During the Victorian era, there was much scientific discovery and scientific explanations more importantly. People felt that everything had a scientific explanation. The idea of something that could not be explained with good logic or understanding came across as frightening which is a key motive for horror; the unexplainable. Because a great amount of the worlds land mass (1/3) was ruled by the British Empire, people were thirsty to conquer more and more. I would imagine the idea of something that is unexplainable and unstoppable would appear unconquerable to the Empire. It is this idea that makes them feel vulnerable and thus scared.
Both the ghost stories ‘The Phantom Coach’, by Amelia B. Edwards in 1852 and ‘The Red Room’ by H.G wells in 1896 are both Gothic ghost stories written in the Victorian era of 1832-190 yet they both portray their explanation of the supernatural in different ways. ‘The Phantom Coach uses the ‘living dead’ as a frightening theme and the use of peoples nightmares. The contrasting theme in the ‘The Red Room’ is the imagination and the power of the mind to scare the reader. In ‘The Red Room’ the authors finish with their own explanation of fear being the culprit and supernatural being a figment of the readers imagination.
A reason for Amelia B. Edwards believing in superstition and H.G Wells being skeptic towards superstitions the time difference of 54 years (more than half a century). This shows that with time, people look for the more scientific explanation rather than the supernatural explanation.
Amelia B. Edwards and H.G. Wells write about the supernatural. Like most Ghost stories of the 19th century, they both have common factors to link one to the other. Edwards and Wells both use an archaic speech to present certain words and numerals much different than used at present. For example, Wells uses the phrase:
“Eight and twenty years”
Instead of twenty-eight years as used in today’s form of literature. This is mainly due to the period in History the two stories were written in. Upon reading this kind of language today, the reader’s head is flooded with connotations such as Britain’s dark past, mystery and savageness, thus leaving the reader in anticipation waiting for something dark and mysterious to take place. The language used is often spoken in riddle-like terms, which involve the reader as they try to find the ‘real’ meaning of what the characters say. It gives the reader a bit of information of about what will happen. This is proleptic irony and encourages the reader to continue reading and they are intrigued by the possible future event that the story has to offer.
It is interesting that both the “Red Room” and “The Phantom Coach” have similar weather. When the encounter with the so-called “supernatural” takes place there are sudden gusts of wind accompanied by the evil cloak of darkness hindering the sense of sight. The surroundings are Gothic. This spawns connotations of evil and supernatural. This type of language that uses the weather to set the scene is called pathetic fallacy. When sudden gusts of wind blow, the reader prepares themselves for a scary moment in the story.
“Meanwhile, the snow began to come down with ominous steadiness, and the wind fell”
This use of language subconsciously shocks the reader. Edwards describes the snowfall as constant. This is reassuring for the reader that all is well and most of all, safe. As the wind suddenly stops the surroundings would instantaneously be silent, as if waiting for something to happen. The reader is curious as to whether this is the encounter with the Phantom or not. Pathetic fallacy is used to hold the reader in suspense and really set the scene for future events.
There are unsavory characters in the two tales along with unpleasant surroundings. In the “Phantom Coach” the man is lost and in fear of death if shelter is not found at haste. He eventually meets an old servant who is crude and impolite. In “The Red Room” he is surrounded by hostile characters, which make him feel very much uncomfortable.
“Shot another glance of his red eyes at me from underneath the shade; but no one answered me.”
The red-eyed man acknowledges his presence and yet still gives no answer to his question. This is a sign of disrespect for him. His ‘red eyes’ symbolize evil. When it is described cleverly by Wells as ‘shot another glance’, the reader gets the impression of fear. Shot is a very powerful word, which usually results in the death of a character. It is almost as if he is now marked for death and prone to the horrors of the supernatural. The red-eyed man is in the shade. This shows that he is surrounded by black, which gives connotations of mystery and deception, which is scary as he will be unpredictable.
Another link between the two stories is the way both Wells and Edwards make the journey tedious for the main character to find a way out (as in “The Phantom Coach”) or a way in (as in “The Red Room”).
“You go along the passage for a bit,’ said he, ‘until you come to a door, and through that is a spiral staircase, and half-way up that is a landing and another door covered with baize. Go through that and down the long corridor to the end, and the red room is on your left up the steps.”
The man giving directions uses the words ‘for a bit’. This is a very vague description and the range (in terms of distance) varies considerably i.e. 10 metres or 40 meters. This could mean the difference of finding the right room or finding the wrong room, in other words; getting lost. Getting lost has a double meaning. You can get lost in the sense that an error has been made in the planned route or you can get lost in the mind. Getting disorientated, dizzy, loss of thoughts or rapid thinking can result in jumping to conclusions and creating hallucinations. The spiral staircase is cleverly used to represent the mind by its complicated shape much alike with the brain. As you continue to walk you get more scared and lost in the mind. The use of a spiral staircase is very important as it represents the spiraling thoughts of the mind and how they can lead to subconscious deception and fear. Interesting that the cause of the commotion in the red room was fear created by the mind one is getting lost in represented by the spiral staircase.
Two arrogant men are the main character in each of the stories. These men represent the British Empire. Arrogant as they march off into the unknown totally convinced of their own superiority, they are not expecting the undefeatable and the unconquerable known as the supernatural.
“Eight-and-twenty years I have lived, and never a ghost I have seen”
An excellent ‘scare tactic’ used by the writers is deception. This confused the reader and makes them feel vulnerable to attack, naï¿½ve and most importantly, scared. In the Phantom Coach the other three passengers on board are thought to be merely other passengers. But the reader discovers that they are the ‘living dead’
“His eyes glowed with a fiery unnatural luster. His face was livid as the face of a corpse. His bloodless lips were drawn back as if in the agony of death, and showed the gleaming teeth between”
Edwards goes from the good fortune of finding the coach to sheer horror. This contrast creates fear and an element of shock and insecurity.
“The Phantom Coach” was written in 1852. “The Red Room” was written in 1896. In only forty-four years, man has gone from seeing the ‘living dead’ to a rational explanation for a similar situation. Fear. Fear can drive us to do things and scare us. It can make the mind play tricks on us and let our imaginations run wild. This is understood in the later story to prove that as the time humans spend on the Earth increases, we become wiser and less naï¿½ve.
Both ‘The Red Room’ and ‘The Phantom Coach’ use mysterious settings to make the reader feel uncomfortable and to set the scene of a Gothic horror story. Both the stories are set in an unspecified date; ‘The Phantom Coach’ is set on an unnamed moor and in an unnamed house. This makes the reader more interested in the future events of the story, as he/she wants to find out the mysteries of the mysterious setting. Also by a mysterious setting the connotation of isolation invades the mind, which is exactly where the house and setting is for the story; isolated on a moor.
In ‘The Phantom Coach’ James Murray plays the main character, he is a young barrister who has been married for only 4 months and likes hunting grouse. This shows he is upper class as the sport is a notorious upper class pastime. The author uses James as a young man arrogant to the belief of the supernatural. The fact that this confident, upper class young man can be affected by the powers of superstition gives the reader the feeling that everyone is venerable to superstition.
The dramatic contrast in the character of James Murray to the servant Jacob also emphasizes that young people are naturally skeptic towards superstition. Jacob is depicted as ‘shambling’, ‘unceremonious’ and ‘reluctant’ but uses his knowledge of the surrounding moors and stays out trouble because of his superstitions. Jacob is the contrary of James.
The setting of the ‘Red Room’ is very much a gothic genre. The room itself is an isolated part of the country; a fire is present along with candles, shadows and elderly mysterious people.
‘The Phantom Coach’ was written in the early fifties-the starting point of the Victorian era for scientific discovery. This is why the readers accepted the idea of the ‘living dead’. But further on into the scientific discovery’s of the era. The idea of supernatural activities was not accepted, as it was believed that science had the answer for everything.