Originally stories were sung or spoken and handed down through word of mouth from one person to another. There were thousands of traditional stories all over the world, from King Arthur and his knights of the round table in Britain to Hercules and the Gods on Mount Olympus in Greece.
In the middle ages this was how stories were told, these stories were sometimes shown as plays, which many people could pay to watch. These plays were based on love, war and religion and were very popular with everyone. Some mystery plays were based on bible stories and shown throughout Europe. Others were based on the courtly love tradition where women were worshipped like Gods. In contrast other stories were shown as having the “damsel in distress” such as Robin Hood, with knights and a great battle of good versus evil.
Some even took the myths and legends and included them in their stories; this could have been where princesses were saved from a beast such as a dragon or a small boy performing the colossal act of defeating a giant.The SignalmanBy Charles DickensThe setting is a railway line at the bottom of a steep cutting, where the sunlight “barely penetrated”. It was a “dark, dank, gloomy and depressing place near a tunnel with a red danger light at its entrance.” The signalman’s box was but a few hundred yards from the entrance of the tunnel, giving the impression that this is the last outpost of life before entering the tunnel, which could go down to the underworld. NB.
In Ancient Greek legends, the entrance to Hades Underworld or death was often portrayed as a dark tunnel or cave.The main character is a signalman, he is working class but “educated beyond his position”. He is very particular and vigilant about his job. He has fixed eyes and “a saturnine face”.The job and its position are lonely and solitary but the signalman is happy like that.
He willingly worked in his environment. He gave the impression of hardly being a man, could he be a ghost or is he mentally ill?(mentally ill people often live on the edge of society in lonely positions)The second main character of this story is the narrator, who is a traveller. This is common of Victorian short stories. This character focuses us on the reality, he doesn’t see the ghost, but does perceive the signalman’s very real distress and anxiety.
He also gives us the character of the signalman i.e. One of not normally seeing ghosts and of being down to earth, intelligent if a solitary figure. In this story he is an avid train fanatic and comes down to talk to the signalman of their common link.
The main story is that the signalman “saw” a strange traveller, who appeared to be a spirit or a ghost, giving him warnings of impending doom/death. When the ghost rang the bell it gave a different vibration, this indicated to the signalman the ghosts’ presence, and his own sense of altered reality? Was this his entrance to a mad neurotic state or into a state of foresight? The warnings were never specific or clear, but death always followed. Twice the ghost came to prove its warnings were true, always appearing near the red danger light.The narrator points out that the signalman does not seem to be a man that would see ghosts, which is also common, but that the sight of these apparitions and the ensuing deaths is deeply upsetting him. The appearance of the ghost has altered this signalman’s usually steady state of mind.
The narrator pointed out that the signalman was “intelligent, vigilant, painstaking and exact and though he held a subordinate position, he held a most important trust.” But could this continue with his state of mind being so precarious? The narrator had pointed out that there was something aberrant about the red light and that some unnatural feeling stirred inside him, could he be picking up on the signalman’s’ fear?The main part of the story is concerned with the apparitions of the ghost and the end of the story comes with the signalman being cut down by a train, whilst standing on the line with his back to the tunnel. The narrator had been so concerned for the signalman’s state of mind that he had tried to calm him down by making him focus on the importance of his job and that they would, on the next night gain medical opinion of his state of mind. The signalman had agreed and was obviously so intent on focusing on his duty that for the first time in his life his leg was over the line and he was cut down.The train driver had done the exact same movements and shouted the exact same words as the ghost, but the signalman was so intent on doing his job that he had not heard the train driver cry out for him to “clear the way”.
The ghost had been predicting the signalman’s own death, but the interpretation by the signalman, the confusion and the traveller trying to hold onto the reality had distorted the true foresight of this vision.This is and extra sensory perception story of considerable merit. The story is a typical E.S.
P mystery with questions that cannot be answered e.g. is it mental health or foresight? Did it cause his death or was it written in fate? Could it have been stopped or changed? Or was it all inevitable?Ideas that are still relevant today.The Extra sensory perception idea is still relevant today as some people claim to be able to foresee the future, by reading a persons palm or using tarot cards.
Mediums also claim to be able to contact dead relatives, but these superstition have not been proved false or true, it is a question of belief.The man with the twisted lipBy Sir Arthur Conan DoyleThe main setting is the lower dock side of London, an opium den. It is run by foreigners, a man from Malaysia called Lascar and a Dane. Foreigners were always considered by Victorians as suspicious and up to no good. The den is described as down steep steps, again entering the world on the edge of life and death. It is dark with brown opium smoke, a long low room and like the forecastle of an emigrant ship.
(Here using a ship to convey transport from life to death.) In the gloom there were glimpses of bodies lying in strange fantastic poses with dark lacklustre eyes, a suggestion of people in positions likened to death throes and glimmers of red circles of light (the red warning signal). People were said to have died in the den.The secondary setting is set three counties away in Kent.
The Cedars is the family home of Neville St. Clair, a large, comfortable country villa. A completely different world to the main setting.The main characters in this story are the detectives, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. Their physical appearance differ in height and stature, they are both intelligent, but in different ways, which complement each other perfectly. Watson is a medical scientist and a man of reason, Holmes is intuitive and sensitive, well educated and from a good background, but uses drugs, alcohol and tobacco to accentuate his senses and intuition.
He drives himself hard, pushing past the needs of sleep etc until he solves the mystery.The other characters are:* Neville St Clair, the owner of the Cedars. He is a rich man but little is known about his past or how he came to be rich.* His wife – the Madonna type of Victorian women.* The foreigners who run the opium den* The inspector and the Bow Street policeman (emergence of the police force in society)The main story seems to be a murder mystery, but in fact no murder took place. This story crosses class boundaries and perceived ideas of what is right and respectable.
Neville St Clair appears to be rich, well educated, a model Victorian husband and father. In fact he turns out to be a deceiver, an actor, an undercover reporter who pretends to be a beggar. He discovers that begging is more lucrative than his low paid reporting job and decides to use his acting skills to become a well liked and recognised beggar. Within a short while he has enough money to buy the Cedars and a completely different life in a different county and in a higher social different class.
However he needs to keep returning to his begging job to keep his income flowing, but his wife and family have no idea of his dark, secret life. He lodges at the opium den when transforming into the beggar and only the owner of this establishment know his full and true identity and is paid well to keep the secret. The main context of the story is when St Clair’s wife thinks her husband has been murdered and the o=police and Holmes become involved in the mystery of his whereabouts.The end of the story reveals St Clair’s deception, but he would have endured imprisonment and death rather than have left his miserable secret as a family blot to his children. Holmes and the Inspector of the Police decided to take pity on St Clair and to hush the whole sordid, shameful business up, especially as no real crime, i.e.
murder had been committed. St Clair and his family were therefore left to continue their life as respected citizens.This type of story was written in the latter part of the 19th century and was more intricate than stories earlier in the century. It contains several main characters and ends up being more complicated in structure.This type of mystery story was totally unprecedented before the late 19th century because there were no Policemen or detectives or recognised organised social group fighting against evil.
Ideas that are still relevant todayMurder/mystery involving police detectives are still extremely popular stories today. The fight of good against evil is timeless and only alters to reflect the social and moral background against which the story is told. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories are still popular today and are often told through the media of television. Countless other famous detectives have followed in his footsteps such as Poirot, Ironside, Ruth Rendall mysteries, Starsky and Hutch etc.