia Whateley being another central character featured in Lovecraft's writings).
However, the general consensus is that throughout the short story, Asenath is really Ephraim who is possessing her body. It is stated that: "Her crowning rage, however, was that she was not a man; since she believed a male brain had certain unique and far-reaching cosmic powers," suggesting that Ephraim is enraged by the fact he is confined to his daughter's body - which gives reason for her predatory conduct towards her husband, Edward Pickman Derby.
It is later mentioned in the story about Ephraim's disgust in being trapped within a female body:
|“||She wanted to be a man - to be fully human - that was why she got hold of him. She had sensed the mixture of fine-wrought brain and weak will in him. Some day she would crowd him out and disappear with his body - disappear to become a great magician like her father and leave him marooned in that female shell that wasn’t even quite human. Yes, he knew about the Innsmouth blood now. There had been traffick with things from the sea - it was horrible… And old Ephraim - he had known the secret, and when he grew old did a hideous thing to keep alive - he wanted to live forever - Asenath would succeed - one successful demonstration had taken place already.||„|
Peter Cannon writes that The Thing on the Doorstep is "the only Lovecraft story with a strong or important female character," however this is contradicted by the tale's "gender-swapping situation."
Behind the Mythos
- The name "Asenath" originates from The Bible, Asenath being the wife of Joseph and the mother of Ephraim.
- Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi states that the name translates to "she belongs to her father" and that "In the tale Asenath is literally 'possessed' by her father."