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Examine the setting and atmosphere in three Gothic Stories: The Red Room by H.G. Wells, The Old Nurse's Story by Elizabeth Gaskell, and The Signalman by Charles Dickens.

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Introduction

Examine the setting and atmosphere in three Gothic Stories: - The Red Room by H.G. Wells - The Old Nurse's Story by Elizabeth Gaskell - The Signalman by Charles Dickens Gothic stories are a type of romantic fiction that predominated English Literature in the last third of the 18th century and the first two decades of the 19th century. During the nineteenth century, short stories written in gothic tradition became extremely popular. It was a time when supernatural powers were still believable. These stories, with elements of vengeance, trickery, imprisonment and fear were conceived during the gothic era and are still read today with the power to enthral and chill their audience one hundred years on. All gothic stories are recognisable, for they all incorporate numerous elements that are unique to the gothic tradition. Gothic stories rely on the atmosphere and setting to create tension. The setting is usually a grand, secluded castle or abbey. Gothic stories emphasise mystery and horror and are filled with ghosts, haunted rooms, underground passages and spiral stairways. The Red Room, The Old Nurse's Story and The Signalman are examples of Gothic stories which demonstrate the importance of setting. The settings in these stories convey how remote and desolate the locations are, which is a typical feature of gothic stories to build mood and atmosphere. The Red Room is set inside an old haunted castle far from civilisation. The haunted castle sets the tension in the scene. The Old Nurse's Story is set in the black moors of Northumberland. The isolation of such settings results in long journeys over some bleak and dangerous land. The setting and the isolation of Furnivall Manor enhances the atmosphere. It is created by Elizabeth Gaskell to clarify to her reader how defenceless and vulnerable the characters would be if something were to go wrong. The element of imprisonment is exposed, which is typical in a gothic story. ...read more.

Middle

You begin to imagine his fear. He becomes terrified as the candles go out one after the other. 'My hands trembled so much I missed the rough paper of the matchbox.' This leads up to the climax of the story where the room is black and still. 'I flung out my arms in a vain effort to thrust that ponderous blackness away from me... screamed with all my might - once, twice, thrice.' Dickens creates a lot of suspense throughout the story with the opening words and as the narrator descends the cutting, and looking at the signalman whose actions are very weird. The suspense is created as the signalman tells the gentleman of the weird happenings recently. The tension is maintained throughout the story. 'But I expressly intend to make you another visit.' The two men meet both times at the bottom of the cutting at night. 'I will come at eleven.' This mood is kept due to darkness, as it would be lost if they were to meet on a sunny afternoon. When they retreat to the signal box, the signalman looks outside towards the tunnel more than once. This creates expectancy of what is going to happen. The signalman reveals he is troubled. Dickens nearly has you convinced that the signalman is a ghost. As when they do meet, he 'looks towards the red light'. He seems very mysterious and unpredictable. You begin to feel edgy but then the signalman shows fear. A ghost or spirit is not expected to feel this way. The tension you felt begins to fade. After their conversation the man leaves and the signalman tells him not to call out the words, "Halloa! Below there!" One becomes curious about what the words may mean to the signalman and why he is scared of them. Tension is created through horror and ambiguity. Normally a good suspense story should have them. ...read more.

Conclusion

The man was scared of 'fear', which he himself created in the first place. It is an unexpected ending which makes it a good story. H.G. Wells builds up tension excellently prior to entering the red room, and mostly in the red room itself. I feel, however, that the story was too straightforward and short. It does have a great ending but there is no storyline. More could have been said about the characters and why the young man travelled to the castle to stay in the haunted room. Creating the unknown does create tension but omitting too much makes the story too short and basic. The Signalman is my favourite compared to the other two stories. I definitely did not expect that ending. The story is based around just a couple of words. It began because of the words "Halloa! Below there!" Without those words there is no story. The similar words 'below there, look out,' are the most decisive words of the story. Dickens manages to prove this evidently and makes it quite thrilling. The sense of tension was also created right from the beginning. In the end it is the gentleman's fault that the signalman dies because if he hadn't called down to him in the first place, the signalman would have looked up as the train came down the tunnel. You start to wonder, could it have been fate? No matter what happened between the start of the story and his death, it couldn't have been prevented. He obviously feels responsible for his death and you feel that if he hadn't associated himself with the man none of this would have happened for he says, 'The words which I myself - not he - had attached.' This is quite a mysterious and even scary thought. The fact that this lingers with you until after you have read it, I believe, makes it an excellent story. The storyline is great and while reading it I was kept at the edge of my seat. The superb, yet sad, ending left me in awe! ...read more.

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