That is, there are times when these beliefs are explicit and the so-called beliefs are rather bizarre or extreme and in this manner, I would seek to explain the supernatural attitude of a specific era, in this case, the Victorian Era, and try to explain their beliefs on the context of the literary works of Charles Dickens (To Be Taken With A Grain of Salt) and Elizabeth Gaskell (The Old Nurse Story). This does not end here though, as I aim to differentiate the sexist literary treatment of the two celebrated authors and of course, tore apart the literary works by its parts.
Most noticeable between the two is the first-person-point of-view adopted by Dickens and Gaskell. Almost all horror stories are fabricated in this manner and probably the reason is that the author wants an active participation of the reader by delving into the intimate thoughts of the central character; in the Dickens ghost story, central figure was a male juror in a murder crime, while in Gaskells story, central figure, was female nurse-maid. Notice that both authors are very sexist in picking out their central characters and even their subordinate and their supporting characters as well.
Females naturally dominate Gaskels story while Dickens story redounds with males. Dickens may have liked to paint the males in his story as good persons whilst Gaskell presents suspicious characters in every other characters except the maid, Rosamund and the helpers. The sisters Maude and Grace Furnivall was illustrated as bad, not to be trusted types. Even Maudes child was evil in the manner that she tried to lure Rosamund to the deadly Fell. Old Lord Furnivall was atrocious and unforgiving while the young Lord Furnivall was uncaring.
Naturally the nature of the characters contributed to the degree of horror or ghostly appeal of the story. The trend is that the more evil the characters, the scarier the story appears to the reader. Like in almost every Victorian story, position and power and the disparity between the classes are illustrated (although not explicitly pronounced) here. The juror have servants (Dickens) and the Furnivalls are beyond the reach of the normal house staff (e. g. they dine separately).
In Dickens story, the servants were simply a fleeting thing/character but in Gaskells, much participation of the help was observed. Remember that Gaskells story was related by a nurse-maid. Charles Dickens choose to ignore their presence (except once) in the story. The tone of both ghost stories, being that of supernatural, is eerie and hair-raising although much can be said about the differential treatment of the male and female species regarding the supernatural.
Gaskells maid from the start, acknowledges and is wary of the Supernatural (being afraid to go to the East Wing), and adopts a rather frightened prissy, girly fear towards the Girl-Ghost (who aims to take away Rosamund) and Lord Furnivall (who haunts the piano and is considerably a bad and frightening figure not to be reckoned of). On the other hand, Charles Dickens juror, adopted first a disbelieving attitude towards the Murder-Victim-Ghost until he saw one but he did not show any fright towards the ghostly character.
In fact, it was almost as if Dickens wants to convince us that even on the face of Supernatural, males are indomitable and will still display signs of bravado. Dickens and Gaskell may also have opposing ideas on the character of their central ghost/s. All the ghosts were victims of ugly situations; Dickens ghost was a victim of murder in Piccadilly while Gaskells ghost were one family ? girl and mother, were victims of cruel treatment from Lord Furnivall, and Lord Furnivall, was a victim of his conscience over what had happened to her child and granddaughter.
The difference between the ghost/s from the two stories is that Dickens adopted a protagonist ghost while Gaskell adopted that of the antagonistic Ghost. The Murder-Victim-Ghost (Dickens story) helped the jury decide on the outcomes of the court decision regarding his murder whilst that of the Three-Furnivall-Ghost aimed for retribution towards the remaining family members. They took away Grace Furnivall for the atonement of her sins over the tragic matter that had occurred in the Fell.
Grace turned over the secret of her hated sister to Lord Gaskell and did not do anything with the banishment during the winter in Fell, hence the heavy retribution. Also, the tone differs for both stories because the reader tries to accept the purpose and presence of the ghost in Dickens story, hence there is no-fright-appeal. Opposite is true for Gaskells story, which sets an easy tone at the start of the story followed by a frightening tone in the middle which builds incessantly until the last part of the story.
If a reader wants to be really frightened, then, he/she should read Gaskells The Old Nurses Story. The theme for both stories is justice and retribution. Charles Dickens Murder-Ghost seeks justice for the heinous act of the prisoner who killed him in Piccadilly by approaching a favorable juror which will point or clear his case even on the demise of his after-death. He even whispers and apparatus at dreams of each juror and was an active participator in the litigation of his murder case. He whispers to the witness and even dabbles with the thoughts of the venerable Judge.
Ghost is powerful here since he has the ability to mobilize people in the courtroom through their thoughts. Elizabeth Gaskell was rather extreme and dramatic in the unfair retribution that he had bestowed on Grace Furnivall. Gaskell opted at first for a scandalous family, full of deceit and lies and with all the family members jealous of each other. She paints the death of each member of the family as an ugly moment, wherein, even the souls would never seek peace. Understand that this is the most commonly adopted mantra for horror stories nowadays ?
scandal associated with un-restful souls. The ghosts then seek retribution for the death that had occurred in the Fell and the culprit was found to be Grace Furnivall. What is most amazing about Gaskell is that she inserted an important character Rosamund which turned out to be only an accessory character in the story. In this manner, Gaskell was able to mislead the reader into believing that the girl Rosamund was their target when in fact it was the old Grace Furnivall who was really their intention. In the end, Grace becomes afflicted with madness or becomes a neurotic.
A perfect case for retribution. Victorian Eras literary appeal is that it redounds with romance and horror that is highly popular during those times. Much can be said regarding the perception of the supernatural as gained from the two stories. Unrestfull souls (in the form of ghosts, apparitions) whose death is not yet conclusive, seek to circulate around the earth looking for answers before exiting from this human world. They may either be good or bad. Sometimes they manifest in dreams or they may as well have been the result of conscience (e. g. Grace Furnivall).
The supernaturals are intangible and are separate entities from the human beings. Although they are viewed as concrete-abstract, they are believe to have an active participation in earthly doings (This cannot be proven and explained. ). Supernatural literature may have reflected the ideologies and beliefs of the people in the past but in the realm of technology today, they are still regarded as literary amusement; something to be entertained with but never to be believed in.
Stone, W. and M. Edwards. Understanding Literature. NY: JMC Press Inc. , 1986.