19th Century Authors

19th Century Authors

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How do 19th Century authors employ horror, mystery and surprise in
their work?

Authors have always tried to make their work different by adding in
something that has never been done before. This doesn't just apply to
books either; films, TV programs and songs all do it. Authors will use
tried and tested ways of getting the reader's attention, but they are
always on the lookout for new methods that can take everyone by
surprise and make them think, "Well, I never expected that!" Stories
have changed a lot since the 19th Century, but the same underlying
themes used in the past still produce some of the best pieces of
literature today. I'm exploring how these themes were used and whether
or not they were effective.

Horror was a popular theme in the 19th Century, and many authors, in
particular those of the short stories we are looking at, used that as
a base for their writing. Short stories with horror are probably more
effective than ones focusing mainly on humour might be, mostly because
one doesn't need a lot of build-up to a horror story. With a comedy,
one needs to get to know the characters well before one can fully
understand and appreciate the humour used. This takes time and cannot
be crammed into a story with only a few pages. A horror story,
however, is more effective if the readers know less and have to work a
few things out for themselves. The ending can never be given away at
the end of a horror story. There has to be an unanswered question that
keeps the reader baffled. This mystery is what creates the horror. If
everything were explained to the reader, then the mystery would be
eliminated and there would be no horror because he would know the
truth and thus wouldn't be afraid.

The first story studied employs a lot of horror and uses it in
conjunction with mystery to move the plot along and keep the reader on
the edge of their seat. 'The Signalman' is about a lonely man who
works on a train track. One day, he gets a visitor who soon finds out
that something isn't right with the signalman and discovers that he is
seeing things appearing in the tunnel, warning him of impending
disaster. The first two disasters have already happened and the third
disaster has been predicted. When the visitor returns to the track, he
sees that a train has killed the signalman and that the driver was
waving to the signalman to move out of the way in exactly the same way
that the apparition in the tunnel waved, warning the signalman.

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The
question that is left unanswered is what was the signalman doing on
the track?

The author uses the mystery effectively, without overdoing it, and
ties it in with the horror to keep the reader puzzled at every stage
of the story. Some stories can have too much mystery so that the plot
isn't understood by the reader, which means they are ineffective. This
story has just the right amount of mystery so that the reader
understands the plot, but is still left guessing at the end.

Even without the horror, the mystery alone would be enough to be
effective. But, when the author incorporates the horror into the
story, not only is he keeping the reader puzzled, but he is also
making the reader afraid. When an author can make the reader feel like
this, then the elements of the story have been used effectively. The
reader's feelings are a measure of how effective the author has been
in using horror, mystery or any other elements.

The other element used in 'The Signalman' is supernatural, or for
those that don't believe in ghosts, coincidence. The visitor never saw
what the signalman did, so one has to ask, "Was there really a
supernatural apparition, or was it just coincidence that the disasters
happened after the signalman thought he saw something?" Unfortunately,
because the story doesn't reveal anything else we'll never know what
the author intended.

The mystery in this story is made effective by the
supernatural/coincidence element because the mystery is the choice
between supernatural and coincidence. The reader is left to decide if
he thinks it really was a ghost that was seen or whether the signalman
was imagining it and the disasters were just coincidences. The mystery
stems from this because the author gives no indication to the truth
and so either interpretation could be correct.

The horror used in this story is when the first two disasters happen.
The train crash is the first disaster, with no explanation, and the
woman on the carriage dying is the second, with the only explanation
being so ridiculous that it's unbelievable. The horror is like a
staircase when the apparition is seen for the third time, but when
nothing becomes of it, it is like reaching the landing and it flows
into mystery. The mystery is then like the second flight of stairs
until the end when it switches straight back to horror again, the
horror of the signalman dying. The sudden shock of the death of the
signalman is like falling all the way down the two flights of stairs,
back to the horror at the bottom.

The second story read, 'The Monkey's Paw', uses a lot of mystery and
also employs a small amount of horror. However, there is no surprise
used in this story either, but used again is the
supernatural/coincidence element. This last element is responsible for
the ending of the story and is what leaves the reader wondering what
actually happened.

The story is about a good luck charm that is supposed to grant three
wishes. When a poor family receives it, their first wish is for money,
which they do get, but at the expense of losing their son. The mother,
who is distraught, wishes for their son back, but the father realises
that in order to get this, there may be something else that they have
to lose. There is a knocking at the door, but the father grabs the paw
and when the mother opens the door, there is no one there. That is
where the story ends. We never know if it really was the son at the
door and the father wished for him to go away, or whether it was just
the wind rattling at the door, making a knocking sound.

This story compares well to 'The Signalman' because both authors leave
the reader guessing at the end. Both use the supernatural/coincidence
element superbly to create the mystery and horror that the story
requires. The plots of the two stories are obviously very different,
but they both have very small, subtle links to each other, like a
piece of wire about to snap because it is too taut. The big thing that
links these two stories is the way they use coincidence. However, this
coincidence also involves mystery as well. In 'The Monkey's Paw', the
way in which the paw works is mysterious. Does it take something away
in order to give you what you want, or was it just a coincidence that
their son happened to die? And, like 'The Signalman', the ending is
linked with mystery and so there is no surprise. The endings don't
give away what actually happened in the two stories whereas surprise
endings do. If the story focuses mainly on mystery then it is unlikely
to have a surprise ending because it would seem weird to be given
clues throughout the story as to what happens at the end, but then be
told something completely different to what the clues implied would
happen.

The characters in the stories are quite similar as well. In both
stories there is someone who believes what is happening is
supernatural (the signalman and the mother) and there is someone who
doesn't know what to believe (the visitor and the father). This is
very common in mystery stories because there has to be one who
believes and one who doesn't, otherwise there wouldn't be different
opinions and then the reader wouldn't be able to choose which one he
believed. If everyone in the story believed, then the reader would
have to believe as well because the story would give that impression
and then there would be no mystery.

The settings are typical of horror stories as well, because they are
dark, isolated, and very mysterious. Horror always seems to work best
in a dark place with no one around because it plays upon the fear that
people have of being caught in a dark alley at night, for example.
Horror stories set in a busy street in the middle of the day just
wouldn't work because people walk down the street during the day all
the time and nothing ever happens to them so they wouldn't believe
that anything could. For the horror to be effective in a story, the
reader has to believe that it could happen to them if they were in the
same situation.

These stories are very similar to each other in most aspects and the
third story has some similarities to the them, but there are also a
lot more contrasts between it and them.

'The Red Room' is situated in a very old house that is supposedly
haunted. A young man arrives at the house and says he can spend the
night in the room because he has a gun. He lights all the candles in
the room and feels fine, until the candles start going out for no
reason, even after he has re-lit them. He falls over in the darkness
and the next thing we know, the owners of the house are waking him up
the following morning. He says to the owners that there is nothing
evil in the room, but that it was his fear that made him fall over and
knock himself out.

This story focuses mostly on horror but does have a bit of mystery in
it as well. This story also has a very minor surprise ending. It isn't
a complete twist where the story is rotated 180 degrees, but it shows
that what you were led to believe at the beginning isn't true. The
story doesn't include a lot of coincidence either. In the other two
stories, the supernatural element could be explained by coincidence,
but in this story, the supernatural cannot be coincidental because the
candles wouldn't suddenly start going out all at once. And because
there was nothing mentioned about a draught or a strong wind, none of
the candles would go out.

The story does have the right characters for a mystery, even though
there isn't much mystery in it. As mentioned earlier, a mystery story
needs someone who believes and someone who doesn't. In 'The Red Room',
the owners of the house believe that the room is haunted by the old
duke who used to own it and the young man doesn't believe that it can
be haunted. It would make a good mystery story because it has all the
mysterious elements, but it is written as a horror story so therefore
cannot be a mystery. The way the author has structured this story
isn't for a mystery but for a horror. Had he intended it to be a
mystery then he would have given subtle clues to the ending of the
story, but would have left the reader guessing at the end. This isn't
the case because there aren't any clues that imply the ending, and in
the final paragraph, the whole story is explained and so there isn't
anything mysterious left at the end.

Of the first three stories, 'The Red Room' is the odd one out because
it is written as a horror story with a bit of a surprise ending. The
other two stories differ from this one because they are written as
mysteries with a supernatural/coincidence element in them.

After reading these three stories, we looked at three others that
differ greatly to the previous three because they build the story
around the surprise ending rather than the mystery or horror. The
authors do use a bit of mystery and horror, but the story focuses
mostly on the surprise at the end.

'The Necklace' is about a woman who borrows a necklace from a friend
for a posh party and then when she returns from the party discovers
that she's lost it. She finds an exact replica of the necklace for a
lot of money and spends the next ten years of her life paying off the
debts that she incurred to buy it. When she sees her friend in the
street, she decides to tell her the truth, but discovers that the
necklace was a fake and wasn't worth anything. This is the surprise at
the end because she discovers that she needn't have spent her life
paying for an expensive replica of a necklace that was worth nothing.

'Désirée's Baby' is set in Louisiana at a time when there was a huge
fuss made about race and miscegenation was frowned upon. It is about a
white couple who has a black baby. The father automatically assumes
that it's the mother who's black and sends her away. However, after
reading a letter, he discovers that he's black. The twist in this is
obviously that the man turned out to be black and not the woman after
he had been so quick to accuse her.

'The Clubfooted Grocer' is about a man with a wooden foot who has
pirates after him because he stole something from them. The pirates
break into his house and he jumps out of the window to try and run
away from them but kills himself in the process. His wooden foot
smashes and all of the diamonds he stole come out of it. The twist in
this story is that the pirates are looking for the diamonds and all
the time they are in the grocer's foot.

All these stories make full use of the surprise element by building up
the plot making the reader think one thing, only to turn around at the
end and say that it was something completely different. Because these
stories focus on the surprise, these don't really compare to the first
three, which focused on horror, mystery and coincidence.

'The Necklace', 'Désirée's Baby' and 'The Clubfooted Grocer' tell the
whole story to the reader, eliminating the mystery because it means
there is nothing to guess at the end. This is the same as in 'The Red
Room' because the young man says what is in the room and there is
nothing left unanswered at the end. 'The Signalman' and 'The Monkey's
Paw' differ here because there were unanswered questions at the end
and places where the reader needed to guess things.

In conclusion, 19th century authors employ various techniques and
themes into their work to entice the reader including; horror,
mystery, surprise, supernatural and coincidence. If these are used in
the right way with the right amount, then they can be extremely
effective, but used too much, or in the wrong way then they are as
effective as an umbrella at a nuclear weapons testing site. From the
stories looked at, one can clearly see how effective the right amount
of any of these elements can be and how it can produce a great story.
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