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The aim of this essay is to explore the three texts (‘The Stolen Bacillus’, ‘Hop Frog’, and ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’) and to consider which aspects of the three stories affect us, how they influence us, and why they cause concern or console, either disturbing or reassuring us. It is concluded that there are many disturbing and reassuring aspects in the stories dependant on the perspective one may adopt. The word ‘disturbing’ means ‘to agitate the mind, causing distress, worry, or anxiety’. The word ‘reassuring’ means ‘to restore confidence and relieve anxiety’.
These two definitions will help me with my investigation by giving me a guideline to work with. To get an understanding as to why different writers may have written the way that they did, I will consider the background information of the period the author was writing in and any aspects which would affect his subject material and style of writing. H. G. Wells was writing at the end of the nineteenth century at a time where there was a rapid social and industrial change, and he had a personal interest in social justice, science and politics.
This is reflected in his writing as there is the bacteriologist (relating to science) and the anarchist (pertaining to social justice and politics). These issues in his work would disturb a reader of Wells’ time because subjects such as the social and industrial changes would be on the readers’ minds, and therefore cause anxiety if he were to write about them in a negative way. Edgar Allan Poe was expelled from university for drunkenness and debt, and later court martialled from the army for drunkenness again.
Poe’s association with alcohol in real life is reflected in his story which has many references to alcohol within it. These references would disturb readers because Poe would be able to write a distressing truth about the affects of alcohol, because he himself had experienced it, and he wrote at a time when the truth was censored from the public. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote at a time when the British had an empire in India, this is referred to in his story as Dr. Roylott went out to do a medical degree in Calcutta, and also served a prison sentence there.
This would provide a factor in the story with which readers may be able to associate with, and would either disturb or reassure them depending on the way they’d previously felt about the empire in India, and how it is depicted in Doyle’s writing. The settings and surroundings of a story can be used to great consequence when enhancing the effect of a disturbing or reassuring aspect of a tale. Arthur Conan Doyle uses his description of Stoke Moran intelligently in order to increase the disturbing nature of the whole plot of the story.
The author uses very ‘gothic’ features in the Speckled Band. For example, there is reference to the middle ages as Dr. Roylott comes from ‘one of the oldest Saxon families in England’ which is an illustration of one gothic feature. Another gothic trait is Stoke Moran’s gloomy setting, the writer depicts: ‘from amid the branches there jutted out the gray gables and high roof tree of a very old mansion’. A further gothic characteristic expressed in Doyle’s writing is the ventilator in Helen’s room.
Secret passages and hidden doors are another common attribute of a gothic story, and the additional detail that the ventilator is mysteriously placed in an impractical position (‘what a fool a builder must be to open a ventilator into another room, when, for the same trouble, he might have communicated with the outside air! ‘) gives it another gothic edge as mysteries were a very frequent mark of a gothic tale. In addition to Stoke Moran’s gothic nature, the fact that the whole place is isolated and has a gloomy history further emphasizes any disturbing aspects introduced by the author.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s descriptions of Stoke Moran are a great example of a dramatic structure used to augment the effectiveness of the disturbing aspects of the storyline when they emerge. This is because Doyle firstly communicates with us subliminally about the disturbing aspects of his tale via his setting descriptions, therefore giving himself some foundations on which to build up a more effective impact on his reader when he wants to disturb them.