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The Ghost Story - The Old Nurse's Story, by Elizabeth Gaskell and The Axe, by Penelope Fitzgerald

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Coursework - Wide Reading - The Ghost Story The Old Nurse's Story, by Elizabeth Gaskell and The Axe, by Penelope Fitzgerald "Of the two stories you have read, which do you think is the most effective ghost story? Which story do you prefer and why?" English ghost stories became popular in 1855 when a tax reform brought about the withdrawal of duty on newspapers. This brought about a magazine boom that fed the large literate middle class who were thirsty for sensation. To satisfy their readers, magazines needed stories and promised "fiction of powerful interest". Charles Dickens owned one of the most popular periodicals of the time - All the Year Round, first published in 1859. Dickens filled the bumper Christmas editions with his stories, forgoing the Christmas link to ghost stories for the modern age. They were a popular feature for the season where "pocketbooks were opened a little wider than usual". Ghost stories were much more popular in the 1900s because there were few forms of entertainment. They were a lot more effective in those days - the typical flickering candlelight and crackling fires provided a suitable atmosphere for its transmission. According to Jung, television and cinema has dampened our "primitive feelings and apprehensions". ...read more.


The end satisfactorily ties up most questions that arise. A similar enigmatic air was present in The Axe. It is bleak, even mundane, at the beginning, which contrasts greatly with the end, where the story reaches its chilling climax. Unlike The Old Nurse's Story, The Axe is very ambiguous. There are many things mentioned that seem significant at the time, but come to nothing at the end. The damp is an example of this. "...the peculiar smell (not the smell of ordinary damp)..." The damp is frequently mentioned in The Axe, but is never explained at the end. Perhaps it was a dead body buried underneath the floorboards; maybe it was nothing but the author adding to the uneasiness of the reader. Either way, the author manages to make the reader increasingly wary of what is unravelling. The tension in both stories is built up slowly. In The Axe there are subtle mentions of the damp smell and many references to death that may not be picked up on the first reading. For example, the 'severance pay' and when the boss says that: "Nobody's fault is nobody's funeral." They are morbid comments that add to the tension that the reader already feels. ...read more.


The description of the final ghost is horribly realistic: "The eyes were thickly filmed over, as one sees in the carcasses in a butcher's shop." It is related to something we can easily imagine and this gives us a frighteningly vivid mental image of the ghost. The enigmatic and ambiguous atmosphere to the story also adds to its effectiveness. Despite The Axe being very effective as a ghost story, I preferred The Old Nurse's Story. I found The Axe a little mundane. It did not interest me from the beginning as The Old Nurse's Story did. The latter story had interesting characters that were well-developed for such a short story. The setting, although not as effective now as it would have been in Victorian times, had some wonderful visual detail. What I liked most about The Old Nurse's Story was that it had a point to it. There were real ghosts with real histories and reasons for haunting the old manor. While The Axe could have had a point, it was unclear as to what it was. At first, the enigma of the story was intriguing, but when most of the subtle hints came to nothing, it became irritating. For these reasons, I personally preferred reading The Old Nurse's Story. ...read more.

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