In this essay I am going to discuss three Victorian short stories. The three Victorian short stories are “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs, “The Red Room” by H.G. Wells and “The Signalman” by Charles Dickens. The three Victorian stories have supernatural encounters, they are all three written in the gothic genre. The gothic genre is a genre which aims to create an atmosphere which scares the reader. To do this the writers use several features like a dark, sinister and eerie atmosphere where the characters are isolated, this makes the reader feel isolated as well. The detailed descriptions in these three Victorian stories also make the reader start thinking about the supernatural, this causes an uncomfortable and unnerving atmosphere for the reader.
“The Monkey’ s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs is about a sergeant-major who goes to India and gets a paw which a fakir puts a spell on the paw so you can wish for something but what ever you wish for does come true but later when you have wished something bad happens as well. “The Red Room” by H.G. Wells is about a young man who is not scared of ghosts, but when he goes in to an old mansion were three grotesque old people live who looked after the mansion. When he goes in the mansion the three old people tell him about a red room where a old Duke had died before. The room is to be haunted by him and nobody has ever been in it so the young man goes in it and comes out of it with blood on his neck. “The Signalman” is written by Charles Dickens. It’s about a signalman who thinks that there is a ghost who warns him when something bad is going to happen on the railway tracks and bells rings. When the bell rings the ghost appears in front of him under the red light and says “Halloa below there”. The signalman is frightened of the ghost. At the end of the story the ghost is unknown. All the three short stories are written, by three different writers but the writers cause suspense by cliff-hangers at the end of all the stories.
The similarities in the three short stories are that they are all set in the Victorian era between 1865-1902 between this time the Victorians were very sceptical about unnatural things and stories. Also near to the end of the Victorian era, Victorians were becoming advanced and new technology was being invented. The Victorian thought that they where more clever then the people in the past. People during this time reacted in different ways to the discovery of new technology, some people liked it and some didn’t.
“The Red Room” and “The Signalman” are written in the first person narrator which makes the reader feel involved in the narrator’s experience. The three Victorian short stories also have a twist to the endings, they all have cliff-hangers which leaves the reader thinking about the unnatural and if the three short stories were true or not . The endings to the short stories leave the reader thinking if supernatural encounters still happen.
These three stories are important short stories written during the Victorian period. The three stories were written in different times “The Signalman was written in 1865, “The Monkey’s Paw” was written in 1902 and “The Red Room” was written in 1894. As the three stories were written in different times they contain different gothic elements. Which lead the three stories having differences in atmosphere and setting.
It is also important to explain the social and historical background, in the Victorian era there was great change in technology. At this time the Victorians were becoming advanced and new technology was being invented.
“The Signalman” was written in the period when the Victorians were inventing new technology. This is shown particularly in “The Signalman” there is a train which is a Victorian invention. The signalman dies in the end of the story because of a train crash. Dickens reflects his own experience of a train crash. In this period when there was more technology some of the Victorians were very intimidated and were against the new technology and inventions because they wanted to stay with the old traditions. On the other hand some people wanted to have new technology and inventions so they were excited and happy with the new technology. The new generation saw themselves as modern and cleverer then the older generation. The new generations were still interested in the supernatural stories and myths the supernatural made them fell excited and they wanted to explore. This is reflected in “The Signalman” and “The Red Room” which both show the views and interests of the new generations. The narrators in both stories are younger than the older characters they meet. In “The Signalman” the narrator is interested in the new technology of the railways whilst the young man in “The Red Room” is sceptical of the older people’s superstitions and fears.
Firstly I am going to talk about how “The Red Room” by Wells uses the setting of his story to create an isolated atmosphere. One way he does this is through the personification of shadows, he writes, “…the shadows seemed to take another step towards me”. The effect of this is that the narrator is feeling threatened because he is alone. This adds to the atmosphere by suggesting the shadows are alive the narrator is feeling threatened by the sinister atmosphere.
Another technique Wells uses, is a metaphor by using an isolated atmosphere. He does this by using metaphors to describe the setting as horrifying as possible around the narrator. Wells writes “An ocean of mystery and suggestion beyond its island of light”. This is suggesting that there is more darkness than light and the narrator feels very isolated and small and is surrounded by darkness.
Another technique Wells also uses is sound to create a mysterious atmosphere, Wells shares the sounds created with his readers, Wells writes “I walked down the chilly, echoing passage”. The writer creates a cold atmosphere, which shows that there could be a sign of ghosts in the passage way. The narrator is feeling isolated and scared therefore the reader feels this tension too.
The last technique the writer uses to create isolation is through emphasising the darkness, the writer does this to create an uncomfortable atmosphere for the narrator and the reader. He writes,
“The moonlight picked out everything in vivid black shadows or silvery illumination” The writer emphasises the darkness and the moonlight adds to the ominous atmosphere.
Turning to “The Signalman”, written by Charles Dickens. Charles Dickens creates an unnatural environment in this story he does this by creating an eerie atmosphere and an unnatural environment. Dickens describes the train as a pulsating monster, he writes,
“A vague vibration in the earth and air” then “a violent pulsation” and an “oncoming rush” and “vapour” Dickens describes the train as menacing he describes, it as an earth shaking monster that is going to get the signalman. This emphasises that the railway is dangerous and this can contribute to the suspense of the story by suggesting a possible accident and showing the unnaturalness of this ‘new technology’.
Dickens uses a metaphor to describe the trapped signalman, he creates a sinister atmosphere by writing “…this great dungeon…”. This quotation gives a sense of the signalman being isolated and trapped which contributes to underground tombs and graves. Dungeons can also suggest death because it is where people are isolated this implies a sense of being trapped and closer to both danger and death.
Dickens uses a method to create a dark and a gloomy atmosphere, through using words that describe darkness such as ” so little sunlight” that “it had an earthly and deathly smell”. This is saying that there is not enough sunlight and has a earthly and deadly smell, due to being underground.