From the Collection of Nineteenth Century Short Stories You Have Studied, Select Three with a Supernatural Theme, and Consider Their Effectiveness Within Their Genre.

Topics: Charles Dickens, Short story, Fiction Pages: 8 (3064 words) Published: June 27, 2008
Short stories started to gain popularity after the industrial revolution; as printing became more widespread it was much easier to get a short story published in a newspaper or magazine. The advantage of a short story over a novel is that it manages to hold the readers attention, as the short story tends to be dramatic, has no need for a sub-plot and are without lengthy description. Where novel writing is complicated, has many different things going on and creates a world of possibilities, short story writing focuses on a quick, powerful impact. As a result of this the reader can focus on the pivotal climax of the short story, as the authors do not need to concern them selves with thinking up unnecessary details. Short stories today remain a popular way to ease yourself into reading and are ideal for readers who get easily bored.

During the nineteenth century there was a strong belief in ghosts and the spiritual world. A good ghost story should contain mystery and should have emphasis on the senses. The atmosphere should be dark, lonely and creepy. If there is a ghost, it should inspire fear in its appearance or intention. However, a ghost story is not a tale of horror or terror; it is not about monsters or Martians, terrifying though these may be. The spirit is usually seen and often recognised, but it may be heard, sensed or even smelt. Another major difference between a 'real' ghost and a fictional one is that the ghost in the story has to have a purpose, whereas few 'true' ghosts do. The ghost may be seeking revenge or retribution for what happened to it in life and the presumption is that, once this is obtained, the haunting will cease. Some ghosts want to alert the living to a secret, point to the real perpetrator of some ghastly crime, or even bring comfort and consolation. The point is that ghost in a story must have a reason for it's haunting, otherwise a ghost story has no real purpose or climax. The ending should leave us slightly puzzled and trying to work out what happened.

Three short stories that contain these elements are 'The Signalman' by Charles Dickens, 'The Withered Arm' by Thomas Hardy and 'Napoleon And The Spectre' by Charlotte Brontë.

'The Signalman' was written around 1866, when trains were a relatively new form of transport and train crashes may have been more of a common occurrence than they are today. Also, the train would have been the fastest means of transport at that time and it may have seemed very uncontrollable and dangerous to the Victorians. Trains were transforming a society which was moving from the rural to the urban. The theme of the story may have been influenced by Dickens's own involvement in the Staplehurst rail crash on the 9th of June 1865. While passing over a viaduct in Kent, the train on which he was traveling jumped a gap in the line, causing the central and rear carriages to fall onto the riverbed below. Dickens was in the only first-class carriage to survive. The first accident, in the story of 'The Signalman' involves an awful collision between two trains in the tunnel, most likely to be based on The Clayton Tunnel Crash, in 1861, five years before Dickens wrote the story. 'The Signalman' is not a typical ghost story because it is set mainly in the daytime, although it it still effective. Many ghost stories were, and still are set in the past to create a sense of the unknown

Charlotte Brontë's 'Napoleon and the spectre' was written in 1833, when Bronte would only have been seventeen. Bronte had an interest in the Emperor of France who at that time was a leading figure in society, a symbol and trademark of France's important position in the world. Napoleon was a gallant and valiant soldier and he supposedly murdered General Pichegru, who is mentioned in the story.

'The Withered Arm' was written in a time where rural superstition was common. This story has a lot of emphasis on...
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