The Old Nurse’s Story

Most ghost stories have certain conventions that we expect them to follow, such as vulnerable characters and supernatural goings on. The ghost stories “The Old Nurse’s Story” by Elizabeth Gaskell and Robert Westall’s “The Call” both follow some of these conventions. In ghost stories there is often an isolated setting, such as a wood or a house with land all around it and no neighbours. When people are isolated there is no one around to help when help is needed, and sometimes there is no way of contacting people, making people susceptible to bad things.

Most of the time the main character of a ghost story is a young woman or a child, because they are seen as vulnerable; children because they are young and impressionable and young women because they are thought of as weak, and an easy target for ghosts and other bad things. Ghost stories are often set in large old mansions or castles with lots of wings and quarters where ghosts can hide. Quite often there is bad weather such as thunder and lightening, heavy rain, fog and snow. The bad weather can create a spooky atmosphere and also a sense of vulnerability and isolation. Sometimes the bad weather in ghost stories brings down telephone lines, so there can be no communicating with people, adding to the isolation.

Ghost stories often start slowly in ordinary every day situations, and gradually build up to create tension, suspense and fear. There are often signs throughout the story that things are not quite as they should be and that there are strange things going on. Elizabeth Gaskell wrote “The Old Nurse’s Story” using lots of the conventions we expect to find in a ghost story. The main setting of the story, Furnival Manor is a very stereotypical haunted house. The house is very isolated in the middle of a “large wild park”, nowhere near a town or village. The house is very grand, fitting in with what would be expected of a house in a ghost story.

The weather in “The Old Nurse’s Story” is often quite bad. Sentences such as “That winter was very cold.” “…the white dazzling snow…” and “It was bitter cold.” Show us that the weather is not very nice. In the story this creates some problems when Miss Rosamond goes out into the snow and gets frostbitten. The two main characters in the story, Rosamond and Hester are very stereotypical of main characters in ghost stories. Rosamond is a young child of five or six, who is easily impressionable, shown in the story when she is lead away by the child’s ghost. Hester is a young woman of about eighteen, and is an easy target for ghosts and suchlike.

Another convention we expect to be found in a ghost story is found in the way “The Old Nurse’s Story” is written. The story starts off in everyday life, with nothing unusual going on, but gradually things get a little weirder. It starts to get stranger when they arrive at Furnival Manor and the East Wing is closed off and the organ plays by itself. The story gradually builds up until the last few pages, when the ghosts are finally revealed.

Robert Westall’s “The Call” also follows certain conventions, although not as much as “The Old Nurse’s Story”. The setting of “The Call” is no different from an everyday town or village, so it is a little unlike what we would expect to find in a ghost story. The weather in “The Call” is mostly rainy and foggy, so, like “The Old Nurse’s Story” it is quite bad.

The main characters in “The Call” are a young couple, Geoff and Meg. Like Rosamond in “The Old Nurse’s Story”, Meg is very vulnerable when she is left on her own because there’s no one there to protect her, and she is easily lead. Geoff doesn’t really fit the vulnerable main character role, but the ghost still scares him. The ghost in this story is like those in most other ghost stories, lonely, with a terrible past. “The Old Nurse’s Story” shares this characteristic, as the ghosts in that are sad and had tragic deaths.

Unlike “The Old Nurse’s Story” the settings in “The Call” aren’t very isolated. The Samaritans place is probably in a town, so it wouldn’t be isolated. The canal would be a bit, but there are houses near it. “The Call” does follow the conventions we expect to find, just not as strictly as “The Old Nurse’s Story” does. “The Old Nurse’s Story” is very typical of Victorian writing. There are lots of very long sentences and paragraphs, some almost two pages long.

For example, the paragraph starting halfway through page 25 doesn’t end until seven lines into page 27. This makes the story a little bit hard to read, as there is lots of punctuation and some of the sentences have complex structures. Some of the words Gaskell uses have different meanings now, or are not used at all, which could be confusing for a reader in the 21st Century. In Victorian times it was okay to make the language of stories complex because not everyone went to school and only clever, well-educated people could read.

There are a lot of adjectives in “The Old Nurse’s Story” to describe the setting such as “…scooped out of the thick dark wood…” Where the adjectives “thick” and “dark” help the reader to image the setting. In the nineteenth century people would have to imagine things for themselves, they did not have influences such as television or films, so lots of detail would help. The language used in “The Call” is modern and less complex than that of “The Old Nurse’s Story”. All of the words in the story would be recognised by a modern-day reader.

The sentences and paragraphs in “The Call” vary in length, but none of them are nearly as long as some found in “The Old Nurse’s Story”. Westall uses a lot of ellipses in the story such as “Stay with me…” to create suspense for the reader. Another thing Westall does to create tension and suspense is to use short sentences. On page 7 there are lots of short sentences “We’d like to help. But stop feeding us lies. I know the Lowestoft.” to keep the reader in suspense and on page 9 there is a cliffhanger for the same thing.

The language in “The Old Nurse’s Story” and “The Call” are quite different, as “The Old Nurse’s Story” is very typical of nineteenth century gothic writing and “The Call” is very modern. The only thing they really share in common is that the author is trying to keep the reader in suspense, and both have worked quite well at doing this. Overall I think that Elizabeth Gaskell’s “The Old Nurse’s Story” is a more successful ghost story than “The Call” by Robert Westall because “The Old Nurse’s Story” follows the conventions we expect to find in a ghost story a lot better than “The Call” does. “The Old Nurse’s Story” is also a lot more detailed than “The Call” which helps the reader in a ghost story.

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