‘The Red Room’ and ‘The Judges House’

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Using reference to style and content I will explain how and why these two short stories are typical 19th century stories. The two short stories that we have read, ‘ The Red Room’ by H.G. Wells and ‘The Judges House’ by Bram Stoker, are heavily concerned with the supernatural world, with people in the Victorian era preoccupied with ghosts.

When Darwin wrote his book ‘The Origin of Species’ this hugely questioned Christian beliefs. People were no longer sure of religion, and became very superstitious, with Ghost stories became very popular. They had always thought god came first; now science was starting to take over. In the 19th century people were unsure about what was real in the world. The Victorians did not know what to believe about in their world and spirituality. The Victorians liked supernatural stories and short stories were very popular as most people were working so these stories could be read easily and quickly. There were a lot of supernatural stories around this time, and we saw the rise in prominence of the gothic story.

A gothic story is a type of romantic fiction that predominated in English Literature in the last third of the 18th century and the first two decades of the 19th century. The setting for this type of story was usually a ruined Gothic castle or abbey. The Gothic novel, or Gothic romance, emphasized mystery and horror and was filled with ghost-haunted rooms, underground passages and secret stairways. You don’t tend to see this type of story anymore and the popularity that they enjoyed decades ago seems to be waning.

With the two stories, they have many similarities with a typical gothic mystery novel. The setting for a gothic story is normally some sort of haunted room or house. This pattern can also be seen in the two stories examined here. Both The Red Room and The Judge’s House are set in locations generic to Gothic Literature. The Judge’s House is set in a neglected old house, where nobody dare live; and the red room involves a dark, mysterious and allegedly haunted old room in a disused wing of a castle. These settings are typical of Gothic and Victorian ghost stories. People who neglected their own welfare and were regarded as morally corrupt often-inhabited dilapidated and derelict buildings. The nocturnal setting contributes to the spooky atmosphere that the writers are trying to create.

The old people who inhabit The Lorraine Castle cannot use most of it to live in because they are afraid of the ‘red room’. This keeps them well away from that section of the castle. A castle is an appropriate location and here what we do not know is far more frightening than what we do know. The journey to the red room, serves to build up mystery and suspense, with long corridors and spiral staircases, with a ‘long, draughty subterranean passage’ leading up to the Red Room itself. This suggests the dark and underground. Being underground also suggests death and burial, or suggesting that he is trapped and the only way to go is back. One therefore gets the sense that this is a metaphorical journey for the anonymous narrator – a journey of discovery, which is bound to be unpleasant. In the red room itself the narrator’s candles keep going out as if an invisible hand swept them out. This helps to build the atmosphere of fear and panic, as the narrator does not know what or who is putting the candles out.

‘The Judges House ‘is also a typically gothic novel as it is set in an old, disused house once lived in by a Judge who hung his victims by a rope, which now hangs in his house. The room in which Malcolm Malcolmson is studying in turns out to be haunted and at night the room becomes infested with rats. Near the end of the story, the Judge re-appears in ghost form and ghosts are characteristics of gothic novels. ‘The Red Room’ starts with the anonymous narrator talking to a group of mysterious people who live in the house. These old inhabitants help to establish an atmosphere of terror and strange occurrences. The narrator first introduces us to a man with a ‘withered arm’ and a ‘pale-eyed’ woman. They talk about the ‘spiritual terrors’ of the house to strike fear into the minds of both the reader and narrator.

The next character to enter the room was a man with a ‘half averted lip, which ‘hung pale’ and ‘decaying yellow teeth’. A single crutch supports his walking and he is described as ‘bent’ and ‘wrinkled’. The narrator is taken aback as he ‘scarce expected these gruesome custodians’. These characters could have been put in the story as red herrings as they are described in great detail as if to attract the reader to these characters and make the reader think that these people are dangerous or have something hidden. They turn out to be nothing more than peripheral characters. The narrator’s confidence when talking to the elderly inhabitants of the castle contradicts the feeling of their haunting tales about the room. His confidence might be foreshadowing the fact that something bad may happen to him. You are made to feel that he is too confident and has no fear.

In ‘The Judge’s House’ the student wanted isolation to study for his exams. When Malcolm goes to enquire about staying in the house he is told that it has been uninhabited for years. This is because of a ‘strange prejudice’, which accompanies the house, which is ignored. With the warnings being ignored, you know that this is foreshadowing that something bad will happen and prove Malcolm wrong. Before moving into the house Malcolm talks to someone from the local pub about the house and she is shocked to hear that he has chosen to stay in it. She screams “Not in the Judges House” as if to warn him. There is also a warning like this in ‘The Red Room’ when the old woman keeps shouting “this night of all nights”. Both of these warnings are repeatedly shouted at the protagonists, with the repetitive nature emphasising the warning. You could also say that the warnings foreshadow that something bad will happen, soon. With the warnings being ignored, it foreshadows the inevitable, that something bad will happen; and something bad did happen in both stories.

In ‘The Judge’s House’ the atmosphere switches between a dark atmosphere and a friendly atmosphere. The rats come out and night when it is dark while when the student goes around in the day the atmosphere is friendly until he is studying and the rat returns. The tension is built up in the story by the many appearances of the large rat. The student gets a lot of warnings from people in the town, which also helps to build up the atmosphere and tension, as it seems that everyone knows that there is something in the house, apart from the student who ignores all of these warnings.

The light symbolizes the truth in the Red Room. Without light, there is no truth. If the light goes out he has no way of finding out what is in the red room. The darkness creates the tension and fear. In light, we can see but when it is dark we cannot see and therefore tension and fear is everywhere. When the man says that the shadows take another step towards him, he is saying that fiction is closing in on him and as it does, he is been drawn away from the truth.

Language plays an important part and changes with characters. The old people have an old English vocabulary, whereas the young man is given a very upper class and stylish vocabulary. Around the epiphany of the story, the language relating to the young man’s experience is described in very short sentences with a lot of punctuation.

When the narrator of the Red room is in the red room of the castle, the author uses dark and spooky words to convey a sense of the supernatural. The language is archaic and old fashioned along with the setting. Words like ‘shadows’ and ‘shifting’ are also used to make this dark atmosphere of danger. Shadows spread darkness over certain places and creatures are said to hide in the shadows where they cannot be seen. The narrator does not know what is hiding in the shadows of the room. As the night goes on the candles go out and the room is left without light. Sentences start with ‘but’ to build up speed and continuation of the whole passage. The atmosphere in the red room at this time is frantic and the narrator is said to be ‘quivering’ and gives a ‘cry of terror’ as more candles go out.

He wakes up the next morning after being rescued at dawn by the old people. He personifies fear with the red room. He has had a fight with his fear and in the end his fear wins. For me, the red room symbolizes one’s own fear. Nothing is actually in the room except what one believes is there.

Repetition is also a device used by writers to build tension. One of the most obvious examples is on the first page. “It’s your own choosing.” This was repeated once more.

Another use of repetition is on page two where the old woman keeps on repeating, “this night of all nights.” We never find out why that night is important but it gives the reader a ‘red herring’ question. Although we are going to find out when we read on; we want to have answers and this continues our interest into – “why was that night important?”

The elderly inhabitants set the atmosphere of the red room at the very start of the story. The people are seen to be unpleasant in appearance as they are ‘aged’, ‘pale’ and have ‘decaying yellow teeth’. The author wanted them to seem evil by describing them in such grim detail. The elderly people give plenty of warnings to the narrator, which also sets the scene because they must have known that something bad had happened before in the red room.

The narrator ignores this and takes it as the people trying to scare him. As the narrator goes to find the room the description of the house is ghostly. The door creaks on its hinges, the narrator walks through a ‘chilly, echoing passage’ and a shadow follows him as he walks up the long, spiral staircase. The author also gives the reader an idea of what the narrator is thinking as it is him that is telling the story. We are told of the fear that is running through the narrators mind and the words ‘shadows’ and ‘darkness’ are used repetitively to keep the atmosphere of darkness constantly in the reader’s minds. The story is written in first person to show that it could happen to anyone.

Both of the readers use plenty of similes, metaphors and personification to give it even more of a gothic feel. In the Judges House, the main rat; the one that regularly appears to Malcolm Malcolmson, is a real nuisance and also that he is evil and get the feeling that imagery is being used there, to give us the impression that the rat is the devil. Imagery is used a lot in gothic stories, as demonstrated by these two stories.

H.G.Wells uses a lot of extended imagery and figurative language to make the story more engaging and vivid. It helps to involve the readers’ imagination and can sometimes help to make things seem worse than they really are. Metaphors and similes are used such as ‘germinating darkness’. This gives the impression of dirt and disease as germs carry diseases. The ‘ocean of mystery’ and ‘island of light’ helps the reader understand that there is only a minute amount of light, compared to a massive amount of darkness. The cinematic imagery gives a more in-depth description of the house. Personification is also used like ‘a little tongue of light’ or ‘fashions born in dead brains’. This helps the reader visualise the image and helps with imagery. It also helps to make the thing being described seem alive. The flame is alive like a tongue in someone’s mouth.

In ‘The Judge’s House’ the author also uses a lot of imagery and figurative language. ‘Hooked nose of ruddy colour, and shaped like a beak of a bird of prey’ is a simile to allow the reader to envisage what the Judge’s nose looks like and so that the reader can see exactly what the student can see. When the student is with the ‘Judge’ the story is so descriptive as so to make it seem that you were the student. The reader knows every exact detail in the room and it allows us, the reader to imagine ourselves in the room as well whilst everything is going on. Everything that the student sees, the reader knows about even though the story is not in first person.

Some other things that I picked up on include the face that the main characters (the protagonists) are men, and with men being higher up in society than women in the Victorian era, it is another reason why they are typical 19th century stories. Also, the structure is very similar in both of the stories. They both start with a warning to the protagonist from a peripheral character, which is ignored. As the story goes on, there is a gradual release of clues, and there is an increase in suspense, ending with an abrupt ending.

To end, I would just like to point out that both writers did very well in creating and sustaining tension, among other things. One of the first things that came to mind was this the title. The title “The Red Room” immediately attracts the reader’s attention; it is symbolic but leaves unanswered questions. “What is the red room?” “Why is it red?” We associate red with fear and danger. Is this room dangerous? Overall, the title raises so much curiosity that it has an overwhelming effect, wanting us to read on and find answers to our questions. O, and we did read on and yes we did find all the answers to our questions.

All of these factors explain why both of the stories are typical 19th century short stories. 19th Century stories generally all had morals to them, and the morals of these stories is listen to people’s advice, and be afraid, very afraid!

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