Suspense is a state of anxiety cause by having to wait for something. Both Edgar Allen Poe and Thomas Hardy successfully create suspense in their writing, ensuring that the reader is kept engaged until the end both in “Tell Tale Heart” by Poe and “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” by Hardy.
“Tell Tale Heart” is a short story following the deranged narrator through his heartless, motiveless murder of an old man.
“Tess of the d’Urbervilles” is a novel that travels the life of Tess from rape, two marriages and murder which eventually spell the end of her own life. In chapter fifty six, the section that I will be analysing, Tess’ first husband, Angel, arrives at Tess’ house. This arouses Mrs Brooks’ curiosity; she then spies on Tess and Alec and later finds Alec’s body. “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” was published in instalments in a newspaper, and so the suspense techniques would have to keep the reader wanting to read the next instalment.
Whilst both authors use similar suspense techniques, “Tell Tale Heart” is a short story, and so the suspense needed will be different from those in the novel “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, which was first published in instalments. In “Tell Tale Heart”, suspense needs to build gradually, in order to keep the reader engages, whereas, in “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, suspense levels will be rising and falling throughout the novel and the characters and plot can help to keep the reader engaged far better than in a short story , as the reader grows attached to a certain character.
In a suspense story, the role of the narrator is vital in building and maintaining the suspense. In “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, Hardy introduces a new character, Mrs Brooks, who becomes the narrator for the chapter, unlike Poe who cannot introduce numerous characters as “Tell Tale Heart” is a short story. The third person account in “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” helps to create suspense: “The landlady looked through the keyhole. Only a small space of the room inside was visible.” This gives a limited view of the scene and causes the reader to become frustrated as they only get half of the story. Poe uses a first person account and although it is different from Hardy’s third person account, it too aids the creation of suspense.
The monologue used by Poe forces the read to follow the narrator and in parts, when his thoughts become jumbled and excited: “They heard! – They suspected! – They KNEW!” Poe manages to create suspense by making the reader feel afraid, not just of what is about to happen, but also of the narrator as he shows his madness. This is very different from “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” as the narrator is sane and therefore not unexpectedly exited as Poe’s narrator is. When the narrator of “Tell Tale Heart”‘ constantly insists that he is in fact not mad: “why WILL you say that I am Mad?” it clearly shows the reader his insanity and through that builds suspense as the reader waits for his next move, uncertain as to whether or not he will do something not expected by the reader.
In “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” the fact that Mrs Brooks is unusually curious when Angel turns up, when she “was not a person of an unusually curious turn of mind”, suggests to the reader that something out of the ordinary is going to happen, as the narrator is acting out of character. Hardy builds suspense through the reader’s desire to know what is about to take place. Poe does not use this technique in order to build suspense.
Unlike Hardy, who tells the reader that his narrator is female, Poe uses a narrator which could be either male or female as due to the monologue, the narrator is never given a name or called “he” or “she”. One explanation for the narrator being nameless is to show the reader that anyone is capable of murder, no matter who they are or where they come from, everyone has the ability to be as ruthless as the narrator. This helps to build suspense as the reader realises that they, or anyone around them, could do as the narrator did and this helps to make them fell uneasy. “Tell Tale Heart” is also different from “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” as the narrator in Hardy’s text is not the one at fault.
A key suspense technique, used by both authors, is the withholding of information and occasionally signposting information to the reader. In “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, the fact that, due to the narrator, the reader can only hear fragments of Alec’s and Tess’ conversation helps to build tension: “There were more and sharper words from the man.” The reader wants to know what is being said, to find out what new knowledge can be gained. Poe does not use this technique in the same way, instead he uses the narrator to withhold information using his madness as the reason that the reader doesn’t receive all the information they would like. Also, in “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, senses are used, “hear the floor-boards slightly creak”, this helps build suspense as the reader can visualise the scene well but still does not fully know what is happening between Tess and Alec. Poe does not use senses nearly as much as Hardy. However, the parts of “Tell Tale Heart” where this technique is used, it is used to the best effect: “quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton.” This links in with the narrator’s obsession with time and helps the reader to visualise the scene clearly whilst only knowing the bare minimum about the murder.
In “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, after Tess finishes her monologue, the reader is told that “there were more and sharper words” from Alec but as Mrs Brooks leaves the scene, the reader doesn’t know what was said. One similarity between the texts is that fact that Poe also uses this technique, as “Tell Tale Heart” is a monologue and as the narrator is mad, we are only given the information that he chooses to tell us.
Hardy uses signposting is “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” to give the reader a clue as to what may have happened: “the carving knife was missing” This may not at first be noticed by the reader, but they later make the link between the missing knife and Tess leaving when they learn of the murder. At the time that “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” was published, murder mysteries were highly popular and so this use of signposting may have been more obvious to them then, as they would be know that this technique was being used. Poe doesn’t use signposting in the same way, instead, the narrator merely tells the reader what he plans to do: “I made up my mind to take the life of the old man” This makes the reader feel suspense as they have to wait for the murder and do not know how it will happen.
Control over structure and time can aid the creation of suspense. In “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, Hardy uses a variation of detail, giving the reader a lot of information about, for example, the furniture in the room or the type of door used in the house: “by folding-doors in the common manner”. This is something that the reader isn’t interested in and so builds suspense as the reader wait for the key information of the chapter. Similarly, in “Tell Tale Heart”, Poe uses a variety of detail in the same way.
The narrator describes the days leading up to the murder in minute detail: “I undid the lantern cautiously – oh so cautiously – cautiously (for the hinges creaked)”. Again, this is information that the reader isn’t interested in and so builds suspense as the reader waits for the key information, the murder, which the narrator doesn’t cover in great detail “and pulled the heavy bed over him”. This could be because at the time such images were not often seen and so Poe decided not to include it. However, another reason for the variation of detail could be to show the narrator’s madness as well as to aid in the building of suspense, as the reader would want to know what had happened and so has to wait, building the tension.
The narrator of “Tell Tale Heart” seems to be obsessed with time: “For a whole hour”. This builds suspense as the reader wants to know what will happen next but has to follow the narrator through the description of the time. Hardy, however, does not use this technique.
In “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, most of the information is given to the reader by Mrs Brooks. “The landlady looked through the keyhole”. This creates a distorted view of the scene, since the reader only knows part of what is happening. “Tell Tale Heart” does not use this technique, as all of the information comes from the main character, this also gives a distorted view of the plot as the narrator is mad, however, the reader isn’t left guessing at so much of the detail in comparison with “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”.
In Hardy’s text, the fact that Mrs Brooks goes to call someone to find out what has happened builds further suspense for the reader. “She begged him to come in”. This delays the reader from gaining knowledge of what has happened, building tension. Her fear of going up on her own also suggests that something awful has happened. Poe doesn’t use this technique, as the reader is with the narrator throughout the murder.
In the Victorian era, long sentences with complex sentence structures, were widely used. Both authors show the emotion of their characters through punctuation. In “Tell Tale Heart”, when the narrator begins to become distressed, Poe shows this through his selection of punctuation. Poe shows the narrator’s nerves, through the abundant number of exclamation marks: “hark! louder! louder! louder! LOUDER!” This is an effective technique as it quickens the pace of the text and also causes the rhythm of the prose to mimic the heart beats of his own heart, the heart he can hear and the reader’s heart beat. Hardy also used exclamation marks in “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”: “I can’t bear this! – I cannot!” Again, this quickens the pace of the text, building tension as the reader anticipates what is about to happen. It also shows Tess’ distress by altering the tone of her voice. This creates tension as we wonder if she will do something she may later regret.
Hardy doesn’t use as many exclamation marks as Poe, instead he uses a great number of ellipses to show how Tess is feeling: “my dear, dear husband came home to me… and I did not know it!…” This shows the reader Tess’ outpouring of emotion and the random flitting about of her thoughts, she hasn’t thought through what she is going to say. The use of ellipses also suggests that she may be crying, and the ellipses are showing when she stops to take a breath.
The use of the ellipses slows the pace of the text, this is different from “Tell Tale Heart” which does not contain any ellipses and the pace is, therefore, much quicker. Poe uses a great deal of dashes: “I foamed — I raved — I swore!” This is effective as it quickens the pace of the text, forcing the reader to follow the narrator at a much faster rate, building suspense.
Hardy also uses dashes but not nearly as many as Poe: “never – O God – I can’t bear this” This again quickens the pace, forcing the reader to feel suspense. It also adds extra information, contrasting with the lack of information earlier.
Hardy uses semi-colons in “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”: “my husband would never come back – never; and you taunted me” This adds to the complex sentences already being used, which were popular at the time. The use of long, complex sentences with various subordinate clauses mirror her lack of control of her emotion. “My little sisters and … expect him!” This causes the conversation to become disjointed. This builds tension through the reader’s pace of reading, which, due to the dashes and exclamation mark, has quickened. Poe doesn’t use that many semi-colons but does, however, use long, complex sentences: “The ringing ….my ears.” This was popular when Poe wrote “Tell Tale Heart” and aids the creation of suspense by controlling the pace. Again, this causes the rhythm of the prose to mimic a heart beat, building suspense as the reader slows their reading just before the fastest section of the text.
In “Tell Tale Heart”, capitals are used throughout the text to show the narrator’s madness and also his excitement. It is used most effectively, in the last paragraph of the text, when the narrator hears a heart beat: “they KNEW!” This is effective because it adds emphasis in certain places, adding to the tension for the reader. The capital letters, along with the quickened pace of the text, make a highly successful suspense technique. Hardy does not use this technique, perhaps because the pace of “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” is much slower and so this technique would not be as effective. Hardy begins Tess’ speech with the word “And”. This suggests that more has been said and so frustrates the reader as they have not heard the entire speech, meaning they may not have all of the information. Poe also does this. He begins “Tell Tale Heat” with the word “TRUE!” This not only shows the narrator’s madness but also pulls the reader straight into the story. It creates suspense by catching the reader off guard, as it is very abrupt and unexpected, this causes the reader to wonder what other unexpected things he may do.
The language and imagery used by an author can greatly aid the creation of tension. In “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, during Tess’ speech, Hardy uses metaphorical language “you have torn my life”. This adds drama to what Tess is saying. Poe also uses metaphors: “my blood ran cold”. This chilling language creates suspense by making the reader feel scared. Hardy also uses chilling imagery. He writes that the spot of blood on the ceiling “had the appearance of a gigantic ace of hearts.” As Alec’s cause of death was a knife to the heart, this image creates suspense for the reader and scares them with not only the fact that there is blood, but also later on when they realise the symbolism. Hardy uses a simile to describe Tess’ moaning, “a soul bound to some Ixionian wheel”, this use of imagery shows Tess’ despair as an Ixionian wheel is a medieval instrument of torture, meaning that the reader is told in full of the despair that Tess is in, contrasting with the lack of information in other places of the chapter.
Hardy uses a pun when Mrs Brooks’ eyes “arrested” on the ceiling. This is a pun because her eyes arrested on the ceiling, Alec’s heart arrested and Tess will be arrested for her crime. It builds suspense for the more observant readers because it gives them a small clue as to what will happen next but they have to wait to see if their thoughts are correct. Poe also uses puns in his text, but not to the same extent as Hardy.
In “Tell Tale Heart”, hypocrisy is used, for example, the narrator calls the men “Villains” when he is fact is the villain. This makes the reader distrust the narrator, building suspense as the wonder of what he will do next. Hardy uses this technique as well, but it is far more obvious in Poe’s piece.
Hardy and Poe use quite different tones in their texts. Hardy uses a more formal tone “Mrs Brooks hastened downstairs”. This would have been widely used in Hardy’s time. Poe, however, uses an informal tone with colloquial interjections in parts, whilst in other he uses a chilling, callus tone: “I was never kinder to the old man than in the week before I killed him.” This change from being friendly towards the read, to showing them how emotionless he is, builds drama by shocking the reader.
“Tell Tale Heart” uses interjections: “Ha!” This makes the reader feel as though the narrator is there with them, it makes it more like a narrative. It also makes the reader feel uneasy when he suddenly says these interjections This is different from “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” as Hardy does not use any interjections throughout the piece due to the formal tone of his text. However, when Tess is talking to Alec, she adds many interjections, showing her confusion.
Monosyllabic words are used by both authors. Hardy uses monosyllabic words to add impact. “Drip, drip, drip” The use of these words draws the read to certain words, emphasising the phrases that the author wants emphasised to build tension. Poe uses monosyllabic words for the same reasons as Hardy, for example: “Hark!” This shocks the reader and builds tension as it is unexpected.
Both authors repeat certain words. Poe uses a lot of repetitions in “Tell Tale Heart”: “nervous. True, very, very nervous I am”” this drags out the narrator’s point and, therefore, builds, suspense. It also drills the word into the reader’s head. Hardy uses less repetition and of what he does write, most of it is in the pattern of three, making it even more effective. “Drip, drip, drip” , this builds suspense by repeating a word that, along with other clues given by Hardy, is quite chilling chilling three times, forcing the reader to remember the image.
In “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”, Tess leaves leaves the house wearing black, with the veil drawn: “veil was drawn” The black and the veil link with death, funerals and mourning. Another time that Hardy does this is with the red stain: “scarlet blot”. Throughout the novel Tess is linked with red to symbolise her passion
To the Victorian reader, there is a sense of justice about this because she did not follow the normal life of those times, she will be hanged because of her crime and the red stain is the first clue to the reader about this ( as it links with pain, suffering and death). Through this, Hardy creates suspense as the reader waits to see whether or not their thoughts are correct.
The detailed description of Alec’s wound in “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”: “wound was small” would have shocked a Victorian reader as it was not common for even this amount of description of a wound to be written. It would also have added to the controversy of the novel as Hardy had painted Tess in a good light and in Victorian times, Tess would have been at fault for getting pregnant out of wedlock. It would have also acted as a cliff-hanger, as “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” as published in instalments and so Hardy would have had to keep the reader’s interest in-between chapters, using cliff-hangers, or it would not sell. Poe doesn’t give a detailed description of the murder, possibly due to the fact that that was not often done at the time.
Overall, both Poe and Hardy were highly successful at creating and maintaining suspense throughout their texts. I personally feel that withholding information and signposting, along with sentence construction and punctuation, were the most successful techniques used. The withholding of information frustrates the reader, engaging interest. Signposting causes the reader to question an outcome. Sentence construction and punctuation set the pace of the text. I found “Tell Tale Heart” the better texts, as the pace was faster and I found the narrator interesting. However, “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” is a novel, whilst “Tell Tale Heart” is a short story and so there are different demands of the suspense for each. Both texts are extremely well written with a good use of suspense techniques. Clearly both authors knew exactly what suspense means and how to use it.