I am going to compare ‘The Red Room’ by H. G. Wells and ‘Farthing House’ by Susan Hill. I have a lot to compare, as the ‘Red Room’ is a very traditional ghost story with a very gothic theme, while ‘Farthing House’ is a very modern ghost story that uses twists and turns, quite unexpectedly to create suspense rather that fear and also they are separated by the fact that in the ‘Red Room’ you think there is going to be a ghost and there isn’t, while in ‘Farthing House’, you don’t think there is going to be a ghost and there is.
In the ‘Red Room’ there is a man who is going to a haunted room in a castle as a dare to confront the ghost that is supposed to haunt the Red Room. When he gets there he lights all of the candles he can find, but one by one they blow out. When the man is engulfed in total darkness he panics and tries to run out of the room but trips and knocks himself unconscious. He them goes on to describe to the residents of the castle that the haunting in the room is not a ghost but fear…
In ‘Farthing House’ a woman is writing a letter to be read at a latter date by her pregnant daughter. It tells of the woman’s experience when she went to visit her aunt at Farthing House. She is forced to stay in the Cedar room because the guest room is booked. On the first night the woman hears the sound of a baby crying, but dismisses it as the television, and is not sure. Later that night the woman wakes up in bed with the sense that someone has been in her room.
On the second night she sees the ghost crying, and the whole house seems to have gone back in time, she follows the ghost out of her room whilst feeling icy cold in the ghosts presence. The ‘Red Room’ is a very traditional ghost story with its conventional pre – 1900’s ghost story gothic setting, – the dark subterranean passageways, the dull sombre colours, the candlesticks, sconces and the Ganymede and Eagle. The characters, who are very old, mysterious and constantly giving dire warnings, and also its gothic style, – it is very intense; the person who is entering the Red Room is expecting a ghost.
The man is confronting the ghost, he doesn’t find out by accident like in ‘Farthing House’ and you can anticipate what is going to happen, the are no hidden meanings or ‘mother daughter relationships’ like in ‘Farthing House’. It is quite a lot like the typical ‘Scooby Doo’ ghost stories by William Hannah and Joseph Barbara where the ‘gang’ wind up in some scary location with a very imaginative history and several mysterious characters, although rather than someone dressed up in a costume, there is actually some sort of spiritual being present in the Red Room.
However, ‘Farthing House’ is much more a modern style ghost story. This can be told by the way it is written, because in this generation, gothic, old-fashioned ghost stories don’t provide the same scary excitement that stories like the ‘Red Room’ provided in the late 1800’s, so newer methods of mystifying our generation of readers have been developed by people like Susan Hill. Unlike the ‘Red Room’ where the reader takes the position of the man entering the Red Room expecting to be frightened, for the first half of ‘Farthing House’ the reader does not even expect there to be a ghost until at least half-way through the story.
The ‘Red Room’ is a first person narrative; it is the account of a man who went to investigate the Red Room . The man is 28 years old, he thinks he is very brave and tries to present himself as a very intrepid individual to the three strange characters he meets upon entering the castle, but as soon as he leaves their company and starts his journey through the shadows of the subterranean passageway, and up the penumbra clad spiral staircase to the Red Room, it is evident that he is not as courageous as he makes himself out to be. Not only because he goes to confront a ghost with a gun.
But also makes efforts to quell his fear of the dark by collecting as many candles as possible from the hallway outside the Red Room. ‘Farthing House’s’ narrator is a fifty-year-old woman. Although at the time of her experience she was only about thirty. Who, dissimilar too the man. She is writing a letter to her pregnant daughter about the significant experience in her life because she is reminded of it when she smells burning leaves out side her house, just like when she went to Farthing House, and also when she read in a newspaper that a baby was kidnapped on Farthing Close.
Two things that both stories have in common is that both ghosts cause a great amount of fear; In the ‘Red Room’ the man is overwhelmed by his own fear of the dark, and in ‘Farthing House’ the first time the woman actually sees the ghost she was “soaked in sweat, shaking and terrified” and couldn’t get to sleep or throw off her fear and the depression that the ghost inflicted on her.
The ghost or entity in the Red Room, rather than being a discernable object with an unsightly appearance to frighten its prey, it is the man’s fear of the room’s darkness that possibly, along with the presence of the countess’ spirit, is able to manifest itself into a force able to blow out the candles and is even capable of extinguishing the fire, causing the man to try to run to the door the wrong way and knock himself out.
The ghost from ‘Farthing House’ is a lot different from the entity in the ‘Red Room’ as the force the man is able to manifest in the Red Room is intent on frightening him further as the countess of the castle unleashes her revenge from her husband on him, while in the case of the ghost of ‘Farthing House’ this is not so. The ghost that the woman sees is not trying to cause fear, but is just an unsettled spirit looking for the baby she lost at birth.
The only reason the ghost of ‘Farthing House’ appears to the woman in the Cedar room is that she shares the same love and fear for her daughter during her pregnancy that the woman experienced just as she died giving birth to her child. The ‘Red Room’ is set in a castle in the middle of nowhere, it is inhabited by a man with a withered arm, a pale eyed woman and a man ‘more wrinkled, more aged than the withered arm, supported by a single crutch. ‘ Its furnishings are of a very gothic theme; the rooms and corridors are decorated with candlesticks, a Ganymede and Eagle and china ornaments sat upon a Buhl.
The Red Room itself is on a second story of Lorraine castle and is decorated in sombre browns and reds, furnished with a four-poster bed and a large fireplace, preceded by a large, heavy wooden door, a spiral staircase and a subterranean passageway. In contrast to the ‘Red Room’s’ gothic setting the bulk of the action in ‘Farthing House’ takes place in the very homely surrounding of Farthing House, here the residents and visitors are comforted by nicely decorated rooms with quite a shortage of darkness unlike the castle containing the Red Room.
However Farthing House does have a disturbing background of death. When it was first built, it was a maternity home, and childbirth was a very risky business back then, and often both mother and baby died. After that it was a hospital for injured soldiers from the war, which would mean more deaths as most of them would not survive their injuries. Now it is a home for the elderly where they would stay until they died. Although by the end of the story this history of death is stopped when Farthing House is demolished and a housing estate is built over it.
Upon entrance to Farthing House you are greeted by fresh chrysanthemums, the light, spicy smell of baking and the sense of a homely, well run, comfortable establishment, however in the Red Room, you are greeted by three wrinkly, aged people and the cold sense of discomfort and unfriendliness. H. G. Wells uses words like “nervous, haunting, perpetually shifting and half-hysterical” and traditional gothic scenery (darkness, creaking floorboards, shadows etc. to create the simple, but effective ghost story atmosphere in the ‘Red Room’, while Susan Hill uses unexpected twists and turns in ‘Farthing House’ using words like “melancholy, uncertain, distant and unusual” that create tension rather than fear. The ‘Red Room’ is made frightening by the fact that you know that there is going to be a ghost while in ‘Farthing House’ rather than fear, suspense which is just as effective, is created by you not knowing there is a ghost.
Personally I think the ‘Red Room’ is the superior of the two accounts although they are both excellent pieces of literature in their own rites. I favour the Red Room because it is not as slow as Farthing House, it is much more lively, exiting and there is more action. I don’t think it matters weather a story is believable or not, the ‘Red Room’ is made successful by its action and ‘Farthing House’; by it’s true-to-life believability. So overall the ‘Red Room’ makes an excellent story with frightening exhilarating storyline it follows.