The purpose of a ghost story is to make the reader scared or uneasy. In traditional ghost stories, I would expect several occurrences throughout. An isolated, decrepit old house or mansion would be the setting of the story, usually at night. The architecture and decor would probably be of a gothic style. The front door would be daunting and showing signs of disrepair. It also will be very creaky when opened. The ghosts themselves are usually people who have died a tragic death or have been involved in magic or the occult.
An atmosphere of foreboding would be brought upon the location by mist or fog crawling over the ground, and the wind howling fiercely. Candles would be used for lighting, and would blow out before significant parts of the story. The author of the story would describe the ceilings as high, the gates being imposing and the corridors long. All of these descriptions would make the characters seem small compared to the sprits in the house. As the story matures, the horrible history of the house would unfold, making the protagonist feel minor compared to the magnitude of the house.
I am now going to compare and contrast two ghost stories. ‘The Red Room’, a 19th century ghost story by H. G. Wells and ‘Farthing House’, a 20th century ghost story by Susan Hill. The narration of a successful ghost story is extremely important as it creates most of the tension in the story. A narration in the first-person is more effective than if the narration is in the second person. It is more personal and makes the reader feel closer to the character involved. In both ‘The Red Room’ and ‘Farthing House’, each has first-person narration. Farthing House’ is more personal than ‘The Red Room’ as it is in the form of a letter, whereas ‘The Red Room’ is more like H. G. Wells is in conversation with the reader. ‘The Red Room’ uses the word ‘I’ frequently, which helps the reader identify with the protagonist. This builds atmosphere and tension as it makes you feel as if you are a part of the story. An example of this is, “I moved my candle from side to side, in order to see clearly the nature of the recess in which I stood before opening the door. ” Farthing House’ has such a narration that makes you feel as if you are the recipient of the letter, as if the character has written to the reader of the story. One example of this is, “I have never told any of this to you before – I have never told anyone, and indeed, writing it down and sealing it in an envelope to be read at some future date may still not count as ‘telling’. ” Also with the narration of ‘Farthing House’, Susan Hill mentions another author, Jane Austin, which makes the story seem more like a letter, as another book was mentioned.
The setting in all ghost stories is important, as ghost stories have been typified to have a mysterious, isolated building as the setting. Using buildings that have a history of death and have been unoccupied for many years are usually what authors choose for the setting of a ghost story. In ‘The Red Room’ and ‘Farthing House’, there is no exception to this. The setting in ‘Farthing House’ is a residential home for elderly people. The house that occupies the old people is down a long country road, isolated from the road.
While reading the story, a picture of an old, picturesque building, well kept rooms and happy residents are imagined. All these visions come from descriptions such as, “But as I stood on the black and white marbled floor of the entrance porch”, “I was in a large, high-ceilinged room” and, “The antiques in the hall were good, substantial pieces and they had been well-cared for over the years”. The room that the narrator is staying in is called the ‘Cedar Room’. This is described as, “One of the two largest rooms in the house” with “big bay-windows over-looking the garden at the back” and “deep red curtains”.
These descriptions give the reader a feeling that the room is extremely ostentatious and probably of an 18th century decor. The building that is described in ‘The Red Room’ is called ‘Lorraine Castle’, which, as castles are large, shows that this particular setting is substantial. The ‘Red Room’ itself is described as having many luxurious items in it such as “Oak panels” and “sconces bearing candles”. Compared to the ‘Cedar Room’, the ‘Red Room’ seems much larger and more majestic.
In both ‘Farthing House’ and ‘The Red Room’, old people are significant characters, but described in different manners. In ‘The Red Room’ they are said to be in a “grotesque” manner, which makes them seem evil in a way, whereas, in ‘Farthing House’, they seem more welcoming, pleasant and unthreatening. In ‘The Red Room’ the “grotesque custodians” are decidedly odd. “They seemed to belong to another age, when things spiritual were different from this of ours, less certain; an age when omens and witches were credible, and ghosts beyond denying.
Their existence was spectral; the cut of their clothing, fashions born in dead brains. ” This leaves a sense of suspicion. One of the custodians had a withered arm, which makes you wonder what had happened to him. These characters are unlikable and reasonably unfriendly. By contrast, in ‘Farthing House’, the housekeeper is a friendly person as she welcomes the protagonist into the house and tries to make her feel comfortable. But she also behaves strangely: ‘It’s a lovely room’ she said with hesitation, implying that she is worried about the room.
This makes the reader predict that strange happenings are not far away. In The Red Room, the language is archaic and elaborate. It is very descriptive and creates tension. “it will take a very tangible ghost to frighten me. ” In Farthing House, the language used is modern, everyday language. All in all, the ghost story I preferred was The Red Room, as it was more traditional and was directly wrote as a story, whereas Farthing House was wrote as a letter.