Creating Mystery and Suspense in Three Short Stories

Categories: Mystery

The stories I am going to write about are as follows: The Red Room by H.G.Wells, The Signalman by Charles Dickens and The Phantom Coach by Emelia B.Edwards. These stories all contain elements of the gothic genre and were written in the Victorian period.

The Red Room, which was written in 1895, is about a man, who is unnamed, is adamant that the supernatural does not exist. However, has an encounter in The Red Room with "fear" itself but, does not come into contact with a "tangible ghost".

The "Phantom Coach" was written in 1852 and, is about a man (James Murray) who is recently married and honeymooning with his wife. He has come to the north of England to shoot and becomes lost on the moors in the bad weather. He meets an old man and follows him home. Here, he meets the old man's master where he learns about his interest in science and philosophy. The 'master' narrates the story of the coach tragedy to James.

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The bad weather clears up and James begins his way back where he awaits a coach.

"The Signalman" was written in 1865. The story is about a man who is wandering the countryside and his curiosity overcomes himself. He then learns of the signalman's job and duties and visits him regularly. As they begin to talk, the narrator begins to worry, "for the poor man's sake" highlights his consideration for the signalman as the signalman claims he has seen a spectre. Later on in the story the signalman's own concerns lead to his own death.

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All three stories are typical of the gothic genre where in the Victorian period it would have been typical to write about the supernatural, especially at that time when the people were uneasy regarding the introduction of trains.

In "The Signalman" the story is set in a "dark "railway cutting with a large, "gloomy", "depressing" tunnel. The surrounding hillsides are steep highlighted by the words "zigzag descent". To begin with the atmosphere seems ordinary however; the reader can sense a pessimistic feel of the supernatural through, loneliness, isolation and darkness, "as if I had left the natural world", conveying the feeling of isolation also creating an atmosphere of uneasiness. In "the Phantom Coach" connotations of loneliness and desolate feelings are conveyed. The words, "bleak wide moor" highlights the fact that James is far from civilisation therefore tension is built up. This raises the question of; will he find his way home? Will he see his wife? Is he going to stay alive? Also, the words "into the gathering darkness" highlight the fact that he is lost and has no bearing of where he is. As James follows the old man home the house is described in detail "great raftered hall", "fantastically decorated". These words convey the size and the sheer "burden" the house carries with objects. In the story of "The Red Room" it is set in "Lorraine castle" which is dark and isolated and in comparison with the other two stories, they all have connotations of darkness and desolation as in all three the supernatural is involved.

The castle contains spiral staircases, great windows, and lengthy corridors also doors and statues covered in "baize". The spiral staircases indicate that no-one would know if anyone is approaching. Also with the "baize doors and statues creates a more uncanny ambience, "I stood rigid for a momement". Well writes effectively enough to add more suspense and tension therefore keeping the reader engaged in the story. We see the effectiveness of this when, towards the closing stages of the story where mystery and suspense is highlighted through words "black fear" and "house of sin" creating an air of gloom and misery.

"The Signalman" has two characters: the unnamed narrator and the signalman. The two men in the story are separated by social class. The word "sir" used by the signalman implies that the signalman is showing respect through his dialogue. Later on in the story the signalman's own concerns lead to his own death. The narrator takes an interest in the signalman but, thinks he has a mental predicament. The narrator's dialogue with the signalman indicates he is caring as he takes time out to listen to him, "What is your trouble?" however it can be argued the narrator's curiosity leads him to become nosy "I will come at eleven". This shows he may be interfering rather than helping as he has nothing else to do in his unused time. In his spare time he taught himself a "language" during his "lonely hours" but had "grown used to it" and, in relation to his "lonely hours" we can perceive that the signalman had a lot of time in order to teach himself. Moreover, this highlights the feeling of loneliness in comparison with the other two stories. During the opening paragraph the signalman is ignorant of the narrator "he looked up at me without replying" therefore, creating immediate suspense. The signalman is afraid of another tragedy "I am troubled, sir, I am troubled" this conveys his feeling of "anxiety" as he feels responsible for the deaths of the previous tragedies.

In the Phantom Coach there are three characters, James Murray, Jacob and the master. The narrator (James Murray) is honeymooning and, has come to the north of England to shoot. He is of upper class as he is a barrister at law. He dearly loves his wife, "I thought how my wife was already watching" showing how much consideration his wife has for him. James becomes lost on the moors where he meets the old man, Jacob. The narrator becomes very persistent with the old man and insists on following him home. Jacob, is a servant and of working class. His immediate approach to James is very arrogant and rude, "'What for?' growled he sulkily" highlighting the fact that he does not like strangers. Jacob is unsure about James nevertheless, when he is given money he becomes more helpful "that's for you". Here, he is being helpful however, says this with a "malicious grin" as if he knows his master will immediately reject James. Jacobs master is very rich; we know this because James uses the words "great raftered hall" implying the master has a big house. Also he has a servant, further highlighting the fact he is wealthy. The master is a man of intellectuality, science and philosophy. The master has also the house full of scientific instruments; "a telescope...bands of metal", highlighting the masters knowledge of philosophy and science. The master has a mysterious side as he is unnamed also the fact that he has not left his house in "twenty years".

As for the The Red Room, there are three old people and a hero or saviour. The fact that there may be saviour ads suspense as to what may lie ahead in The Red Room. The hero is a twenty-eight year old man who is determined ghosts don't exist and, is brave and courageous to enter "The Red Room". The words "nights of all nights" used repeatedly by the old people showing, despite their warnings the man is very courageous and consistent of not listening to their advice furthermore, creating mystery and trepidation. There is an old lady and two very old men. The old lady has "pale eyes", which keep staring at the fire; she also rocks her head from "side to side". The first old man has a withered arm, wrinkled and has "red eyes". The other old man has a stick, "shambling steps". He is even more bent, more wrinkled and more "aged" than the first one. His lips are drooping and had "decaying yellow teeth"; he has a "queer unnatural tilting" and a "rocking" face. This is typical of the gothic genre during the Victorian period.

In The Red Room and The Signalman the stories are structured to have immediate creation of atmosphere and tension of the supernatural however, the writers of these two stories build up towards the effect of mystery and suspense by using short phrases, "my heart grew heavy". This adds an effect of suspense by the conveyance of a tragedy where, in both stories we have mystery and dramatisation of the supernatural.

In all three stories connotations of darkness, negativity and loneliness are portrayed throughout adding to the build up of mystery and suspense. We know this because words such as "frozen" and "solitary" are used in all stories adding to the notion of isolation.

I prefer "The signalman" because I prefer stories with a mysterious ending or any mystery in the story itself. I like the beginning of "The Signalman" as the narrator assumes the signalman is ill-mannered by giving no reply therefore, creating a first impression of mystery and suspense. However in "The Red Room" the three old people stayed together when the hero came out of the room looking at him in an eerie way. I knew immediately that the hero did something wrong or something negative was about to happen. I knew this because the deformed characters seem terrifying and mysterious. Also, the use of short sentences in "The Red Room" conveys a sense of panic and dread. I like it when you don't know what is about to happen in order to keep the reader in suspense therefore building tension.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Creating Mystery and Suspense in Three Short Stories. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Creating Mystery and Suspense in Three Short Stories essay
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