‘The red room’, by H G Wells And ‘Farthing House’, by Susan Hill
Both ‘The red room’ by H G Wells and ‘Farthing house’ by Susan Hill are examples of ghost stories. But what makes a ghost story? Obviously there has to be some sort of ghost whether it be literally a ghost or someone’s imagination, it doesn’t matter as long as there is some sort of suspense created from it and leads the reader for at least one point believe a ghost is involved in one way or another just like ‘The red room’ which doesn’t contain a material ghost. Typical events in a conventional ghost story would include sudden coldness, absence of light and strange coincidences.
In a way both of these stories are conventional ghost stories. More often than not, these types of stories occur in desolate remote locations and most of the ‘action’ happens at night, these two are no exception. ‘The red room’ is set in an old castle full of haunting furniture and candles while ‘Farthing house’ is set in a remote village, far away from the nearest source of help. All events described in ‘The red room’ occur at night. H G Wells therefore uses plenty of words associated with darkness, “blackness”, “subterranean”, “shadows”, darkness overhead”, “moonlight”.
And again in ‘Farthing house’, the ghostly occurrences take place during nigh time, but although these stories have their similarities they also have their differences… The biggest difference between the two stories is the fact that ‘the red room’ was written towards the end of the 19th Century while ‘Farthing house’ was written in 1993. This means that the language used is obviously very contrasting between the two stories. ‘The red room’ therefore contains slightly archaic words and phrases. “Eight and twenty years said I” is a fine example of word reversal.
Also words like “penumbra” wouldn’t be used to describe a half shadow nowadays. Farthing house’ on the other hand is a 20th century piece of writing and yet again the words and phrases used show for it. Near to all the words one would have come across before and the story is stuffed full of words which make the time period stand out even more, “pub lunches”, “I dare say”, “I caught the smell”. The last two being used in every day language and are quite colloquial ensuring that the reader has no difficulty understanding their meanings. The beginnings of the two stories are also very different. ‘The red room’ jumps straight into the main story in the middle of a conversation. It throws you straight into the deep end.
The way it starts, “I can assure you” implies that a lengthy conversation had been taking place before hand. ‘Farthing house’ on the other hand is completely different in terms of beginnings. It spans over rather a long time period – the start being in present day. It has much more of a build up to it than ‘The red room’ although both, at some point, do have some sort of a build up to add tension and suspense to the story. The start of ‘Farthing house’ is the protagonist recollecting the events which triggered her memory back to the incidents described in the story, “now it has all come back to me”.
It is here that the first reference from the beginning of the story linking to the end is heard, “When the newspaper report appeared a week later”. I’m almost sure that this newspaper bit had something to do with the peculiar ending. I suppose one advantage of the long beginning (like to ‘Farthing house’) is that it lets the reader to learn more about the character/s, in turn allowing the story to be more descriptive, however I personally prefer the more direct and mysterious beginning ‘The red room’ adopts as I am more interested in the action side of things.
In ‘The red room’ the word ghost is mentioned very early on – In the first sentence, while another reference to ghosts “spiritual terrors” is mentioned but a few lines down. ‘Farthing house’ also sees the word ghost mentioned early on in the story. In the ‘Red room’ there is a definite contrast between the protagonist and the other characters he interacts with at the start, the “old people”. They aren’t referred to by name but instead by their abnormal and sometimes grotesque physical features, “the man with the withered arm” and “a second old man entered, more bent more wrinkled than the first”.
The protagonist of this story, who is also the narrator, seems to pick up on the oddities of these people, “I half suspected the old people”. Both beginnings are effective at setting up the story which lies ahead. Even though I prefer the opening which accompanies ‘The red room’ I don’t think such a direct approach to the opening would work for ‘Farthing house’ as the story on the whole is rather slow paced the rest of the way through. The endings to a story is just as important (if not more important) than the beginning. The red room’ has a very definite ending which is very closely related to scientific views employed at the time. ‘Farthing house’ doesn’t contain a definite ending, it is thought provoking and leaves the reader to make what he/she wants of it although it leans towards something supernatural. This does make sense as in the 19th century science dominated belief. Scientific breakthroughs where at their highest in terms of occurrence. People looked for a rational answer for everything, it was the way of the time. Nowadays people are left to choose for themselves.
There are so many strange cults and religions out there which just goes to show how some people nowadays are more open minded than they were 100 years ago. There is one line of text, in ‘The red room’, which explains the whole meaning of the ghostly encounter. The protagonist of the story delivers the line to the ‘old people’ in order to explain the supposed ghostly occurrences. “The worst of all things that haunts poor mortal man and that is in all its nakedness – fear. ” The last few pages sees the attitudes of the protagonist change, He spoke no longer as one who greets an intruder, but as one who grieves for a broken friend” There is also a tense moment, basically a long winded build up, before the big revelation that the entity was fear.
There is a contrast between the beginning of this story and the ending while there is also link between the main character and the ‘old people’ from the start and end. H G Wells uses personification while the protagonist goes about describing his theory on the fear being the ghost, “fear that will not have light nor sound. I definitely prefer this ending, the main reason being that I feel it is complete, unlike ‘farthing house’ it has a definite ending. It is true that the ending employed in ‘Farthing house’ is thought provoking because of its complexity and the fact that it isn’t definite but I find that the ending to ‘The red room’ is more thought provoking for me as it literally gives you something to think about. I think that the ending to ‘Farthing house’ could have happened at the end of the section when the women visits the cemetery and sees a grave reading, “Eliza Maria Dolly, died January 20 1902.
Aged 19 years. And also her infant daughter. ” If someone was given a copy of the story up until this point I think they would just assume it was the natural ending but it isn’t, as it goes on, back to the present day to relate the ending back to the newspaper article, “Then only a week ago I saw the name again, quite by chance, it leaped at me from the newspaper. ” As I have already mentioned, this rather strange ending can be interpreted pretty much however the reader likes although I feel that this ending has quite a supernatural theme about it.
A tense moment which occurs in ‘Farthing house’ is when the ghost is first revealed. There is a lengthy build up by all the events preceding it. It is very sudden. The tension only starts to mount a mere paragraph before, “It seemed that one minute I was in a deep sleep, and the next that something had woken me”. Then just as suddenly the ghost appears “now I saw her”. This is rather realistic and gives the reader an adrenaline rush- just like a sudden shock in a film almost causing the reader to jump.
The main tense moment in ‘The red room’ is the encounter with the ghost. While this character is walking towards through the corridors and hallways to the red room, the reader is made to feel slightly uneasy. The whole story seems rather gothic on the whole, partly due to the time in which it was written. When the protagonist of this story reaches his destination, the red room, the reader is given a quick history of the room and of how the duke had begun dying in it.
This, coupled with a description of the room gives it a haunted feel, And looking around that large sombre room, with its shadowy window bays, its recesses and alcoves, one could well imagine the legends that had sprouted in its black corners, its germinating darkness”. When the candles start going out is the most tense and frantic point to the story. The candles start going out slowly then more rapidly, building up to a very hectic crescendo of pure, unadulterated panic. Also the characters feelings are intensely portrayed throughout this section with words such as, “this wont do”, and “facetiousness”.
Another thing which helps this tense moment remain so tense is the fact that the protagonist gets really worked up by the events, ” my hands trembled so much”. H G Wells also uses personification in this section to add a sense of fear to the text, “The shadows seemed to take another step towards me”. I think this tense moment is very effective mainly because it is so frantic that it almost leave the reader breathless. It is, in my opinion, better than the tense moment in ‘farthing house’ basically for the simple reason that there is more action involved.
I think it is worth comparing the protagonist as well as the ghosts in each of the two stories as they are both so different and react so differently to the ghost the encounter. The ‘The red room’ dons a young, energetic but also arrogant man, “I can assure you, it will take a very tangible ghost to scare me”. He is brave as he is on a mission to explore the tale of the red room, which is supposedly haunted, “it’s my own choosing”. Just like in medieval times everything revolved around church and religion, in the 19th centaury science dominated most beliefs.
This man is typical to this as he is driven purely by science, He also panics when he is confronted with occurrences which challenge his scientific hypothesis. The protagonist of ‘Farthing house’ on the other hand is completely different. This time the main character is a timid but mature and compassionate woman who doesn’t panic when confronted with a ghost but rather shows sympathy for it. So the two protagonists are completely different. This is also the case with the actual ghosts involved.
In ‘Farthing house’ there is a material ghost while in ‘the red room’ the ghost is a figment of the protagonists imagination and fear. The assumed ghost in ‘the red room’ displays poltergeist traits, being very aggressive and loud while the ghost in ‘farthing house’ is like a harmless lost spirit, again very contrasting. I think both stories should be commended because they achieve their aim, to be a ghost story while I however, prefer ‘the red room’ mainly because it is a more gothic tinted story with much more action. I think it reads far better and is far more appealing and enjoyable to me personally.
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