In what respects are ‘The Red Room’ by HG Wells and ‘Farthing House’ by Susan Hill typical ghost story genre
The gothic ghost story genre coincides with horror and mystery genres. At one extreme stories deal literally with the happening caused by supernatural events. At the other extreme there is more subtle emphasis on psychological aspects, internal horror and emotional responses like fear, guilt, sorrow, despair, anguish and the unexplained. Both H. G Wells and Susan Hill incorporate conventional, stereotypical elements of a gothic ghost story genre, which the authors use to create tension. The essential enjoyment of an entertaining story depends on what S. T Coleridge called the reader’s ‘willing suspension of disbelief’.
The writers cunningly manipulate tension and the creation of suspense, as it encourages a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty in the reader mind. Both writers play with the reader’s expectations in order to entertain as the plot unfolds causing frission. ‘The Red Room’ is a classic, traditional example of a gothic ghost story, which would have been in its day, very popular with Victorian readers. H. G Wells astutely develops a sense of fear without telling us why the fear exists almost like a cerebral psychosomatic thriller.
It’s characterised by the deserted and dilapidated ‘Loraine Castle’, which creates an effectual plot to add to the ghoulish atmosphere. ‘Farthing House’ is more subtle in its approach. It is a ghost story never the less in a modern everyday setting and time period, which should be very familiar to the reader. ‘Farthing House’ has a physical encounter, which creates the idea of a ghost story in a modern context. The opening sentence of ‘The Red Room’ immediately has a sense of apprehension. The narrator is young, confident, sceptical, arrogant and patronising as H. G Wells uses the characterisation of the narrator through out the story to add frisson and dramatic irony through his emotions.
The first person narrative familiarises us with the character and immediately frission is built up, as we only know as much as the narrator knows. As the story progresses, three elderly custodians enter into the story as H. G Wells uses them to create a sense of dread and darkness by their presence within the castle. H. G Wells cleverly creates an eerie and negative atmosphere, by the clever description of the elderly people.
He describes the narrators first meeting; I heard the sound of a stick and the shambling step on the flag in the passage outside, and the door creaked on its hinges as a second old man entered, more bent, more wrinkled, more aged even than the first. ‘ Atmosphere is suggested, in the story, by structure and action but especially by H. G Wells’s choice of language when describing the characters and furniture of the room. Such descriptions as ‘the queer old mirror’, ‘the man with the withered arm’, ‘the decaying yellow teeth’ and ‘the monstrous shadows’, all add to the atmosphere as if the elderly are the ghost themselves.
H. G Wells draws a contrast between the narrator and the older characters, as it adds to a sense of presentiment and tension in the story. With the narrator being the young and cynical and the elderly being the old and wise, the old custodian gives repeated repetitions of warning of the danger that might lurk within ‘The Red Room’. But the immodesty of the narrator wins the better of him as he chooses to stay for one night in the ‘The Red Room’, of his own accord. ‘This nights of all nights! ‘ says the old woman. ‘You go alone’.
Repetition is used to raise uncertainty in the reader and also used to set the scene of the narrators’ journey to The Red Room as it adds to the creation of atmosphere. During the narrator’s journey to The Red Room, the once confident, dubious, patronising and self-assured character, which dominated the start of the story, begins to change, as the build up of fear, which the elderly produced, starts to spread dread over the narrators mind. The description of the surroundings in which the journey to The Red Room takes place, builds up tension. Echoes rang up and down the spiral stairways. ‘ The spiral stairways is a example of a gothic ghost genre, as H. G Wells uses the surroundings and his eerie descriptions, to build up paranoia in the narrator’s mind, which is apparent because on several occasions, the narrator becomes edgy and stops abruptly and observe mystifying things like, “the shadow of the Ganymede”.
He tells us; ‘Upon the white panelling it gave me the impression of someone crouching to waylay me, I stood rigid for half a minute perhaps. ‘ Such examples of that shows the emphasis of H. G Wells use of language, as instantaneously we, the reader, associate it with fear and evil that the narrator experiences. Dramatic irony is later added to the story, as the narrator becomes more aware of the history of the setting. The fatal accident involving the Duke who had fallen down the stairs, supposedly running away from a ghost adds a sense of ghostly tradition. When entering the room, he constantly reminds the reader about the tragic stories that are connected with the room, such as ‘the timid wife’.
On entering the room, the narrator becomes unsteady in the inside but on the outside he tries to hide his fear. Wells cleverly uses his powerful use of words, when describing the room, to emphasise the mystery connected with a ghost story genre. Wells describes the room as having ‘germinating darkness’. Wells uses his cunning description to create an atmosphere. Anxiety and fear, attacks the narrator, as he stands in the room. Dread plays mind games on the narrator, as it is clearly shown that the narrator becomes paranoid. On several occasions he reassures himself by a perpetual scrutiny of the room.
He states; “I resolved to make a systematic examination of the place at once, and dispel the fanciful suggestion of its obscurity before they can obtain a hold upon me. ” Notice that when the narrator says, “Before they can obtain a hold upon me. ” The narrator refers to they, as the fear. “There was something very cheery and reassuring in these little steaming flames”. “I did not see the candle go out”. This is another method in the narrator mentally is reassured. The narrator feels safe in light as he regains the sense of sight.
The contrast between light and dark The narrator’s self-assurance and confidence, is immediately eroded as what seems to be an invisible supernatural creature/spirit, as described by the narrator, as ‘an invisible hand’ rapidly sweeps out the candles, one by one. ” But then in a volley four lights vanished at once in different corners of the room”. The narrator becomes more irritated due to the dread that is overtaking his body, as on several occasions’ starts shouting at this invisible spirit, as he runs around the room fighting to keep the candles alight. Steady on! ‘ I said. ‘These candles are wanted,’ speaking with a half-hysterical facetioness”. H. G Wells uses similes and metaphors to create atmosphere and adds to the crescendo of tension.
Wells uses personification of darkness and fear to help build imagery, which intensify the atmosphere. From example Wells gives every shadow in the room a supernatural presents. Here is an example of Wells using personification to create depth and a sense of supernatural living. The shadow in the alcove at the end in particular had that indefinable quality of presence, that odd suggestion of a lurking, living thing, that comes so easily in silence and solitude. ” Wells uses strong, bold imagery, to create dread and darkness inside The Red Room such as “… Closed upon me like the shutting of an eye”, “… wrapped about me in a stifling embrace”, “… sealed my vision”, “… crushed… reason from my brain” Effective description of the narrator’s actions, gives the reader a sense of depth of the sense of panic in the Red room. Stumbled”, “crept”, “struggled”. It is only when in ‘The Red Room’, where the psychological dread, that the narrator feels, makes him refer back to the repeated warnings made by the old custodians, for granted.
“My mind reverted to three old distorted people downstairs, and I tried to keep it upon the topic. ” As all the candlelights extinguish, the narrator runs in disarray, fighting to keep the candle alight and as every candle he runs to relight, fear builds up as the narrator almost seems like he doesn’t believe what is happening. It was like a ragged storm cloud sweeping out the stars”. “Sealed my vision, crushed the last vestiges of reason from. The candle fell, from my hand. ” This is an example that shows the irony in which the supernatural being, psychologically and spiritually plays on the narrators. For a story to be meaningful there must be language and narrative details that penetrate many layers of psych. The narrator later, in attempt to relight the candles, strikes his knee on the bed before falling down the stairs just like the past tragedy in the Red Room.
The setting of the scene immediately changes. H. G Wells makes a contrast of the dark, evil night to the light, safe morning. It is in the safe morning, where the narrator explains the ordeal of the red room to the custodians. With the narrator in the daylight, where he feels safe, he says, “There is neither ghost of earl nor ghost of countess in that room, there is no ghost there at all; but far worse…. ” “Fear”. It is then the story ends in a dramatic climax, in which he explains that, theirs no ghost but fear, which are built inside by the actions of others.
There is so much fear that it leads to mental paranoia. For example, the narrator speaks about an unexpected presence. “… as one might start and see the unexpected presence of a stranger. ” That presence was the creation of paranoia in the mind of the narrator. H. G Wells cleverly leaves the story quite open. As the ending, raises more questions than the story can answers. ‘Farthing house’, by Susan Hill, starts the story, almost exactly like The Red Room, in the way that, both narrators’ create suspense in the opening paragraph. Farthing house’ is also written in the first person narrative, as this seems to be a direct technique in which a ghost story writer uses to be direct and to express the fear and panic that the narrator illustrates to the reader. “I have never told you any of this before-I have never told anyone, and indeed, writing it down and sealing it up for a future date may still not count for ‘telling’. But I shall feel better for it, I am sure of that. ” Straight away the narrator is showing some urgency and anxiety to the reader.
She seems to be telling us something confidential and confessional as that creates fretfulness and leave’s the reader in bewilderment. Susan Hill, cunningly leave’s questions open, in order to keep the reader interested but it also, later in the story, has a lot to do with the characterisation of the narrator. For example; the readers are not told any information about the person who will receive the information in the very first paragraph, nor are we told the topic of the letter as this creates a sense of ambiguity. The narrator from ‘The Red Room’ and the narrator from ‘Farthing house’ have one main divergence between the two.
Notice how the beginning of ‘the Red Room’, the narrator is egotistical, macho and conceited; where as the beginning of ‘Farthing house’ the narrator is almost like the opposite. The two writers have given the narrator’s a character. And in using that character, the two narrators have different approaches and reactions when confronted by a ghost. The second paragraph reveals more of the story but does not give anything away about the plot of the story this also adds to the suspense as hints of a build up of anxiety in the reader’s minds.
‘And in a rush I remembered… The example shows, how yet again, Susan Hill makes the reader inquisitive and persuades them to read on. Susan Hill also uses the second paragraph to create negative atmosphere as she sets the scene. A good example of negative atmosphere that is created in the ‘Farthing House’, is when she describes a specific smell, “I caught the smell of it, that most poignant, nostalgic, melancholy of all smells… ” Susan Hill uses imagery to create tension using the atmosphere. Such examples is when the narrator describes the wind as ‘swirling’ and ‘sudden. ‘
The narrator, in the main part of the story, uses dramatic irony as she talks about her Aunt Addy. ‘I could tell she sounded happily… ‘ ‘such a lovely house… ‘ ‘everyone was most kind. ‘ The journey to Farthing house begins on a nice day, with the narrator, atmosphere and the general journey being good. For instance she refers to happy thoughts, “I had stopped twice, once in the village, once in a small market town and explored churches and little shops… I remember have being thick and heavy, clustered on the boughs. ” But as the narrator draws close to Farthing house, Susan Hill takes a dramatic turn.
She not necessarily changes the setting completely, from a bright, lively town to a dark evil town, but instead she uses her clever descriptions of the surroundings to create an eerie feeling in the narrators mind. The atmosphere changes as events of the environment brings together a sinister feel. Such events as, the road narrowing to a single track, between trees’, adds to a more typical gothic ghost story genre. “I was very tired, with that slightly dazed, confused sensation that comes after a long drive the attendant conversation. Is another example of the change of atmosphere. From the narrator being a lively and energetic person to being exhausted and confused. Susan Hill uses more powerful imagery to build up tension when she says, ‘I was overshadowed by a curious sadness… it descended like a damp veil’.
Throughout the narrative, there is a raising and lowering of tension. As soon as the narrator has a rising of tension, she lowers that tension by thinking of positive aspects about the house. Positive aspects like ‘the antiques in the hall were good, substantial pieces. ” The matron did not call herself one’ and was ‘younger than I had expected’. That is another example of the narrators countering her, own emotional responses. In entering the Cedar Room, the narrator feels something sinister in the atmosphere. Almost like the exact same feeling is made by the narrator of ‘The Red Room’. This maybe due to the paranoia, that might of built up when realising that her room wasn’t actually vacant.
The paranoia might of came from a suggestion that the previous occupants of the room have recently passed away. The Red Room’ and The Cedar Room are different in many ways. The Red Room’ being a more gothic room which adds to the atmosphere; where as The Cedar Room is a lonely, empty room with no build, what so ever, of different types of atmosphere. Tension is ruined by the narrator’s use of dramatic irony, this is when she boasts that she is expecting a bad dream or to see something supernatural. But tension is later rapidly built up as the narrator later tells the reader that a presence of a crying baby was felt. Due to the narrator’s mention of a crying baby, the reader can make some sense of the beginning of the story, when she mentions that ‘the birth of a child is so very vulnerable’.
When the narrator hears the noises of the baby crying, she becomes unsteady but once again she blank out the dread that it is in her mind by reading a book and thinking of all the positive things that consist in the house. During the night, the narrator can feel a strong presents, which raises inquisitions in the reader, but the motionless surroundings, of the big room, fails to excite the readers sub controlled fears. The narrator is in confusion, as she is unsure if she had ‘half-dreamed, half imagined and forgotten’ the sound of the baby’s tears.
Notice the narrator’s response to her ghostly experiences. For instance she observes: “And the something else happened- or not ‘happened. ” “There just was something else, something else, that is the only way I can describe it. ” Note the narrator’s sense of isolation in the middle of the night and her sense of someone there as she is in confusion and doubts her own senses. The next day, the narrator tries to preclude contact with the matron, about the previous night. The narrator most likely wants to forget about the incident as does not want to be reminded the heartfelt dread which lies on the inside.
The linking of the presents of the ‘antiseptic smell’ which is mentioned earlier in the story, with the ghost suggest some history which may exist in Farthing House, that history being that in the house being a convalescent home during the war. H. G Wells gives a very different approach in describing the ghost in ‘The Red Room’. The ghost in ‘The Red Room’ is transparent/no visible, where as Susan Hill instead gives a clear description of the ghost. The ghost bring a ‘traditional pale face. ‘ ‘Farthing House’ fails to built up our mental psyche as many of the questions are answer by the end but H. G Wells makes the audience draw its own conclusions, as the ending fails to answer questions.
H. G Wells does this by not describing the ghost in any way, this adds to tension. The second encounter that the narrator has with the ghost, she does not necessary shows much panic but instead contains it within her. This may be because the psychological fear may not be of a huge disparity. For example in ‘The Red Room’ the other characters had a major part in the build up of tension. Where as in Farthing house, the characters played a smaller role in creating tension but instead create a negative atmosphere.
The narrator tells the reader that she feels ‘terrible melancholy’ as she creates a cold atmosphere within her cleverly described emotions. The narrator tells the reader, straight after the encounter, that at the second encounter the ghost was present. She also admits that she is ‘depressed,’ and ‘distressed,’ due to the encounters with the ghost. The narrator ends the story by adding an ominous atmosphere to create frission. She tells the reader that ‘it was dark, dreadful, helpless feeling and with no sense of foreboding. ‘
The concluding part of the story, Susan Hill explains to a larger extent than H. G Wells. Susan Hill creates a more of a conclusion where as ‘The Red Room’ leave’s the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. At the last parts of the story, the narrator stumbles across a gravestone at a nearby church. This gravestone belonged to a mother who died with her infant. She then goes to the vicar for answers, and the vicar explains as her sentiments are centred on pity and sorrow. Both writers’ techniques, in creating setting, atmosphere and tension all seem to be similar in a way.
But Hill uses little hints of the genre to give slight more expectations of a ghost. Hill uses the past in creating referable links from which deductions can be made. For example: the women who encountered a ghost, which was reported on the newspapers. She develops the characters by creating atmosphere, for example the bad events that later builds up to create tension. Where as Wells uses the narrators mental psych of the setting. Both stories have build up a really ominous atmosphere of a ghost story genre. By Wells seems to incorporate the classic genre elements, which the readers are more familiar with.