Charles Dickens and H. G. Wells have both written ghost stories in which they are able to create feelings of suspense and tension by using different techniques of writing. Setting the scene, imagery, characterisation and they also have decided to use a developed or undeveloped narrative voice. But beneath the original perception, they are very similar. Charles Dickens wrote ‘The Signalman’ which is based on a real life drama, even though we are not told so in the story.
He relates back to a year before the story was published and so it isn’t a coincidence that he wrote a piece about a train crash. The Signalman’ was published as part of a collection called Mugsby junction in 1866 (when Queen Victoria came to the throne). This story is different from ‘The Red Room’ written by H. G. Wells as ‘The Signalman’ is an overall ambiguous story where as the ‘The Red Room’ is not ambiguous as in this piece you know what is happening and when it is happening and in ‘The Signalman’ it is not always clear. These short stories contrast with each other in many different ways.
They both use different techniques to set the scene… On either side, a dripping-wet wall of jagged stone, excluding all view but a strip of sky; the perspective one way only a crooked prolongation of this great dungeon; the shorter perspective in the other direction terminating in a gloomy red light, and the gloomier entrance to a black tunnel, in whose massive architecture there was a barbarous, depressing, and forbidding air. ” This quote is of a typical gothic ghost story and is taken from ‘The Signalman’ and it gives an eerie feel to the story as it takes the tension to another level.
The language that has been used from the start, includes some spine tingling adjectives that change a normal tunnel into a mysterious almost paranormal dungeon. The railroad is referred to the great dungeon as it has jagged walls confining him to a small space. The narrator’s sight is also restricted to one diminutive strip of sky. This builds up tension for the narrator since being surrounded by large stoned walls, in an new-found area that is unknown to him, where one of his senses are confiscated gives a claustrophobic atmosphere.
Dickens uses the word gloomy in a repetitive manor and this builds up suspense for the reader, as it is a feeling of despair and loss of hope. But in ‘The red room’ H. G. Wells uses narrative dialogue to set the scene. “I can assure you,” said I “it will take a very tangible ghost to frighten me” As Wells engages you straight in to the story, you get to know the narrator as very arrogant, but as you read on his arrogance progressively declines to loss of control, as his state of mind changes.
Like ‘The Signalman’ this is set in a gothic-Victorian period, this produces tension in the reader as the building in which the story was set is a dilapidated and derelict house. This makes you unsure about it, as you are unsure about the personal history of the structure itself. So the reader may want to read on to see what happens to the narrator in the house. Together the authors’ use imagery to set the scene, as the better a picture of suspense and tension created, there is more chance of producing a more successful ghost story.
In ‘The Signalman’ Dickens has created a mix of setting the scene and imagery to construct claustrophobic tension: “Was it necessary for him when he was on duty always to remain in that channel of damp air, and could he never rise into the sunshine from between those high stone walls? ” For me the reader, this image ‘sets up’ suspense by including a rhetorical question at the end. This is a good use of language as you the reader can come to your own ‘right’ decision. Again Dickens uses adjectives to give depth to the story.
In this quote the narrator seems confused to why the signalman himself chooses to ‘remain in the channel of damp air’ and he is unable to come to a logical answer so reverses the question ‘could he never rise into the sunshine’ This builds up readers suspense as the passage drops a hint of suspicion to whether the signalman is a paranormal spirit… and not a living human.
Wells uses a different approach to imagery as he uses similes to create tension: ” … thrust the candle between the bars darkness closed upon me like the shutting of an eye, wrapped about me in a stifling embrace, sealed my vision and crushed the last vestiges of my brain. Before the narrators judgement was based on a reason rather than an emotion and his answer was vacillating from rational to irrational fear. But as you can tell in this quote, his emotion has now influenced his ability to ‘think straight’. I am able to tell from this quote that the narrator’s state of mind was unstable… and was there a spirit present? And so he says “… the last vestiges of my brain” which means that the experience seized the smallest and last quantity of realistic thought he had.
So he has got over the fact that what is happening isn’t a coincidence or a figment of his imagination… it is real. The difference between these two stories is that ‘The Red room’ influences your decision to choose whether it is authentic or not. In ‘The Signalman’ you don’t get to know the narrator as well as you do in ‘The Red room’ and so the narrator is almost secretive about what he does and Dickens has done this to produce suspense for the reader. When there is a personal connection between the reader and the narrator a relationship is built between them.
And when you know about them it helps to engage yourself in to the story as there isn’t as much secrecy between the two individuals, fictional or non-fictional, but throughout ‘The Red room’ you are building a bond between you and the narrator and so this isn’t as successful at building suspense but there is more tension being built because you are anxious about what is going to happen to him. In ‘The Red room’ you create a connection with the characters as you are told about them but in ‘The Signalman’ it is all very secretive and there are only two main characters for you to form a relationship with.
But in ‘The Red room’ there is a range of people for you to be acquainted with. Sometimes this can be useful but other times it may become hard for the reader to maintain a link with all of the characters. Wells has characterized the individuals effectively as he has got their moods in realistic form (you can see things like it happening in real life dilemmas). But in ‘The Signalman’ Dickens hasn’t chosen to add a personality to the signalman himself.
This is effective as a ghost story because there is a lot of ambiguity about him and because he is an undeveloped character this makes you feel uneasy when you are reading about him as you don’t know what to expect from him or what he is going to do next. Overall I think that ‘The Red room’ is the more successful ghost story simply because of the fact that Wells has described the characters in more depth and generally speaking his story was the more intimidating piece of writing. Although Dickens had based his story on a realistic drama, I think he didn’t have as much of the chilling dialogue as had ‘The Red room’.