Gothic Horror in Susan Hill's The Woman in Black and H.G. Wells' The Red Room

Gothic Horror in Susan Hill's The Woman in Black and H.G. Wells' The Red Room

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Gothic Horror in Susan Hill's The Woman in Black and H.G. Wells' The Red Room


As with all things, the gothic horror genre of literature did not
begin at one definable point, but evolved gradually. Gothic horror
evolved out of gothic fiction (as opposed to classical fiction, for
example the novels of Jane Austen), before establishing itself as a
genre in its own right. However, many literary scholars and critics
would point to "The Castle of Otranto", written by Horace Walpole and
first published in 1764, as the first true gothic horror novel,
containing as it does many of the clichs prevalent throughout the
genre.

Gothic horror novels are typified by their dark, lachrymose atmosphere
of dread and fear. In fact, the key to gothic horror can be summed up
in one word: tension. This is created by many devices, as well as
having an evil force present working against the hero/heroine. The
characters, locations and atmospheres created are designed to be
threatening, even when nothing sinister is actually happening.

Although the gothic horror genre didn't die out altogether, it
certainly lost popularity. However, it has had a minor resurgence over
the last decade. Susan Hill is one of the authors who has turned her
hand to the gothic horror format, her short novel "The Woman In Black"
being released in the late eighties. Susan Hill says she wrote The
Woman In Black because she "had the urge to write a story in the old
fashioned sense," perhaps because of a dissatisfaction with modern
horror writing and its reliance upon gore and physical danger. HG
Wells, although primarily a science-fiction author, also wrote a
gothic horror story, "The Red Room". I will be comparing these two
stories, to see how these ...


... middle of paper ...


...t be too lightly dismissed. These two
stories are particularly interesting because they were both written by
authors who aren't normally associated with the genre, so they have
explored the clichés more than a seasoned horror writer might. But
despite being so blatantly "influenced" by genre standards such as
Henry James' The Turn Of The Screw and work of M.R. James, they remain
gripping. This is because they appeal to our wish for escapism and a
decent scare, a need that is pandered to by almost every work of
fiction. This is the basis of horror writing - that the reader wants
to be scared; if the reader approaches the story with the attitude of
not wanting or expecting to be scared, he or she will not be affected
by the story so much. However, gothic horror is still one of the most
effective mediums for provoking fear, ensuring its enduring
popularity.

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