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Conventions of the Gothic Horror – The Red Room by HG Wells

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Would you enter the Red Room? Written by H.G. Wells in the 19th century, the Red Room is a spooky tale of mystery and suspense. An ambiguous story written in first person follows the short account of a man who is unafraid of ghosts and is going to stay the night in the apparently haunted Red Room.

As he stays in the Red Room he lights all the candles and settles himself in an armchair, but as he’s sitting there the candles start to go out, he begins racing with an unknown force trying to put out the candles and he is trying to light them back up, in the confusion he is knocked out and is found in the morning. We learn as the story goes on it’s not a creature of any kind; it’s not the ghost of the old early or the timid wife who was frightened by her joking husband. It is a person’s own fear, which has neither light nor sound.

There are many conventions of the Gothic Horror genre in the story of the Red Room, one of the conventions in the Red Room is that it is set in an old derelict house:

“The house might have been deserted on the yesterday instead of eighteen months ago.”

This quotation shows us that everything in the house has stayed untouched, as if it was only deserted yesterday instead of a year and a half ago. This creates an atmosphere of neglect towards the house and makes it feel empty and lonely. This as a metonymy, to the Victorians, reflects their beliefs and religion now left unattended and ruined, as Science had destroyed them and left them to decay.

There are also many metonymies within the Red Room that reflect the Victorians and what they were like in the 19th century:

“…there were candles in the sockets of the scones, and whatever dust had gathered on the carpets…”

The Victorians were in a state of crises and their beliefs of religion were being questioned and proved wrong by Science and Charles Darwin’s book ‘The Origin of the Species’. The above quote reflects the metonymy ‘Lights in an abandoned room’ which means the Victorians beliefs are meant to be represented as the lights just lying in the abandoned room forgotten and discarded.

Another convention would be the natural elements heightening the isolation:

“The long, draughty subterranean passage was chilly and dusty, and my candle flared and made the shadows cower and quiver.”

From this quotation we gather that the natural feeling of the passageway is draughty, long and damp. The atmosphere created here is of cold and isolation, as if it’s been kept unattended and forgotten. This reflects the Victorians beliefs as they were becoming isolated by Science. This would have made them afraid as it is a natural element and cannot be stopped as easily.

Another metonymy is ‘Rain especially blowing’. This to the Victorians represented rain as Science, which is ruining the beliefs and blowing them away.

‘Mysterious directions’ is another convention reflected in the Red Room:

“…until you come to a door, and through that is a spiral staircase, and halfway up that is a landing and another door covered with baize…”

We establish from this extract that the atmosphere created is confusing and overwhelming. This represents the Victorians being afraid of another change of society and confusion on who to believe, science or religion.

‘Thunder and lightning’ is a metonymy that reflects the lower class of the Victorian era striking to break free of the rich, higher class. The lower class were kept down by the higher class as everyone believed you were meant to be poor, as god had chosen who would be poor and who would be rich. As soon as these beliefs were shown to be untrue by Science the lower class, who had also believed this, started to fight back and break free of the hold of the rich people.

A metonymy for this story is ‘gusts of wind blowing out lights’. This makes the character feel scared as if there is some sort of supernatural being blowing out the lights and this creates a sense of fear and horror within the atmosphere. To the Victorians the lights represent their beliefs and they are blown as science came along and proved them wrong, they would be afraid of this as they have nothing to believe in, nothing to follow or no one to follow.

‘Echoes, draughts and flickering fires’ is another convention reflected in the Red Room:

“The echoes rang up and down the spiral staircase”

This quote shows us that the house is so empty and old that the noises echo against the walls and staircases, this creates an atmosphere of fear as it’s like there is an unknown being or thing talking back to you. The Victorians are reflected in this by the fact that they were asking all these questions to god and getting no reply, so it was like they were just getting their own questions thrown back at them with no answers.

A convention that creates an atmosphere of loneliness, emptiness and desolation is ‘loneliness and lack of life or movement’:

“I still found the remoter darkness of the place, and its perfect stillness, too stimulating for the imagination”

From this quote we can see that the Red Room scares this person, it’s so dark and quiet that it makes his imagination go wild as it has nothing to dwell on but the darkness and solidarity. This convention ‘loneliness and lack of life or movement’ reflects the Victorians as they were hoping for a sign from god to show them their beliefs were true, but they were left alone with no proof whether their beliefs were true or not.

‘Nervous and overwrought characters’ is a convention that is shown within the Red Room a considerable amount of times, we can see this from the following quotes:

“By this time I was in a considerable nervous tension.”

“For the same reason I also abandoned, after a time, a conversation with myself upon the impossibility of ghosts and haunting.”

From the first quote we see the character here in a nervous state; they actually say themselves that they were “in a considerable nervous tension”. The second quote tells us the character had a conversation with themselves about ghosts and haunting and whether it was possible or not, we see that they are nervous from this point because they are trying to convince themselves of the impossibility of ghosts. From them two quotes we gain an atmosphere of high emotions and fear, as the characters are afraid we see their progress of slowly becoming more afraid. The Victorians would have been nervous and overwrought as their beliefs, shattered and destroyed, were no longer there and they had nothing to follow or no one to lead them, they could not depend upon themselves.

My final convention will be ‘Domination or abuse of a female’:

“A power of darkness. To put such a curse upon a woman! It lurks there always.”

This quotation shows us that the example the man uses is a woman, he uses this as if it would only frighten a woman or put a curse on her. This creates an atmosphere of domination and power over one gender. Women in the Victorian times were seen as the weaker gender, they were not given equal rights or chances.

In conclusion, this story ‘The Red Room’ is a perfect example of a Gothic Horror story. The Red Room reflects nearly every Convention in the Gothic Horror genre and shows the Victorians within the metonymies. As it was written within the 19th century it reflects the Victorians feelings and what state they were in at the time. I hope this essay has helped you understand how the Red Room reflects the conventions of the Gothic Horror genre and understand how they reflect the genre conventions.

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