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Examine how a sense of mystery, terror and suspense is created and maintained in 'The Old Nurse's Story' By Elizabeth Gaskell. You should consider specifically, how successful the story is as a piece of Gothic fiction.

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Introduction

GCSE Coursework Assignment: The Pre-Twentieth Century Unit Examine how a sense of mystery, terror and suspense is created and maintained in 'The Old Nurse's Story' By Elizabeth Gaskell. You should consider specifically, how successful the story is as a piece of Gothic fiction. The Gothic Novel is a type of prose fiction, first introduced around the 1760s by Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto: A Gothic Story (1764). This style of writing was popular until the mid 1800s. Primary examples of the Gothic Novel are William Beckford's Vathek in 1786, and perhaps the best known, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein of 1817. It was only into the 19th Century that the Gothic Novel started to appear a little outdated, as Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey in 1818 satire of the genre showed. The stereotypical view of women harboured in Gothic fiction, discussed later, became less and less apparent as time drew on, views of women changed, and more of the authors were female. The main characteristics of the Gothic tradition are its medieval context, with the typical settings of large, sprawling mansions and castles, harbouring hidden tunnels, secret areas, dungeons and unexplored rooms. Outdoors were desolate moors and twisted, dead trees, and events usually took place at nighttime or when it was snowing. This bleak setting reflected the macabre atmosphere of the stories, which usually involved a vulnerable heroine, alone and unprotected, falling prey to a lustful villain or supernatural beings. Supernatural occurrences often turned out to have perfectly normal explanations, yet there was always an atmosphere of gloom and foreboding. ...read more.

Middle

The Old Lord is a stereotypical Gothic character, the typical villain, who is a "proud" yet violent man, who banishes his daughter and wounds his grandchild. Violent words are constantly used, describing him as "cursing and swearing". The image of a dangerous and violent man, who is forced to play his organ, a typical Gothic instrument, as his only means of communication with the living, creates horror in the reader, especially as details of him are slowly built up throughout the piece, starting with the organ playing and ending at the finale of the story when all his shocking history is revealed. I believe the Old Lord to be one of the most successful characters of the book, despite being relatively generic to most Gothic Novels, as he instils genuine terror in the reader. Dorothy and Bessie are the servants who are seen to harbour the manor's darkest secrets and history. Gaskell has intended their frail and secretive nature to be mirrored in the fear built up in the reader's mind, as they are seen to look at each other "fearfully" and are "half frightened". Again, they leave questions unanswered, so more mystery and suspense is built up in the reader's mind. An important factor in building up tension in Gaskell's story is the inclusion of unanswered questions, which are revealed in the exposition. This is done so that the reader is kept in the dark about what is going on, and is consequently more tense. It is known that the human mind is more afraid of the unknown than the known, even if it is terrifying. ...read more.

Conclusion

Charles Dickens once said "I have no doubt according to every principle of art that is known to me from Shakespeare downwards, that you weaken the terror of the ghost story by making them all see the phantoms at the end." I agree with this statement, but Gaskell obviously does not, as she has hidden the ghosts previously from the reader, and wants everything to build up to a dramatic climax at the end. However, I do not agree with this, as if one did not see the phantoms in the end, then there would still be a little mystery left in the reader's mind after the book had finished. While Gaskell does manage to round the story off at the end well, I think that a better result would have been obtained if, slightly differently to the Gothic Tradition, Gaskell had left only Miss Grace and Miss Rosamond to see the ghosts, still leaving traces of doubts and open questions in the readers mind even after he or she had read the novel. Gaskell clearly believes that supernatural beings exist because they are unable to achieve closure of this world, and must have peace before they can move on to the next world. Gaskell therefore implies that the supernatural are spiritual beings that are stuck in a nether world, between this and the next world. She also believes that in suppressing thoughts and experiences, which are unpleasant, and casting them into the unconscious or subconscious mind, havoc is caused in the long term, causing psychological damage. This is typical of the Gothic Genre, which is seen by many as having an aim to explore the unconscious and subconscious mind. ...read more.

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