Although the settings and periods are very different, I will show how both of these short stories include similar incidents involving death and how the two authors build up tension through to the unexpected end. Both of these writers are superb at creating, and carrying, tension through the story and I found reading the books a real treat! The writers have written for a distinct audience: one for a Victorian, who were fascinated by the supernatural, and with the train as a new nineteenth century invention they were very frightened in what could happen. Dickens saw this as a perfect opportunity for the setting in the new book.
Lively’s twentieth century audience had more psychological thought, and were very interested in how people’s past could affect them in the future. So, this is what she wrote about, and it was worth doing so, as one of her recent books: “Moon Tiger” was a huge success and picked up an award for best English literature book of that time! When I was looking at the word “suspense,” most of the explanations I found were very much related to the two stories I had been studying. It holds your interest, it keeps you wondering, and it has a state of uncertainty.
The Signalman and The Darkness Out There definitely kept me asking questions and they also kept my interest extremely well. The initial story I am going to look at is The Signalman, by Charles Dickens. Dickens had a particular gift for describing characters. He makes the character very well known to the reader and you almost feel close to them. He had an eye for grotesque characters, and throughout his book we are welcomed to clever, disturbed and caring characters. Charles Dickens was no stranger to poverty and hardship, and I think this had a large influence on his writing.
He was born in 1812 in Portsmouth, but as a child he moved around a great deal. This was because his father was very poor and could not handle his affairs very well. He was frequently in debt and was even put into jail. This must have been very hard for Charles and writing may have been the most effective way to express his feelings. Dickens’ first novel was published in 1837, when he was aged twenty five and working for “Pickwick Papers”. Whilst working there he was able to include a short story every month. This was hugely successful and it led him on to create his first novel.
Suspense is a great thing to use in a novel as it urges people to read on. In Dickens’ monthly magazine, he left the story on a cliffhanger so that the readers would purchase the next issue. In the nineteenth century, the Victorians were fascinated by the supernatural and loved short stories about ghosts and ghouls. There was a similar weekly magazine called “Penny Dreadfuls” where the Frankenstein was first announced; this was a huge influence on the writers of that time and at the end of that century Brian Stoker published “Dracula.
These stories were under the heading of “Gothic Novels” as they all dealt with death and strange haunting subjects. The Signalman was a gothic novel and throughout this story it deals with death and ghosts. In connection with The Signalman it is worth mentioning the railways in the Victorian times: steam trains were a very new and modern form of transport, which had a spooky feel to it. This technological creation had sprung up all over Britain and because they had never been seen before, the Victorians regarded them as dangerous!
Dickens had a very beautiful style of writing, and used a number of wonderful techniques to create the correct atmosphere for a supernatural story. After reading The Signalman, I firstly noticed that throughout the story Dickens uses suspense to get the reader to experience different feelings. One of Dickens’ methods is to introduce suspense into the initial phrase: “Halloa, below there” This adds depth; we know now that someone is high up and another is down below.
This opening sentence is a special one as it sets the scene, and as we probably already knew, before we read the story, there is a cutting involved and we now assume that people are above and below that. As I read on I noticed that Dickens uses the cutting as a main feature in his story and uses it to create a lot of tension throughout the story. Dickens uses adjectives to describe the setting and makes the cutting seem isolated by using the words deep, precipitous, clammy, oozier and wetter and starts to build up an uncomfortable atmosphere. These words also have a feeling of wetness.
By using tactile imagery Dickens gets the reader to imagine that they are there, and to experience all of the words above. The signalman thought there was something supernatural about the visitor saying “Halloa, below there” and even asked the visitor why he said them. The signalman also asked the visitor not to call down until they were close, because then he would be certain that the visitor was not a ghost or something else. The signalman was scared, and if he is scared then the reader wants to know why and wants to read on. Dickens uses repetition in his language to get his point across.
The use of repetition of the opening sentence, especially where the ghost waves his arms, is very weird and this may make the reader very edgy of the character. Another example of his repetition is when he uses the phrase “zigzag descent” and leads the reader to believe that it must be very difficult for the visitor to get down to the signalman. Even by repeating such a passage, you may think that it is extremely difficult for anyone to get out from the cutting and that they are trapped. Inside the cutting is a tunnel, this is described as a “great dungeon.
Such a strong word used in place of a tunnel, gives great atmosphere to the story; this is a superb way of adding tension to the story. He also uses other dark and gloomy adjectives to describe the tunnel. This makes it seem as though it is a mystery and, as many people are afraid of the dark, these are very good words to use in the book. It makes the reader wonder about two things: firstly, is it safe? and secondly, is something going to happen in the tunnel? The signalman, initially, acts very strangely towards the visitor, and is quite wary of what he is going to do.
This makes the reader cautious of whether the visitor is a ghost or whether it is something else. After every day, with little to do, the signalman would be very lonely and he works on fractions and decimals in his time alone in the hut. The reader may find it odd that the signalman acts very peculiarly to the bell in his hut. During the story, the bell is silent and yet the signalman thinks it rings. You may think that if the signalman made that mistake he is a liability to his duty; his judgement cannot therefore be trusted and he may be lying about his story of the ghost.
Another possibility is that the signalman felt something strange upon the bell and there was something supernatural about the bell. The quote for this example is: “Turned his face towards the bell when it did NOT ring” and then later in that paragraph it says that he had an inexplicable air upon him. This adds curiosity for the reader and puts many questions to the reader as to whether the man is insane or whether something supernatural is happening to the man and the surroundings.
As I said before, Dickens has a way with characters which allows you to trust, believe, relate or even to respect the character, which you may not do with your closest friends. He uses this technique with the signalman. We know that the signalman is an educated man; this, along with the friendship of the signalman, makes the haunting tale, he comes up with, believable. Probably too late, even the visitor, who is very suspicious of the signalman, believes him after the driver of the train repeats the same hand signal and speech which the signalman had related to him only the other day!
I think, during the story, there is a lot of confusion as to the identity of the ghost. As the signalman acts very strangely towards the bell, which did not ring, the reader may think the ghost could be him. Also the way the signalman is suspicious of the visitor saying those words, may lead the reader to create an image of the visitor as being the ghost. Now, the reader is very perplexed as to who the ghost is. If either of them! Throughout the story there are many deaths, and these repeated deaths might frighten the reader. This adds a tremendous amount of tension to the story.
To add even more worry, every time there had been a death, the ghost had been there! The reader has yet something else to cope with now: were the accidents due to the ghost or were the deaths just a mere coincidence? The quote for this example is: “A beautiful young lady had died instantaneously” and then later, it goes on to say that the lady was placed in between them on the floor. The visitor gets very edgy about the knowledge of a dead person being laid on the floor in front of him and there is a small chance that the lady may have been the ghost!
The next thing I noticed about Dickens’ style of writing, was that he loves to fool the reader or get the reader confused. One example of this is that he puts many attitudes across about the signalman. Firstly, the visitor thought that the signalman was a bit odd, then when he got to know him, he started to believe him and think that he was not mad at all. Little things then crept up about the signalman which allowed the reader to have different opinions, and then any opinions which the reader may have gathered may be altered by the signalman’s next behaviour!
Examples of the little things which crept up are: “He looked up without reply” Now the visitor thinks that he is strange and the reader may, or may not, agree with him. Another example is: “He directed a most curious look towards the red light” This sentence may lead you to think that either there is something supernatural about the red light, and therefore think that the signalman is sane; or that the signalman, because of his loneliness, is seeing things! I think that the signalman, being presented with no name, adds great mystery to the story as we do not know a single thing about the him.
In addition, the narrator has not given himself a name! Is that because he is the ghost? I do not know why, but if someone has a certain name, then people begin to judge. For example, if your name is Alfred, then you may be seen as a posh man, rather than if your name is Fred, which gives the impression of being lower class. These are in fact the same name and both men were probably named Alfred. Names are portrayed as certain people, and if you take one film, or book, then you will notice that the more educated man, or woman, has the more suitable name.
This may be why the signalman has been given no name, so that we may not judge him. The signalman has only been given pronouns in place of his name, thus adding more mystery. Another way that Dickens builds up tension is where there is a beautiful phrase saying: “As if I had left the natural world. ” Dickens pushes the reader to imagine that they are somewhere they have never been, or experienced, before; that they are so isolated, they are trapped; that they are scared.
This builds up a lot of tension in the story because in the unnatural world there may be such things as ghosts, and as we are reading a book by an author who is magnificent in writing ghost stories, we assume that this story will also include ghost scenes. My next example of Dickens including tension, is where he uses personification. This is a perfect way to introduce passion into the story and with the phrase: “Angry sunset” makes it sound bizarre because it takes away some of the normality in the story. We do not normally associate sunsets with anger, but with tranquillity.
Now I will explore some of the sentences used in the story that I have been looking at. On the initial page there is a sentence which reads: “… into a violent pulsation, and an oncoming rush that caused me to start back, as though it had force to pull me down. ” The violent pulsation is the train, and the uncertainty of the visitor ensures that the train is no normal train. A ghost train perhaps? The violent word used in the sentence is very aggressive and this helps to maintain the suspense throughout the story.
It also said that it had a force. This is very strange as you would not usually expect a train to have force and as the Victorians were very scared of the trains at this time this added a problem to the reader as it made them more scared than they already were! The next gripping sentence I will analyse is: “… I should have set this man as one of the safest men to be employed in that capacity” He should have? Then why did he not? There must have been something about him the visitor was unsure of which made him say that he should have!
Why was he not safe? The visitor obviously thought he was, or should have thought he was, so why was he unsure of him? Was it that he had an in explicable air upon him? Or was it that he was a spirit? “The monstrous thought came in to my mind, as I perused his fixed eyes and the saturnine face, that he was a spirit, not a man. ” As I said earlier, either the signalman or the visitor could be the ghost! Also, in another sentence, the signalman had a fallen colour, which means that he was very pale and you could say he was as white as a ghost!
Dickens tries to prepare us for the inevitable and he does this in many ways, for example with the long sentence of: ” With an irresistible sense that something was wrong with a flashing self-reproachful fear that fatal mischief had come of my leaving the man there… ” Why was there a sense? And where did it come from? Was it supernatural? I have now finished reviewing these sentences but would like to add that even though this is not one of his stories from his magazine, he still leaves the final sentence, a long one, as a cliffhanger!
He lets the reader figure out who the ghost really is, if any of them, and lets you wonder why the deaths occurred. Charles Dickens also leaves you wondering about everything else which has been cleverly added to his story to increase the tension and suspense. If you do want my opinion, on the other hand, I think that neither the signalman nor the visitor were the ghost, nor the people who died but something that was there and had some unfinished business. I do not know what this could be; perhaps to kill someone from the train; perhaps to murder the signalman, or even to murder the visitor?
After the signalman actually dies we still know no more about the ghost because Dickens leaves us to imagine. Now I am going to investigate how Penelope Lively chooses to include tension in her story, and how she keeps increasing it until the unexplained ending; and how each of the characters have their individual way of creating atmosphere for the story. Firstly, as I did with Charles Dickens, I will go through briefly Penelope Lively’s life story. Lively is a well-known English author who wrote books for adults and children. Born in 1933 in Cairo, Egypt, she moved to England in 1945 during the Second World War.
Fascinated by English history, Penelope Lively started writing at the age of thirty. In the mid-seventies, she had a huge success with a book called Thomas Kemp, which was a children book. The initial book, written especially for adults, was called The Road to Lichfield. In 1987, she won the book prize for her book Moon Tiger. Her stories were often deceptively set in nice, cosy situations and frequently described people who were apparently quite normal, but deep down, underneath the surface, they were anything but ordinary and pleasant!
The tables often suddenly turn. She sets her stories in nice places, which could be just around the corner from you; that is why it is easier for Lively to use tactile imagery in her stories as it is very easy for the reader to picture anything which she describes. She is very good at twisting things so that they are not really what we expect them to be. For example, if someone is seen to be very normal, then they will eventually turn out to be horrid, and if someone starts off to be nasty, then they may end up to be ordinary and normal.
She has a great way with surprise, in that someone rarely recognises everything that she tries to do. Most of her stories involve the present but are often set in the past. She links past and present very well. Another linkage, which is made with Livelys stories, is her personal experiences. She tries, just like Dickens, to express her feelings in her work and she is not afraid of what people may think of her experiences. She is a very confident character. Her memories of the war were focused in The Darkness out There, and many historical events are also included.
Her memories can either be a good or bad influence on our own life, in the present. During the war there were obviously many incidents which occurred, including blackouts, air raids, rationing, evacuations and many more which she could express in any shape or form in her tales. She realised that the only people that could remember the war were people older than her, so she created a fictional character named Mrs Rutter. She wanted additional characters, so she introduced some children, who were approximately the same age as Lively when she moved to England, which was twelve.
These are the only characters in her book. Now I am going to describe how each individual character acts, and how each of them help to build up tension in the story. Mrs Rutter seems to be an ordinary old lady who is living on her own. She is stereotypical of an old lady as she has many things wrong with her, including her eyes, and her leg. She often smiles and she wears glasses. Mrs Rutter, however, shows strange behaviour: on the outside she is kind, affectionate, lonely, but underneath, the questions that she asks are rude and undermining, especially to Kerry’s understanding.
I bet you get all sorts in your club” may sound like being considerate and being polite but why would there be all sorts? Is she so perfect that she can say that other ordinary people are all sorts? I think that from the start of the story Mrs Rutter has other plans of some sort. She keeps making reference to the fact that Sandre is beautiful and says things like: “Like bees round a honey pot”, using metaphors to create the impression that boys cannot resist her. She also, I think, deep down, does not like children and is jealous of what they can do now.
I assume that Mrs Rutter had many boyfriends when she was younger and that she feels that Sandre should also have lots. The worst thing that someone could say to an unconfident child is that they expect that they have many boyfriends because they will start questioning why they do not have any, and then they will begin to worry. Although she does not act too badly towards Sandre, I think that she believes Kerry is not good enough for her or to help around the house; that is why Mrs Rutter puts him to work in the garden. “it is different for boys” she says!
Rutter’s fetish about dirt is really irritating and why does she keep going on about it? Kerry is a dirty young lad and Rutter seems to be having a go at him for being unclean when she has no right to do so! She makes Kerry feel insecure in her home when that is not considered the traditional thing to do; you are supposed to invite people into your home and be as friendly and courteous as possible. “She patted the corner of her mouth delicately” Mrs Rutter thinks that she is better than everyone. She had the boyfriends! She is clean!
Two things which the children want, but for some reason cannot have. The children try to defend themselves by saying things like: “Nothing wrong with a bit of dirt” from Kerry. Sandre just ignores her and blushes. She keeps the beautiful girl inside where she can look at her bum, while she puts Kerry outside to deal with the dirt. “Go and see if what’s-‘s-name wants one? ” she cannot even remember his name, after all the work he is doing for her! When the sweet is brought out to him, he says: “I don’t go much on her. ” When he was asked why, his response was: “I dunno. The way she talks and that. The way she talks to him is a bit odd and as soon as I read that passage I was amazed that he picked up the arrogance in her speech, and that I was correct in assuming that there was more to Mrs Rutter than Sandre noticed.
The language she uses is very old fashioned and such phrases as: “Tea, my duck” mean that a part of her is stuck in the past and she has not adjusted to everyday life in the Eighties. My opinion of Mrs Rutter is that she is a very confused lady and, maybe because she has been through the war and the children have not, that she thinks she is one up. It’s nice it won’t be like that for you young people nowadays. ” You have probably picked up an awful lot about Kerry during the explanation of Mrs Rutter. Kerry is also a stereotypical person of his age and, as I said earlier, Lively loves to use ordinary people in her stories. His chin is covered in spots, he is unhygienic, his tummy shows between his top and jeans, and, over all, he is just a normal male who is not interested in how he presents himself. His behaviour, however, is fine.
You may assume before getting into the story that it would be the male character that would be linked with death and for Kerry to do something wrong. This is just an assumption and actually he is the most normal person in the story! I think I can relate to Kerry as I am a male around his age, and the fact that he saw through Mrs Rutter just like I did. Kerry just seems to get on with his job with no trouble at all and, although his appearance shows lack of self-esteem, he is a very kind boy who is helping an old lady.