How do H.G. Wells and Susan Hill create tension in their stories Essay
`The Red Room’ by HG Wells and `Farthing House’ by Susan Hill are two ghost stories exploiting the cultural, social and historical aspects of the gothic ghost story genre. Cleverly, both writers create tension, to generate a sense of thrill and frission that engages the reader emotionally. Coleridge called this the `willing suspension of our disbelief’ in that the reader’s scepticism is set aside and we allow the fictional ghost and its presence to entertain us. Though `The Red Room’ was written one hundred years before `Farthing House’ it feels more modern with its psychological emphasis whereas `Farthing
House’ is more subtle in the way in which tension is created. Both of the tales are classic examples of gothic stories that have two very different outcomes of the ghost story genre. They are both written in the first person narrative; `The Red Room’ emphasises on the psychological aspects of the narrator. Whereas `Farthing House’ experiments on the mental views of the narrator. As she in `Farthing House’ sounds confessional and scared of an experience that she had suffered from before the story was wrote. The first person narrative adds immediacy to the events as quickly as they unfold.
The intentional uncertainness and ambiguity of the narrator’s visit to the red room of Lorraine Castle is suggested in the assertion that there is `black fear’ in all of us. These ideas play with the readers’ preconceptions and their enjoyment of the story. Victorian ghost stories emphasised the fear of a ghost whereas modern ghost stories looks more within the mind and the how there is fear in us all, whether it be darkness or the vision of a ghost. But there is one main aim of all ghost stories, whether they are from the eighteenth century or the present day, their intention is to entertain!
The arrogance of the young, sceptical narrator is emphasised in `The Red Room’ to create contrasts between the withered old personnel who live within the castle and our brash raconteur. At the very opening of the gothic story H. G Wells cleverly writes: ` I can assure you,’ said I, `that it would take a very tangible ghost to frighten me’. Only a few lines below a contrast is made as one of the deformed replies to his comment that `There’s a many things to see when one’s still eight and twenty.
The old lady who didn’t really speak much and had a rather spooky tendency to her says this in a way subtly implying that omething will happen to him. What HG Wells has done is to make a contrast between the young and old, where the young are still very vulnerable compared to the more experienced, who say that when one is only twenty eight years of age he has ` A many thing to see and sorrow for’ meaning that there is a first time for everything. This is all done within the first two paragraphs and engages the reader through dialogue and atmosphere created from it.
However `Farthing House’ opens very differently, as it is written in a letter form to her daughter who is pregnant which is later discovered as a link in the tory, this is done by the use of little hints and clever dialogue which help us to establish these links and understand what the story is portraying as the pages progress: `And that terrible melancholy came over me once again’. This is one of the links that is used a few times from start to finish to make the story more realistic and give depth to the tale.
The main character as that in `The Red Room’ are the storytellers who themselves create the most tension by the way in which they use emotive language and the way they describe their surroundings and create atmosphere. If the ghost story were written ithout the presence of a narrator the stories would be dull and dreary. The use of characters in both of these stories are vital to the quality and entertainment to the reader as they add a sense of immediacy by their first hand evidential truth and the narrators emotions during the time.
Both stories show rises and falls in the story that quicken the pace and frighten the reader ` I felt something else and it made me hesitate before ringing the bell’ and the peak of her being scared is reached by the narrator that `My hands trembled so much that twice I missed the matchbox’. In `Farthing House’ the timid arrator is never really relieved from her traumatised ways until the very end. She is very conscientious and lets her emotions get the better of her at many times in the story. For instance she observes: `Something else was not as I had expected’.
She shows signs of ambiguity as she blames the television for what she has just heard of the baby and is at times unwilling to accept the truth that lays in front of her. `The noise had come from the television then’, but it is very ironic that the paragraph prior to this she had seemed almost certain it was definitely a baby crying but blames the television to eassure herself as she finds it difficult to explain her feelings of discomfort as she walks into Cedar Room and ` that feeling of unease and melancholy passed over me like a shadow again’.
The constant flashbacks continue to add confusion to the story until the links, such as the crying baby and Farthing House being a home for women with children in the war, and also links to the stolen baby mentioned in the newspaper which is all revealed later on, towards the end of the tale. As in both stories the narrators are the main source of information but there are no other main characters really for her to e compared with in `Farthing House’ as the only other person who speaks a lot is Aunt Addy but she cannot be measured up to anyone else as she is a minor character, so no contrasts are made in `Farthing House’ between characters.
Apart from that Aunt Addy has no conception of a ghost being present in Farthing house whereas the narrator is quite spooked by the house and its contents. However there is more of an atmospheric change both engaging and exciting the reader. The surroundings, the shadows and the fear of the narrator all create suspense and mystery for the reader to develop thoughts of he ghost in their own mind. This is a sign of a quality ghost story. The fear becomes overwhelming by the description and language of what is around the characters and the way dark corners are more apparent than they usually would be.
The Red Room’ is a more traditional tale, as it sticks to the stereotypical elements, such as the subterranean corridors and dark corners that begin to scare the narrator causing a rise in tension and the reader gains anxiousness. The story follows quite a linear pattern where one event leads to another whereas in terms of the structuring of the plot `Farthing House’ leads the reader ound in circles until the end. In `The Red Room’ tension is built up quite slowly until there is peaks where the reader’s emotions are relieved.
The pace is built up and the suspense really starts to grow from the moment the narrator describes the passage leading to the red room. He says: “The long, draughty, subterranean passage was chilly and dusty”. This is where the stereotypical elements of the ghost story genre are most obvious. At this point in the story the confident narrator begins to become frightened so much that he begins to notice things `listening to a rustling that I fancy I heard’. This shows a omplete awareness of his surroundings and he thinks he hears a noise in the distance, hence, `I fancied I heard’.
The word `fancied’ suggests that the narrator is trying to reassure himself, as he wasn’t sure whether he really hears the noise or is paranoid. The reader begins to ask questions; HG Wells does this deliberately as the events unfold told through the first person narrative of the speaker. This is where the tension is built up before a peak is reached. As the narrator walks down the corridor the pace of the story quickens and the suspense is held when he opens the door to the red room and ecalls the previous happenings, such as the death of the duke who had `fallen headlong down the stairs, which I just ascended’.
He discovers all is normal apart from the apparent darkness. He lights candles to reassure himself of the fear of these lurking dark corners. As the tension is built the narrator shows his fears as he says ` I Layed my revolver ready to hand’ showing that he is scared, but `There was nothing tangible there’. The setting is very clever as the red room is theoretically based in the middle of nowhere and is in an ancient castle, which is a typical setting for a Victorian gothic story. Other stereotypical elements help to provide a sense of suspense and tension as the narrator leaves for the room, when it is dark and mysterious.
Also there are other descriptions of the settings that give more depth to the story. The descriptive quality reinforces the spooky atmosphere, for instance when the narrator begins to lose his confidence as he walks down the subterranean passage he says: ` The white panelling and gave me the impression of some one crouching to waylay me’. This means the statues he has been passing by have been scaring him and giving him a sense of uneasiness. This is a clear sign f uncertainty and starts to make the narrator feel uncomfortable and wondering what is happening and if some creature will from beneath the darkness.
At the same time `Farthing House’ creates a different setting and contrasts between a picturesque village, the setting is almost ordinary as the narrator describes: `I’d seen a jay and two deer and once, like magic, a kingfisher’. `I’d had a sort of holiday really’. This is when the narrator had stopped in the village and had had a pot of tea and walked along the banks in the sunshine, it was very normal, nothing abnormal could happen. Then she turned into a road narrowed to a single track, between trees’. This is where she says `I began to feel nervous, anxious’. This makes the reader ask the question why does she feel anxious?
This is illogical reasoning by the narrator considering the apparent normality of the place. At this point in the story Susan Hill makes contrasts, the nice little village, which she ate and walked in, and the coldness and creepiness of `Farthing House’ as `the car lights swept along a yew hedge, a lych gate, caught the shoulder of a gravestone’. The gravestone suggests a ghost story and adds that sense of spookiness to the place and Farthing House’, it raises questions in the reader’s head. The creepiness of the gravestone shows the contrast between the village, which was so ordinary and Aunt Addy’s strange nursing home.
The setting of `Farthing House’, an old Victorian house that seems to be set outside the village beyond the fog, where nobody seems to travel. These are the subtle stereotypical elements the story contains. The thrill and frission that the setting shows is very effective by the use of first person descriptive language. The house is never really described too much just the links between the antiseptic smell and the urning leaves. The house is of a Victorian variety as it is described in little detail but does have a history that becomes apparent toward the end of the story, when the narrator visits the graveyard.
This is where she is told that before, it was a retirement home, and the sighting of the ghost becomes clear. There is more emphasis on Cedar Room, which is in `Farthing House’. The narrator describes the room whilst entering it: `I was in this large, high ceilinged room because it was free, its previous occupant having recently died’. As in `The Red Room’ both of the narrators are staying inside a room where omeone had died and the only difference is that in Lorraine castle a duke had died there hundreds of years before and the occupant of Cedar Room had only recently died.
The little church, cottages and graveyard add a `spooky’ effect to the story as the graveyard appears to be overgrown and the church’s `uncut morquette’. At this point of the story where the story is coming to its closing stages the answers to the questions raised previously in the story are explained and Susan Hill does this through the description of the setting which helps the reader to understand and feel the narrators’ anxiety. The description f the setting creates atmosphere and tension in both the stories.
The confidential and confessional tone of the opening sequence if `Farthing House’ captures the reader’s curiosity and raises questions about why she sounds so scared and timid and why `must she set it down’. In terms of the plot this is very effective as it engages the reader from the very beginning making it hard to put the story down until the questions are answered, by the use of language and the atmospheric setting in which Susan Hill has created. She does this to engage the reader and entertain him with the confusion and abnormality f the story.
So this has been done extremely well by Susan Hill, as it is the last three pages that answer the questions. The structure of the story holds the suspense until the end where all the questions are answered and the reader understands all the previous happenings. The contrasts between the little, picturesque village and the canopy leading up to `Farthing House’ create tension and frission. However this can only be done by the use of good, effective and descriptive language. Both writers achieve this perfectly. `Farthing House’ is written in pre 1200 AD language although it was written after the red oom, which is quite ironic.
The story by Hill adds a lot of depth by the use of language, as there are links, which were made in the opening of the story and established towards the end. The language that she writes from the first person narrative gives a sense of thrill by the description and the way in which it was written. These links are created throughout the story for repetition and effect, for instance: `And that terrible melancholy came over me once again’. When the narrator begins the story she remembers: `I was burning the leaves’ and `I caught the smell of it’ then she goes on to say `and in rush I remembered… and that is how the story of her journey to `Farthing House’ is opened.
This is very effective as it gives depth to the story about the smells that she remembers from her tragic experience. These links create atmosphere and the reader understands why the smells were mentioned and it makes the reader feel like the story is true more than `The Red Room’ because the when the smell is mentioned once again the reader feels he has some insight to the tale. By the use of language writers can make anything come to life, both stories, I feel do this and do it very well.
They both create peaks nd troths in their stories raising and relieving the reader’s emotions. In `The Red Room’ there is one major peak whereas in `Farthing House’ there are several. In `The Red Room’ the main peak is when the candles flames begin to go out until the narrator hits his head and remembers no more: `Lifting up my voice, screamed with all my might-once, twice, thrice’. And in `Farthing House’ peaks and relieves are reached more quickly than `The Red Room’. There are over three peaks in the story creating tension in the reader then releasing the suspense.
This makes the story more enjoyable as scarcity is reached ore quickly, however, `The Red Room’ is just as good as `Farthing House’ just takes a little longer but builds up tension more slowly but very effectively with the use of language of the atmosphere the surroundings and the narrators emotions feels real and adds insecurity in the reader because of these gothic creatures of darkness. Susan Hill and HG Wells do use irony to a certain extent, they use is another form of creating tension within the reader and supply atmosphere and depth to the story: `I was as you might say, almost expecting to have a bad dream or to see a ghost’.
This is very ironic as it implies there is going to be a host, which is unusual of a gothic tale. This was also done in `The Red Room’: `It will take a very tangible ghost to frighten me’. They both are asking for a ghost, which is very forward and does begin to create questions within the reader. There is also other ironic parts to the stories, for example in `Farthing House’ the narrator was almost certain she heard a baby crying but she `Hesitated. Stopped’ and her view changed she was now almost certain the noise came from the television.
This is also done in `The Red Room’ as he goes onto say `I resolved to make a systematic examination of the place’. But hen in a ghost story would the narrator make a logical look around? These ironic statements help to establish the story to reader and make them two superb tales, with the use of the style and rhythm of the stories. Also HG Wells expresses the tone and dialogue in a figurative way with the help of the narrator. Every little point, I find, in `The Red Room’ is explained which helps build anxiety and a slow increase of pace to the story.
The use of repetition is very effective and doesn’t seemed to be use in Susan hill’s story, this repetition gives apprehension to the reader as the man with the withered arm says `It’s our own choosing’. This causes the reader to wonder what is going to happen as the man repeats this phrase several times. The language in which HG Wells uses is more modern than `Farthing House’ with the use of words such as `atavistic’ and `custodians’. I feel both types of language, either old or modern bring a sense of urgency and thrill to the stories as long as they are used to a good effect.
The uses of similes by both writers add a sense of atmosphere and add to the suspense and structure of the tales. In `The Red Room’ they are used again for excellent effect. As `It was like a ragged storm cloud sweeping out of the stars’. Susan Hill also uses contrasts but in a longer form to `The Red Room’ as she contradicts herself when the narrator says: `The only other thing I noticed was the faintest smell of hospital antiseptic’ which is also used as a link for later on in the story and `The pleasant smell of furniture polish, and fresh chrysanthemums’.
This is written just after the statement about the antiseptic smell, which creates a simile between the two. This is done to create imagery and confusion in the audience and engaging the reader so he will read on to find out what these weird apparent smells are and what they have to do with the story. At the end of the story a `rite of passage’ or a `cliff hanger’ is created which appeals to the audience and raises more questions than it does answer: `There is fear in that room of hers-black fear, and there will be-so long as this house of sin endures’.
I think that this is the best part of the story, it shows the good use of language and is a very powerful sentence as it is open ended. `Farthing House’ finishes differently, as it has raised a lot of questions throughout the story, it reveals then all and finishes quite nicely and peacefully, with a hint of a stereotypical end to the tale. `But I imagine she has gone, now that he has what she was looking for’. A sense of foreboding is often used in both stories. This creates tension, depth and atmosphere to the tales.
The fear of the old, deformed people create a contrast between the young narrators confidence and the keepers’ traditional views of the haunted Red Room. The atmosphere in both stories is created with the use of language; such words, which give depth and a history that gives a more realistic, feel to the tales. The atmosphere in `Farthing House’ is helped by the history, as it is only till later on in the story, we discover the use of `Farthing House’ before it was used for a etirement home. It was `a home for the young and their illegitimate babies’. This explains why the ghost has returned, to forfill some unfinished business.
The atmosphere to some extend creates frission but not as much as many of the other factors. When the narrator explains the smell and it was though `A door had been opened on to the past’. This adds depth and confusion to the story. `The last night was fading behind a copse of bare beech trees, the sun dropping down’. This is the perfect setting and atmosphere needed for a ghost story, it sets the scene up and the reader has a sense of apprehension, as he description is giving the view of an orange sky with creepy, tall trees overlapping each other as if they were staring and going to grab you.
This causes the reader to become scared and anxious of what the narrator is to expect. This tension creates a sense of ambiguity. In the reader and the narrator. HG Wells explains `The great Red Room of Lorraine Castle, in which the young duke had died’. This raises questions about the duke. How had he been killed? And what if he came back to haunt the Red Room. Also the descriptive language in which the story is written helps to establish the `Redness of the large sombre oom’. Without this description the atmosphere would not be created.
The darkness of the room gives off an overwhelming sensation of black fear. Fear of the dark and paranoia, which the narrator found out the hard way, so much that he hit his head and caused a gash. Susan Hill gives a physical explanation of a ghost and the narrator visualises it and that is a more expected view from a Victorian gothic tale. The answer in which the narrator gives to the keepers of the castle is unexpected. There could have been a ghost but the narrator sounds very reassured that it was all in the mind.
Ghost stories’ main aim is to scare the reader or to raise their emotions causing them to have a little fear and enjoyment. This, I feel was done very well by HG Wells and Susan Hill, but they did a lot to make both the stories as enjoyable as they were. The use of many different elements helps to construct a gothic tale, the setting, characterisation, language and atmosphere. Here I think there is no major part which makes ghost stories what they are, ghost stories would be nothing if they missed one of these elements, and as `The Red Room’ showed there doesn’t have to be a ghost for you to enjoy the tale.
However, I do feel that in these two particular stories that they would have still been good, but not as excellent if they didn’t contain the first person narrative, this helps the reader to establish the events more quickly and more emotions are fed through the narrator than it would if it was written as a third person. This is what I agree with and I feel it fits in with both stories and is directed at the reader. Dr Johnson in 1979 said `The question simply is, whether departed spirits ever have the power of making themselves perceptible to us; a man who has seen an apparition can only be convinced himself’.