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How HG Wells Uses Structure, Character, Setting and Imagery to Create and Sustain an Atmosphere of Suspense and Tension

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The author H. G Wells wrote “The Red Room” during the Victorian era. This story belongs to the tradition of Victorian gothic mysteries. The Victorian gothic genre is a type of romantic fiction that was popular in English literature in the late 18th and the early 19th century. The setting of this genre is usually a ruined gothic castle or abbey. The gothic novel is emphasised by mystery and horror, which is done by using ghost-haunted rooms, underground passages, and secret stairways.

This story “The Red Room” features many of these characteristics of gothic writing such as an old derelict house, spiral staircases, a haunted room and the “subterranean” passages suggest darkness and create mystery in the readers mind. The story focuses on a young, over confident, naive man who defies the warnings from the “grotesque” housekeepers and spends a night in a haunted room. He has to confront his own fear and ends the ordeal in the care of the old housekeepers. The man learnt an important lesson he learnt that fear is in his own imagination and learns to respect older, wiser individuals.

In this essay I will examine how H. G Wells uses character, structure, setting and imagery to create and sustain an atmosphere of tension and suspense in “The Red Room” H. G Wells structures his story to build up tension gradually from the beginning until the stories climax, which occurs just before the end when he knocks himself unconscious while running round the room in a frantic panic. H. G Wells uses the title “The Red Room” for his story. The word red is used to symbolise blood and danger so mystery is again put into the readers mind.

This introduces tension because it suggests the room is full of danger and the reader expects something to happen in there. Tension is also introduced from the narrator’s attitude to the old housekeepers in the house. The first line in the story is where the narrator tells us that “I can assure you, said I that it will take a very tangible ghost to frighten me” This tells us that he is over confident and arrogant and his tone of voice towards the older characters is very patronising.

It also introduces the idea of a ghost to the story, which also raises the tension because we wonder when or where the ghost will feature. Two of the old housekeepers warn the young arrogant narrator not to enter “The Red Room” The old deformed man tells him that “Its your own choosing”. He seems to want to pass the responsibility of the young man, the old woman also tells the man not to go into “The Red Room” on “this night of all nights” which she repeats.

This gives the reader the impression that there is something bad is going to happen especially on this night so the tension is raised. Because of the mans arrogance we expect the young man to undergo some kind of trial or test. ” If you will show me to this haunted room of yours I will relieve you from the task of entertaining me. The young man does not take their views seriously and does not respect their warnings and is obviously willing to put himself in a dangerous situation.

When he is in the corridor he feels a shadow move from behind him to in front of him” The echoes rang up and down the spiral staircase and a shadow came sweeping up after me,” As he advances further down the corridor he “stooped abruptly” as he feels someone was “waiting to waylay me” and we are told that he stood rigid for half a minute perhaps. Now the narrator is starting to be afraid our expectations of something happening to him are raised. The narrator than describes two previous deaths in the castle.

Following the Victorian tradition of “The Rule of Three” we expect a third incident to occur and the narrator to be the victim. When he enters “The Red Room” he begins to “make a systematic examination of the place a once, and dispel the fanciful suggestion of its obscurity before they obtained a hold upon me. ” To reassure himself. Once all seventeen candles are lit the narrator finds the atmosphere in the room “cheery and reassuring” this contributes to a huge decrease I the amount of tension.

The author has done this to lull the reader into a false sense of security. The reader is given the impression that every thing is going to be fine, just before dramatically increasing the tension as all the candles go out. From this point the narrator becomes more and more afraid “frantic with horror ” and he admits “my self-possession deserted me” He stumbles around the room in a state of panic and the climax of the story comes when he knocks himself out of a piece of furniture.

When he wakes up, it is light and all the tension has dissipated. Wells uses “long, draughty subterranean” passages and spiral staircases to keep with the stories genre. He also uses these to build up tension and mystery “walked down the chilly, echoing passage” This description helps build the image to the reader. I personally enjoyed the story it gripped me because of the first person perspective so I could feel the same as the narrator. Wells wrote it in this way so the reader would feel the tension building up.

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