During the pre-1914 period a number of stories had a gothic theme. The Red Room, Jane Eyre and The Fall of the House of Usher are three good examples. Gothic was the architectural style of architects when they design arches and buildings. It consisted of pointed arches and steep roofs, windows larger in proportion to the wall spaces. Gothic also relates to the style of writing that emphasizes the grotesque, mysterious and the desolate.
All three stories are written from the first person perspective and the characters have no idea in what they are in for. In the Red Room, the 28 year old protagonist, arrogant with a confident impression is going to spend a night in a red room where
no-one dares to venture.
“I can assure you,” said I, “that it will take a very tangible ghost to frighten me.”
Charlotte Bronte does the same thing to Jane Eyre where she has been sent to live with her rich relatives who are spiteful to her, especially John Reed the schoolboy of fourteen. Finally when Jane plucks up her courage to fight back insulting him first,
“You are like a murderer- you are like a slave driver,-you are like the roman emperors!”
She finds herself being punished and sent to the red room where her uncle had died overnight to break her spirit and punish her.
‘-“Take her away to the red room, and lock her in there.”‘
E.A. Poe takes the protagonist through a surprise too by making him receive a letter from one of his old school friends, Roderick Usher who has,
‘a mental disorder’ and the protagonist’s job is,
‘by the cheerfulness of my society, some alleviation of his malady’.
All of this relates to the title in the same way. The characters are affected by the convections of gothic horror writing. One of the gothic horror convections writers use are putting the characters into a state of surprise so they and the readers don’t know what is going to happen next.
The protagonist’s visit is not a cheerful experience but a very sombre and queer experience; in which Roderick’s sister has caught the malady too and walks around like a white ghost here and there.
All the protagonists of the three gothic stories have some doubt, hatred or inquisitive feeling about the surrounding characters.
In the Red Room the protagonist feels there is something grotesque and inhuman about three old custodians who to him have their individual personalities due to old age. Phrases like
‘droning insistence’, ‘grotesque custodians’, ‘inhuman senility’, ‘made me feel uncomfortable’, ‘gaunt silences’
suggest this. It makes the reader feel queer inside shocking the reader now and again.
To add to the mystery Wells introduces characters that are not named
‘Man with a withered arm’, ‘Man with a shade’, ‘Old woman’
,who seem almost like evil creatures themselves, who have perhaps just one distinguishing feature to help our imaginations and whom we can imagine through their style of speech. This changes after the protagonist experiences the red room and sees them more as human.
Characters with no names are one of the gothic convections. They add more mystery to the story and give a mysterious feeling to the reader.
In the Fall of the House of Usher the protagonist has a weird feeling about Lady Madeline,
‘I regarded her with an utter astonishment not unmingled with dread’, ‘sensation of stupor oppressed me,’
Lady Madeline has been portrayed rigidly; not acting like a normal person but as a white ghost stalking the mansion.
In Jane Eyre there is a difference atmosphere between the characters; hatred. She hates the Reeds, especially John who she in the extract,
‘…mused on the disgusting and ugly appearance of him…’
Charlotte Bronte shows here that when she was small and her mother died in 1821 she was sent to a family she hated and that the book ‘Jane Eyre’ portrays her sad upbringing of her life.
Also Charlotte Bronte takes advantages of the gothic horror novels and uses her techniques to make her readers enjoy making sympathy for her.
The language of these three gothic writers relate to the complex language gothic stories contain. The complex language makes the reader create their own liking or disliking of the character.
Atmosphere and Setting
All gothic novels and stories always have a build up of atmosphere and setting. Gothic writers unravel the story bit by bit to create suspense and mystery.
H G Wells uses long descriptive sentences like,
‘These I put in various knick-knacks of china with the room which was sparsely adorned, lit and placed where the shadows had lain deepest, some on the floor, some on the window recesses, until at last my seventeen candles were so arranged that not an inch of the room but has the direct light of at least one of them.’
to describe actions,
‘…placed were the shadows had lain deepest,’
and the setting of the Red Room itself,
‘… sparsely adorned,’
having long sentences Wells also used a wide variety of punctuation to split them up accordingly creating suspense as he did.
‘(This night of all nights?’ said the old woman.)’
Wells use of brackets in the sentence shows that the old woman is not directly in the conversation but interrupts and says her repetitive sentence Wells assigned.
Wells also used short sentences like,
‘I rose at once to my feet.’
to create the effect of horror and startle. The use of complex vocabulary is used as well to create suspense. Words like,
‘facetiousness’, ‘penumbra’, ‘custodians’, ‘atavistic’
all do their job well as gothic text. H G Wells describes the setting using strong adjectives, verbs and powerful descriptive language. He uses metaphors to great effect to create vivid images and suspense in his reader’s imagination. The Red Room is as powerful a presence as an actual character.
The Fall of the House of Usher is set in a mansion over a tarn. Mansions and castles are one of the main prospects of gothic writing. The description of the mansion gives us a vivid impression of a dark, gloomy castle. The atmosphere around, i.e. weather and climate is all dull and grey. Poe uses complex sentences and vocabulary to establish his point,
‘- an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven but which had reeked up from the decaying trees, and the grey wall, and the silent tarn- a pestilent and mystic vapour, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible,’
‘…decaying trees’, ‘faintly discernible’
Poe uses the actions of his characters do to create a spooky atmosphere. When Lady Madeline is buried alive while in a trance, arises; and carries her brother to death in her violent death agonies, whereupon the mansion itself splits asunder and sinks into the tarn.
‘…I am i- I dared not- I dared not speak! We have put her living in the tomb!’
Here Poe uses a variety of punctuation,
‘- I dared not-‘
to create mass tension when Roderick finds out his twin is buried alive. His use of italic writing emphasises the text and effect on reader as it is different from normal.
Jane Eyre is slightly different. It is a novel while the other two are short stories. Jane Eyre has more dialogue so less tension occurs.
‘”What were you doing behind the curtain?”
“I was reading,”
“Show the book.”‘
The short stories have more impact on the reader as the writer squeezes all the gothic writing techniques in possible creating mystery and suspense.
‘… the bewildering influence of gloomy furniture of the room- of the dark and tattered draperies,’
Also the short story writers don’t have place to put in a lot of speech or else their stories will become short novels and their atmosphere will be lost.
The novel Jane Eyre is more a listing of events with description but not as much tension as the other books.
‘, not at first aware what was his intention,’ but when I saw him lift and poise the book and stand in act to hurl it,’
As the actions are listed by Charlotte Bronte uses large ranges of punctuation to break it up making it a complex sentence. Also words like ‘complacently’, ‘predominated’, ‘consolatory’ show that Charlotte Bronte used gothic elements such as complex vocabulary.
In the end all three books contained gothic convections; complex vocabulary and short sentences are some examples. All books where full of tension caused by love and hatred. Gothic elements make the stories more thrilling and reflect the period they were written in time when three was no television or media.