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‘The Signalman’ by Charles Dickens and ‘The Smell’ by Patrick McGrath. Explore the ways in which Two Authors Create Mystery, Suspense and Horror

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GCSE English Coursework Explore the ways in which Two Authors Create Mystery, Suspense and Horror Horror is one of the most popular genres for fiction stories and one that many people enjoy for many reasons. The supernatural and psychological aspects of the stories provoke a lot of thought in people and trigger such emotions as terror and fear while enthralling and chilling the reader and making them read on. Two stories I have read are 'The Signalman' by Charles Dickens and 'The Smell' by Patrick McGrath. Charles Dickens, born in the 19th Century is the most famous Victorian novelist and witnessed a fatal train crash just two years prior to writing 'The Signalman' which influenced him in the writing of it. Patrick McGrath, however, is a living author, who specialises in 'Gothic' style short stories. The different time eras of these authors can be seen in their style of writing and story. Charles Dickens' supernatural story is typical of the 19th century, and in particular the latter half when this type of story became very popular. The many religious ideas about life after death and ghosts etc were beginning to be challenged by science and in particular the theory of evolution (Charles Darwin, Early 19th Century). This made the thought of ghosts and supernatural happenings scary because they seems unexplainable and irrational. Nowadays the idea of ghosts has got old and not as many people are interested. The expectations of modern Horror readers are more to do with the psychological. In the early 20th Century Sigmund Freud created psychoanalysis and the interest in mental illnesses and such things became greater. Horror stories involving psychological problems became more popular because we realise that the things that happen in them are possible in real life, unlike the ghost stories, and this makes them scarier. Both the stories I read are similar in that they involve a death, which is a typical trait of a horror story and they both involve a character that foresees his own death. ...read more.


The narrator tells how he "punished" his family for wanting to keep the dog but does not expand on this, so it could be anything. The suspense gets greater later when he tells how he felt sad "that it should come to this". We do not know what "this" is and so it is very frightening and also it builds up the suspense so we have to read on to find out what he did. Even when we've read on we still don't know what exactly he does because he just describes it as "horror" which means again we are left guessing making the story even more frightening. The Narrators contribute greatly to the mystery and suspense of the stories but each in a different way. They are similar in that they both are first person narratives and this adds to the mystery and suspense because they tell the story from a limited point of view and cannot see or tell everything that is going on, which can be frightening for the reader. However two differences between the two stories is the reliability of the narrators and how central they are to the story. In 'The Signalman' the narrator seems to be reliable and tells the story truthfully but in 'The Smell' the narrator does and says odd things that lead the reader to question his reliability and consider the possibility that he has the mental illness paranoid schizophrenia. He acts oddly early on when he says "We observed Christmas with the solemnity appropriate to the holiday" which seems strange because Christmas is meant to be a happy joyous time and then he reveals, "I punished them of course" for wanting to keep the stray dog which is also very strict and strange. Then when he says "I and I alone ...detected the odour" it suggests that something may be wrong in his mind because if there were a smell then everyone would smell it. ...read more.


He describes himself as being "suffocated...like a dirty cork in a bottle of rancid milk" at the end of the story and this can be seen as severe punishment for his actions. In Dickens' story the death of the signalman is not so much a punishment for evil deeds because he is a good man and does not deserve his fate. Usually stories with a didactic meaning involve reward for good but in this story the man dies and so it shows that Dickens has quite a pessimistic 'world- view'. He believes that innocent people die in the world when they cannot do anything about it and this may be inspired by his experience of the fatal train crash a year before he wrote the story, when he tended to the dead and dying passengers that were on the train with him. He may of felt angry or disappointed with the world for taking those innocent lives. Overall the two stories contain much mystery, suspense and horror that manages to enthral the reader while chilling them and conveying the terror of the men's situations. The two Authors have used many ways to create all this in the stories and they both full fill the expectations of the readers from the different centuries they were wrote. 'The Signalman' is a story that would chill the 19th Century reader because of their expectations of the supernatural in horror stories. It is a very mysterious and suspense filled story that has many hidden meanings and that's what makes it very popular, not only when it was written but nowadays as well. 'The Smell' is also a story that manages to frighten the modern day reader. It has the psychological aspect and that's what makes it scarier to readers of our time. We know that the story told could well happen in real life and this makes it very frightening. The story contains much mystery and horror and also uses a lot of irony to make it enthralling and popular. ?? ?? ?? ?? Page 2 Matthew Berry 11MD ...read more.

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