The Red Room and Farthing House are both ghost stories which use the setting of unfamiliar places, The Red Room in a castle, and Farthing House in a residential nursing home for the elderly, to introduce their concept of a ghost. While The Red Room was written in an earlier period, Farthing House is more contemporary, but both refer back to the past when telling the history of the castle and Farthing House, and of its former deceased inhabitants. However, while The Red Room introduces the presence of a ghost, which the character is there to confront; in Farthing House the character meets the ghost by accident or coincidence.Order now
In The Red Room the ghost seems to be a figment of the character’s imagination induced by his fear, while in Farthing House the ghost seems very realistic, despite not being set in the past, with the powerful descriptions of the look of the ghost and how she moves and cries. Both The Red Room and Farthing House are typical ghost stories. They both successfully use the surroundings of an old castle and an old house, which have long histories with deceased former inhabitants, to provide the opportunity for the places to haunted.
Although in Farthing House someone dies in Cedar Room, in The Red Room someone actually dies outside the room after falling downstairs which leaves the reader less convinced the room is haunted. In Farthing House a church graveyard, another place where ghosts are traditionally supposed to appear, is visited during the day to build the atmosphere. Both stories use unfamiliar surroundings so that both the characters telling the story are ill-at-ease in rooms that are not their own and this allows for the possibility of shadows to become something more, real or imagined.
Shadows and statues are personified and ‘lurk’ in corners, ‘take steps’ and ‘sprang’ back into place, as if they were human. There is an effective use of the contrast of darkness/lightness in both stories. Ghosts are traditionally supposed to appear in the dead of night so darkness and colours such as black and grey are frequently used. For example, in The Red Room the moon is ‘slivery’ and the black of the room is ‘sombre’. There is rich imagery and personification of the ‘flickering’ candlelight and firelight in The Red Room which are powerfully extinguished.
In Farthing House the ‘great red’ sun goes down on the horizon and the dull electric lamps are like ‘dim candlelight’ and the dawn is ‘grey’ which sets the atmosphere in Farthing House. Both use nature, particularly the wind, and the sound of birds and trees ‘rustling’ in the night which ‘echo’ and introduce eerie movement/stillness and noise/peace into the story. In The Red Room the silence ‘echoes’ and in Farthing House the sobs of the ghost ‘echo’. The breeze from the wind also allow the introduction of changes in temperature so that the characters ‘shiver’, feel ‘chills’ and ‘draughts’ and ‘tremble’.
But they also become hot with panic and are ‘soaked in sweat’ or ‘pant’ with breathlessness. Farthing House also introduces the sense of smell with antiseptic to alert another one of the reader’s senses. In The Red Room, there is initial tension which builds and grows to a climax when the narrator knocks himself unconscious. Repetition is used to increase the tension with phrases such as ‘it is your own choosing’ to confront the ghost and ‘this night of all nights’ to do so.
The elderly people who introduce him to the house are not welcoming and he describes their aging deformities and presence as if they were already ghosts from the past, ‘their very existence was spectral’. The tenseness builds up when he is left to enter the long hallways alone: ‘the long, draughty, subterranean passage was chilly and dusty, and my candle flared and made the shadows cower and quiver’. Upon entering the room the tenseness is increased with the fact the ‘candle was a little tongue of light in its vastness, that failed to pierce the opposite end of the room’ and ‘the sombre reds and blacks troubled me’.
The young man examines ever corner of the room closely as it is unfamiliar but still finds ‘the remoter darkness of the place … too stimulating for the imagination’ and, ‘by this time I was in a state of considerable nervous tension’. Later after the candles are suddenly extinguished he cries with terror ‘and dashed at the alcove’ in desperation and was ‘almost frantic with horror of the coming darkness’ and ‘leapt panting and dishevelled from candle to candle’, which demonstrated how afraid he was of the darkness as it was letting his imagination run wild.
We as readers, are almost relieved when he hits his head and become unconsciousness abruptly because he is at last free of his fear of the dark or his perception of the existence of a ghost. In Farthing House the tension is not built up to a crescendo, but builds and falls intermittently. There is a tenseness of the unknown of the location ‘as the road narrowed to a single track, between trees, I began to feel nervous…. It was very quiet, very out of the way’. There is also an evocative antiseptic smell. However, the tension falls away immediately once inside the house she is warmly greeted by a friendly matron.
She is also reassured by how comfortable and warm the house is, as well as by spending the evening happily reminiscing with her aunt about familiar family and childhood days. When the woman is shown unexpectedly to the Cedar Room, where she has learned an elderly resident has recently died, we expect the ghost to be related to that person. The tension rises again when she is alone in the room, she is ‘forced to acknowledge again what had been at the back of her mind all the time, almost like having a person at my shoulder, though just out of sight’.
She hears the cries of a baby along the corridor but dismisses it matter-of-factly as noise from the television, and is content reading a novel and comforted by how her aunt has settled in at the home. She gets to sleep and instead of the reader anticipating a bad dream she happily dreams of the past. Then she wakes suddenly and senses a presence in the room, but dismisses it as simply her dream and turns on the lamp to confirm this only to find ‘… the most profound melancholy of spirit that had overcome me on my arrival’.
The story becomes the most tense when she hears the ghost crying and follows her nervously to try and help her. The next morning she feels ill-at-ease and takes a walk and ends up in the church graveyard and discovers the gravestone of a women and her baby daughter who died in 1902 and had lived at Farthing House when it was a home for women with illegitimate children. This reveals to us that the unhappy ghost was not at rest because she was looking for her daughter.
We as readers are glad the story has a happy ending for the ghost, when in the present a woman takes a baby from a pram. The mother and daughter are reunited and the ghost no longer haunts the area as she is now at peace. At the beginning of The Red Room, the young man who is the narrator is very confident ‘it would take a very tangible ghost to frighten me’ but progressively became less confident about confronting the non-tangible ‘ghost’ who he does not see, so cannot describe unlike the ghost in Farthing House.
The reader is never really certain there is a ghost and it appears that it is fear of the shadows, darkness and the wind that has gripped him. In contrast in Farthing House, the character or narrator is anxious at first because she is not certain how her aunt is settling in at the home, and added to this feels guilty that she was not looking after her aunt herself. She does not like staying in hotel rooms and is apprehensive about the presence in Cedar Room.
Nevertheless, instead of stabbing frantically at the shadows on the wall and re-lighting extinguished candles to reassure herself like the other character in The Red Room, she finds the confidence to go and follow the unhappy ghost to see if she can be of assistance in finding her lost baby. The character convinces us, too, that there is a real ghost and it is not just psychological or in her dreams by vividly describing a woman in old-fashioned clothes from the past.
Both stories were well written and even if there was not a real ghost in The Red Room, we as readers feel as tense as the character in the story, and in Farthing House despite being set in modern times it was realistic that there was actually a ghost. In The Red Room it was pleasing that the elderly people came to rescue the young man after he injured himself even though they did not welcome his over-confident attitude at the beginning. In Farthing House it was comforting that the main character was able to also rescue the unhappy ghost and the story ended happily, despite the death of a much-loved aunt.