Both Bram Stokers’ classic Gothic novel ‘Dracula’ and Sarah Waters’ contemporary Gothic novel ‘The Little Stranger’ use gothic tropes to create a sense of fear in their audiences. However, the ending juxtapose each other in the sense that Stoker vanquishes all evil while Waters’ leaves her ending ambiguously fearful and sinister. With a disguised Dracula accompanying Johnathon to his Castle on a black horse drawn carriage, Stoker introduces the gothic nature of his novel in his eerily use of setting.
Harker notices that he was soon “hemmed with trees” and the “frowning” rocks “guarded” him “boldly”. Stokers’ use of the Gothic trope of isolation could suggest that Harker is not safe in the unknown Transylvania, creating a terrifying atmosphere as the reader realizes that he is so isolated from the modern society of London, that he is completely helpless and trapped within the first chapter of Stokers’ novel.
This could further imply that Stoker is utilising his setting of the archaic Transylvania to illustrate the boundary of the British Empire- Harker’s lack of “audience survey maps”- so his Victorian audience would be fearful from the start of Stokers’ novel as the unknown nature of the setting makes Dracula, and all its inhabitants, unpredictably fearful. Stokers’ use of the adverb “boldly” could imply ideas of defiance and hatred of the setting towards Harker.
It is clear that Stoker crafts this chapter to make the reader, who would naturally relate to Harker as a fellow Englishman, feel unwelcome in Transylvania through Stokers’ use of character. This creates an intensely unnerving fear for readers as they become continuously apprehensive the deeper they travel into Transylvania through Harker. In a similar way, Waters’ utilises her gothic setting to have an isolating effect injecting intense fear and dread into her audience.
When Mrs. Ayres is ‘lured’ to the nursery supposedly by her dead child Susan, she soon finds herself the victim of a paranormal attack by a poltergeist of some sort. She “hammered” on the panels, then tried the “simple latch” until it cut her. Waters’ use of the gothic trope of isolation could suggest that the house, like Transylvania, does not welcome the protagonists creating fear for the audience. This could further suggest that even though Mrs. Ayres has lived in Hundreds all her life, she was never welcome in its halls.
Waters’ use of the violent adverb “hammered” serves to illustrate Mrs. Ayres desperation and fear of the house, similar to how Harker became fearful of the forest surrounding the Counts’ Castle. Alternatively, Waters’ use of the violent adverb “hammered” could be seen as a link to the gothic poltergeist and how it feeds off repressed urges and feelings. Mrs. Ayres “cut” her finger, bleeding on the panels essentially feeding the house with both her blood and desperation to escape its isolating effect.
The house is crafted by Waters’ to feed off this gothic blood imagery. This could also be seen as a use of foreshadow, similar to Stoker foreshadowing Harker’s entrapment by the Count later in the novel by using the gothic setting of the woods, of Mrs. Ayres demise and death as she gave the poltergeist enough negative energy to start killing off the Ayres family, creating intense and sinister fear within the audience of both the house and the poltergeist who haunts it- we cannot judge which is the more sinister and fearful force.
Johnathon later realises he is at the mercy of the Count, stranded in the uncharted Transylvania, Stoker uses his use of character to instil further fear into his audience. Exploring the Castle Harker finds a window, effectively showing the gothic setting of the castle in the night’s sky; he sees Dracula “emerge” from a window over the Castle wall, a “dreadful abyss” with a cloak spreading about him “like great wings”. Stokers’ use of gothic simile may imply that the Count is uncanny and inhuman, which would inject fear into the Victorian audience.
Alternatively, this use of simile could have connotations of demons as the Count’s “great” wings are not specifically described by Stoker, which could have been crafted to let his deeply religious audience believe there was something ungodly and demonic- much like a fallen angel- about the Count thus inspiring a sinister and fearful persona for the Count utilised by Stoker throughout the novel, creating continuous fear and suspense. Stokers’ use of the word “abyss” could have connotations of nothingness, a void of darkness of which the Count effortlessly crawls across.
This could further imply that the Count is a being that is on the boundary of Hell, the “abyss”, but still very much alive- in a uncanny undead way- creating fear in the audience as their religious beliefs would influence them to see the Count as a sort of demon from Hell to prey on the innocent Englishmen and women, represented by Harker and Mina. Waters also uses gothic monsters like vampires from Stokers’ ‘Dracula’ to create fear, crafting the encounters with the poltergeist to have a chilling and unnerving effect for her readers.
When Roderick is shaving in preparation for the party at Hundreds, strange and paranormal occurrences began to occur as his shaving mirror “inch its way across the washing stand”. Waters’ use of personification creates a gothic sense of fear in her audience as the uncanny occurrence is out of the realm of possibility for Roderick and reader, freezing them both in fear as they await to see what happens next- much like how Harker was froze staring at the Count “crawling” across the Castle.
Alternatively, Waters’ use of personification could be a device used to illustrate Roderick’s unhinged mind as he is a victim of PTSD, a mental disorder only recently recognised post WW2. The reader cannot be certain in the assumption that it is a poltergeist, as Waters’ cleverly never admits its existence in her contemporary Gothic novel, starting this sense of ambiguous fear she utilises throughout her novel to keep her readers in suspense and tension.
Waters use of the verb “inch” builds fearful tension in the reader- this use of gothic motions can be seen in the Counts “crawling”- suggesting that both Waters and Stoker crafted their main gothic antagonists (supposed antagonist in ‘The Little Strangers’ pushing the mirror) to inject a sense fear even through their movements. Contrastingly, Stoker and Waters take very different approaches to the endings of their gothic novels.
While Stoker uses the classic good triumphing over evil trope vanquishing all fear built up in the novel for the reader, Waters’ crafts her ending to be sinisterly ambiguous with no real triumph to be seen- most of the protagonists are dead or insane- leaving an uncertainty that creates fear till the very end. At the very end of Dracula, Stoker leaves an almost epilogue written by Johnathon seven years after the Counts’ death in Transylvania. In this short extract, Johnathon says that his son’s bundle of names unifies “[his] our little band of men” together.
Stokers’ use of metaphor could create a sense of unity between the men, almost as if they are a “band” of very old friends, through the baby Quincy. This could further suggest, in Victorian society, a sense of victory over evil as Johnathon has been able to start a family of which is the perfect representation of Victorian middle-class society, despite the ordeal he faced when the Count was alive thus taking away the sense of fear that was prevalent throughout the novel.
Stokers’ use of the determiner “our” could promote ideas of togetherness, comforting the reader as they realise that no evil can break the trust team Helsing held with God and each other, vanquishing any fear the reader may have had in Stokers’ novel. Helsing believed they were on a “crusade” from God to punish evil; by Stoker having Dracula killed, it supports his audience that their long standing religious faiths, the foundations of their social structure, was the right way to live.
Helsing “crusade” was not in vain, the “hell-fire” Count was killed along with his “voluptuous” wives, destroying the fear and suspense Stoker crafted throughout his novel to achieve the classic trope of good triumphing over evil. In contrast to Stokers’ happy ending, Sarah Waters’ contemporary Gothic novels ending is purposely ambiguously mysterious, using imagery to create suspense and a fearful atmosphere. Faraday, after the death of Caroline, visits Hundreds Hall whenever he has the time, dusting and cleaning he sees a shard of glass where he looks “baffled and longing” at his face which is “[his] my own”.
Waters’ use of polysemous imagery could suggest that Faraday was the ghost himself all along unconsciously and he finds his own face when looking for the ghost because it is him, keeping the reader in intense dread unlike Stokers’ unified ending where all evil has been destroyed. This is ironic as Faraday has been the embodiment of rationalism throughout Waters’ Gothic novel, dissimilar to Stokers’ use of rationalism as a device to support the existence of the supernatural, and even at the end Faraday has no idea that he is the ghost.
Waters’ use of the adjective “distorted” could imply that Faraday is twisted and warped, which could his subconscious murderous psychotic other self, created by his obsession with the house. This is very enigmatic, and purposely done by Waters’, as we do not know if Faraday is the ghost after all. There are simply too many holes in the reader’s knowledge, thanks to Waters’ going to extreme lengths to keep her novel in Faraday’s point of view, creating suspense and fear for her audience till the very end.
This atmosphere of unknown and mystery utilises the gothic trope of fear, leaving the reader with an eerily feel of discomfort, contrasted to Stokers’ classic Gothic novel where all questions are answered. Alternatively, the face Faraday sees could be a symbol for the manifestation, “the germ” that he created in his sleep. By Waters’ leaving her book in such a tangle of uncertainty, she could be representing the time in British society where social change was coming due to the newly powerful Labour government.
The British people, especially the upper class, had an uncertain and ambiguous future themselves, playing on these fears until the very end of her novel, creating a chilling and sinister end to her contemporary gothic novel. In conclusion, both Stoker and Waters use the setting and the gothic beings in their novels to inject fear and develop it like a poison, through the use of gothic tropes, in the reader throughout their novels creating suspense and dread.
Stoker destroys the sense of fear in his classic gothic novel by giving a unified good-always-wins atmosphere while Sarah leaves her ending purposely ambiguous, never telling us the extent of the “Little Strangers” existence, leaving a chillingly fearful atmosphere to the very last line of her novel. Both authors raise the question of: how should gothic horror novels end? Should the reader be left with Waters’ chilling ambiguity, having key questions unanswered? Or have Stokers’ happy ending, comforting them in the sense that good will always win over evil but ultimately destroying the very thing the Gothic intends to achieve: fear?