This was popular amongst Gothic authors as it gave the villains frightening amounts of power which was often put to evil usage, “her reputation was one of evil even in those days.” Vampires, ghosts, phantoms and wolves were popular in the genre and Sarah, being a vampire, is very conventional. The superstition read that she was also a witch, “she was a witch or were-woman.” Gothic horror took place around the time when witches were burnt at the stake and so such evil forces would inspire great fear in the reader.
Loring depicts the threat of women’s sexuality.
The Countess Sarah attempts to lure her victims using her beauty and hypnotic voice, “her voice had a soporific effect, which I resisted easily enough, but which seemed to throw the Rector into some sort of trance.” This theme mirrors the fears of women gaining strength in society. The vampire uses her femininity as a weapon, her beauty is shown as evil which is typical of a male author, “a smile of love, more devilish still.
” Loring also introduces the spooky theme of isolation, which is another common convention.
When villains are isolated they become mysterious and are often rumoured to be crazy, “she lived quite alone in a dark castle.” Sarah’s only companion is a wolf, “the only companion of her solitude being a familiar in the shape of a huge Asiatic wolf.” Wolves were popular in this period of Gothic Horror and were often associated with ghosts and vampires.
As the superstition ends, the Countess was murdered. This instills the fear that if Sarah rises as the ‘undead’ she will be angry and will try to compensate for the murder, returning more deadly and evil than before.
When Sarah’s tomb is opened, the church restorers are shocked to find Sarah appearing as though she had only been dead for a day, and alarmed still after a few days when she appears to be recomposing, “the extra ordinary freshness of the body.” This is obviously due to supernatural forces- a recurring theme in Gothic horror, because people in the Gothic period were extremely religious and were heavily opposed to any irreligious workings, such as witches. Therefore, authors concentrated on this area to easily envoke fear in its readers.
The aim of a horror story is obviously to create fear in the reader and Loring goes about creating this fear in a number of ways. There are many references to the unknown, or supernatural, to past sins and violence. The first sign of trepidation is the ominous warning on Sarah’s tombstone, forewarning to the church restorers to steer clear of the ‘Sarah Tomb’. Their lack of acknowledgement of this warning conceives a sense of doom and sense of prophecy that this bears inspires fear in the reader; “for the sake of the dead and the welfare of the living let this sepulchre remain untouched.”
There are many “spooky” associations made with gothic horror tales and Loring stays true to these typicalities, involving many of the standard supernatural techniques. The superstition of vampires is introduced as another aspect of fear. In Gothic times superstitions were alive and well in the inhabitants of the era and this story would have been more real than in the modern age: “a local superstition very similar to that of the vampire, existing in Slavonic and Hungarian Europe.”
The story also contains its own superstition- the superstition of the Countess Sarah. This is the story of the vampire Sarah and it involves Sarah drinking the blood of mortal children and being murdered by strangulation, “she was strangled one day by a mad peasant woman.” As if this is not terrifying enough, when the body is found the story of her death is proven true, “round her neck was a loose cord, and, judging by the scars still visible, the story of death by strangulation was true enough.”
This leaves the reader wondering if the rest of the story is true also. Also linking in with the theme of superstition is the query of supernatural or unholy forces taking hold of mortals on Earth. This thesis was used frequently, and appears in The Tomb of Sarah. Vampires are associated with dark and hell, and when these evils are presented in a story in a place such as a church, a great terror is created, “I must believe that some unholy forces are at work. ” Loring allows the horror to take place at night.
This is a classic gothic technique; in such tales black predominates as it is more intimidating for the reader and also more mysterious. Another archetypal attribute in Gothic horror is the twist at the end of the story. The author writes in a happy ending and then suddenly puts a nasty spin in to scare the reader just before the end. In The Tomb of Sarah, the reader thinks that Sarah is dead and all is well but then we find that she had attempted to bite a young child the night before; “there were two small marks on her throat. ”
Another notable convention of Gothic horror is the setting of the story. The Tomb of Sarah comes from the early stages of the gothic genre, the Romantic period of the 18th century. In this time the setting was usually desolate, involving churches, graveyards and castles. The Tomb of Sarah contains all these features. The Countess Sarah lived alone in a castle, a prime gothic characteristic. We also witness a battle between good and evil. The vampire is battling moral forces in a churchyard, “how can they work in the sacred precincts of the church? ”
Also in keeping with the customs is the mysterious fog that appears at midnight when Sarah arises from her tomb. This is a sign of foreboding and another sign of predominating blackness, “a curious mist that has risen around the church.” The Tomb of Sarah portrays many classic conventions of Gothic Horror. The characters, settings and atmosphere created display conformist traits of the period. Unlike stories, such as “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allen Poe, Loring uses predictable techniques and storylines that make it an easily identifiable piece of Gothic horror.
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