Victorian Ghost Stories

Victorian Ghost Stories
This essay will try and find a formula, after reading a selection of stories and focusing on these to discover the formula. The stories were ?The Ostler? by Wilkie Collins (1855), ?The Red Room? by H.G.Wells (1896),?The Signalman? by Charles Dickens (1866). To try and prove there is a Victorian structure or formula to the stories, they need to be analysed. This essay will analyse how effective the openings of the stories and will discuss the techniques of the various authors to create an effective ghost story. By way of using a modus operandi- also called a formula. The stories are very alike, so this leads us to believe a structure does exist. At the time of the stories publications, it was the Victorian era of Britain. Queen Victoria was on the throne and it was a time of new advances in technology and new inventions, also a time of British expansion across the globe. The stories are therefore slightly influenced by this background to when they were written. This essay will analyse, Victorian influences as social division, advances in technology and the Victorian interest in the supernatural. The openings are designed to grab the reader and make them carry on. It can also influence the reader whether to feel the opening emotions and feelings of the story. The stories this essay is dealing with, all start in the middle of a scene. This immediately makes us wonder what has happened so far. It?s as if we have eavesdropped on the stories, only to catch a part of it. Really, because the start of story starts randomly, we feel perplexed by it. Another interesting point is that the stories all use a first person narrative. In ?the Signalman?, for instance: ?I repeat my enquiry? This makes the reader feel that they are part of the story rather than just witnessing it happening. There is also an expert use of dramatic adjectives and language. In ?The Red Room?: ?The old woman sat staring into the fire place, her pale eyes wide open? This helps to make the reader envisage the story more. As the stories progress, there are certain enigmas, which the narrator picks up. But, because of the reader?s involvement, they want it answered. Such as- Who was the sleeping man?, What is the history of the castle and Who is the Signalman? However to keep our minds going the enigmas are mildly answered. The stories are all based on being gothic- from a certain time in history. Gothic being based on ghost and ghouls et cetera. By using a scary or spooky setting, can help the reader fell the emotions before even starting the story. One story that blatantly uses these principles is ?The Red Room?. In which it is set in a dark , strange, unnerving castle, in the winter at night. However, ?the Signalman? doesn?t use an obvious method of gothic literature. In fact it uses a modern setting- for that time, of the railway. Which during the Victorian era was a feared new invention. This is reflected in the story. The story uses the idea of being a scary story, while reflecting the feelings; contemporary at that time. While in ?The Ostler? a set of fairy basic settings are used. They are all just everyday places. Obviously with the exception of begin mysterious. To add to this, the chapter where Isaac is in the Inn where he sees the woman, is described as: ?blowing, and solemn, monotonous, surging moan of it in the wood was dreary and awful to hear? This makes the reader feel the weather, and understand what Isaac feels. The way the setting is used to create a feeling, is pathetic fallacy. In addition to this the use of complex sentences and personification of the wind, helps create an spine-chilling story. To make the story scary and frightening- in addition to the setting, an atmosphere is added. Each of these stories creates a depressing and foreboding atmosphere. The best example of this, in my opinion, is ?the Ostler?: ?the dark, and the wind bleaker than ever? The way Wilkie Collins explains the darkness is basic, but he adds to it with the use of adjectives with the wind, changing the mood altogether. However, this isn?t to say the other stories don?t uses this tactic. For example in ?the Red Room?: ?The deep toned, old fashioned furniture of the house keepers room? they seemed to belong to another age, and older age, an age when omens and witches were credible? H.G.Wells exaggerates the age of the furniture, to make it seem beyond what it actually is. This could also be seen as a use of complicated sentences, to expand on facts. In ?The Signalman?, the use of adjectives is more noticeable to create an atmosphere. Such as: ?The cutting was extremely deep, and unusually precipitous. It was made through a clammy stone, that became oozier and wetter? Charles Dickens uses words such as oozier and clammy, to make us feel the atmosphere to be damp, both physically and mentally- within the story that is. To build suspense the writers use creative techniques, such as metaphors and similes. These help us understand and enjoy the story. In the selection of stories, which this essay has analysed, there has been a distinctive pattern in the way the stories are structured. A griping opening is used to build suspense on the first line. Then, as the stories progress, details are revealed to the reader slowly. Enigmas, metaphors and mysterious characters are also used. Along with these techniques, the stories use the classic gothic tradition within them. Such as dark nights, autumnal weather, ghost, curses and haunted rooms. These are used as settings. Furthermore, the entire method of creating an eerie atmosphere structures the stories. Secondly, the use, of as I mentioned before, nameless characters, makes them appear more mysterious. Therefore, also in the process of enigmas. Mysteries the reader wants solved. Such as in ?the Signalman?, the character of the signalman is not well known. But as we find out is troubled, adding to the mystery and eeriness of him. This is also used in ?the Ostler?, when Isaac meets his wife?s ?doppelganger?, why did she appear to him? An enigma. Altogether, the structure builds tension, along with the opening, the settings and the themed atmosphere. But to get a good atmosphere you need a good structure, and vice a versa. In conclusion, I think Victorian writers did follow a formula when writing. But this formula is just the things that make a gothic story. So all they would have to do was to follow the gothic principles. This was noticed in all the stories analysed. But due to the modern (at the time) setting of the railway in ?the Signalman?, means today a reader may not find it as intimidating as a Victorian reader. It does use, however, some of the gothic traditions. Such as ghosts, curses and senses of the supernatural. The stories are effective as mystery and ghost themed stories. I can see this because of the use of gothic themes. Overall, they use gothic values, but the authors use different settings, while at the same time use the same techniques.

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