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Elizabeth Gaskell

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Ben Bowman, 10 Gr Wider Reading Essay The supernatural genre has made consistently engrossing reading throughout the history of popular storytelling. Whenever a new discovery is made that has major ramifications regarding the nature of conscious existence, regardless of its practical moral implications, a certain class of novelist will take inspiration and pen a variety of outlandish tales of the unexplainable. It is then that the slightly insecure among the general population start to wonder 'what if?'. A great many discoveries at any one period in time serves to enhance this effect, and the stories emerge in clusters. The works of Elizabeth Gaskell, for instance, where written during the Industrial Revolution. The great acceleration in science and industry left many people confused and alienated from the world around them. Civil unrest can also spawn it's own breed of worrying fables. Gaskell drew her inspiration from the Gothic period of the 19th century, where wars between the different Templar sects and religious cults led to severe unrest which is again reflected in the literature. Tales of the supernatural extend further back than that; right back to the works of Homer and his contemporaries, who wrote stories about the exploits of the Gods to inspire the armies of the ancient Greek kingdoms. Good and Evil are quiet possibly the two most vague and virtually indecipherable terms to focus on for a comparative essay such as this. What constitutes good and evil varies from genre to genre, and from author to author. With the two stories in question taking the ghosts as evil and their human victims as good would be an acceptable generalisation to work from, owing to the undesirable reputation of the undead in works of fiction. Opinions may vary over the intentions of both these groups of subject matter, but it is the outcome that we must dissect in order to extract the good and evil from the prose. ...read more.


When Tom Brett refuses to be convinced of the caller's plight by a second phone call Geoff begins to doubt it's reliability. Tom goes as far as to virtually forbid Geoff from bothering him with the issue again. Now Geoff finds himself in another horror film dilemma; in a difficult situation with no-one to turn to for help, exactly where a Samaritan doesn't want to be. The third call is exactly what he didn't need. The same cold and dreary tones commentating on it's own demise, holding Meg in an icy grip. Geoff's self-control snaps when he sees what ghastly effects these crackled pleas are having on his beloved. He takes the phone, and the mystery caller rings off. The reappearance of Rosamond's phantom child drives the little girl into a frenzy much akin to Harry Lancaster's violent outburst, the dramatic effect of which is enhanced by the thunderous clap of organ music. Hester's maternal instincts override her panicked confusion and she rushes Rosamond out of harms way, and into the security of the warm kitchen. The sinister little ghost child obviously has the same stranglehold on Rosamond as the mystery caller has on Meg, for it causes her to forget all those years of loving companionship and berate Hester as she would a childhood nemesis. The ghost child scares the wits from Dorothy the servant, and that blind terror demands an explanation. When pressed hard she relates a dastardly account of such love, intrigue, betrayal and murder that Mills & Boon probably own the copyright. The tale tells of two haughty beauties, torn apart by mutual love for an amorous musician, and the repulsive acts of a classically proud yet critically unhinged Lord when he discovers there is a bastard in the family. Such actions by the aristocracy of the time would be socially unacceptable to preserve the name of an honourable family. ...read more.


Harry fell with dramatic style, hence the raving and throthing at the mouth. With Harry's death the Samaritans lost a great advocate, but they also lost Agnes, for she never returned again to prey on more innocent souls. Both of these two stories demonstrate good and evil in their extremes; evil in the baleful grasp that the dead hold over the living and the dastardly ways in which they manifest themselves, and good in the protective instincts that love inspires in the living. Neither Geoff or Hester ever bowed in the face of their respective nemeses and the adversity that was thrust before them. There are differences within these two groups as well. The ghost child's efforts to draw Rosamond to an icy death are no doubt evil, but there is a innocence behind that evil; the innocence of a lonely child seeking companionship to face the awful victimisation they suffered. The old Lord and Agnes Todd, however, represent unhinged individuals with whom life has toyed mercilessly. Neither of these two evils could overcome the iron bonds of love and companionship that the living share, and the good in both stories prevailed. The two tales both draw on deep cultural backgrounds, both in literal influences and the social atmosphere at the time. Gaskell's piece is deeper in subtle meanings and artistic licence, owing to a more classical education and lack of media desensitisation. Robert Westall, who became famous for his tale of a child's war, The Machine Gunners, has brought to his story all the ideals of modern horror and suspense, but his piece reflect non of the silent meaning and climactic phrases that Elizabeth Gaskell fits into her work. He fails to communicate his visions of good and evil, leaving doubt in the reader's mind about the true meaning of his words. The modern culture of death and gore which fill our screens nightly under the false veil of 'horror' films leave little market for more subdued, and yet even so much more engrossing, plot lines that Elizabeth Gaskell produced. It is Gaskell, I feel, that wins this literary bout. ...read more.

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