How effective is Wilkie Collins at creating an atmosphere of suspense in The Traveler’s Story of a Very Strange Bed? Is this story a good example of the Victorian ‘sensation novel’?


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НазваниеHow effective is Wilkie Collins at creating an atmosphere of suspense in The Traveler’s Story of a Very Strange Bed? Is this story a good example of the Victorian ‘sensation novel’?
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GCSE Prose Coursework. “The Traveler’s Story of a Very Strange Bed”.
How effective is Wilkie Collins at creating an atmosphere of suspense in The Traveler’s Story of a Very Strange Bed? Is this story a good example of the Victorian ‘sensation novel’?
As in many Victorian stories, in “The Traveler’s Story of a Very Strange Bed” the author explains us all mysteries and our guesses in the end of the novel. It is written in the style of a Victorian Sensation Novel, which always includes some criminal activity and elements of mystery, which have to be solved. This style is used in order to make the reader interested in the novel. Crime was an issue which worried the Victorian Society and made it interested.

In the novel, two young, well educated men are staying in a quiet neighbourhood of the Palais Royal in Paris. These two young men decide to go to a dirty gambling house. “For Heaven’s sake, let us get away from fashionable Frascati’s, to a house where they don’t mind letting in a man with a ragged coat, or a man with no coat, ragged or otherwise”. An atmosphere of suspense is first created when the author describes the place where the traveler wants to go. Collins uses very descriptive language, which creates imagery for the reader. From the very beginning of the story Victorian reader is getting suspense, because the traveler is a rich, well English man, staying in Paris which was a center of criminality at that time. It’s night time, gambling house, poor district. All the things are very obvious for the Victorian reader and show that the traveler may become in danger. The reader becomes interested in the story, because he already knows that something criminal is going to happen.

Even before reading the reader knows what to expect from the Victorian Sensation Novel, so he realizes that it is going to contain some sort of mystery and detection. Collins starts to build up imagery with his use of adjectives: he describes the atmosphere of the place where the young men go into: “Blackguardism, poverty-stricken gaming, mute, weird, tragedy”- all these adjectives help to build up tension and atmosphere of mystery in the eyes of Victorian leader. The author writes them in the order: “Mute, weird, tragedy.” Just these three words together emphasize the poor atmosphere of the place. Then the writer once again, gives us a description of people from different social classes: “They were all types- lamentably true types- of their respective classes.” This was very typical of the Victorian Sensation Story. At that time there was a big difference between social classes, poor and rich. In the Victorian Novels poor people were usually considered as unsavoury and dangerous. Rich people would normally try to avoid any contact with the poor. For the reader familiar with the genre, a rich, well educated British gent entering a poor gambling house would have been considered very dangerous.

The reader becomes anxious. Collins builds up an atmosphere of suspense, because the reader wants to know what is going to happen next. The traveler starts playing a game. When the writer tells us that the traveler wins a lot of money: “My success first bewildered…I staked higher and higher…” The reader doesn’t know what is going to happen, but it looks suspicious. It also makes the reader realize that nothing good is going to happen, especially when the writer gives us a description of an old soldier, who tries his best to help to our hero. “He had goggling, bloodshot eyes, mangy moustaches, and a broken nose. His voice betrayed a barrack-room intonation of the worst order, and he had the dirtiest pair of hands I ever saw…” This language, gives the reader a bad image of the soldier and also makes the reader suspicious the soldier as a bad and dangerous person to talk to. The reader would have been considered that a soldier at least didn’t represent a person of a high class and wasn’t a right person to trust to. The reader realizes, that the soldier would definitely not try to help to the traveler as much, if he didn’t win so lot of money. We can see, that soldier worries too much about the traveller’s winnings: “Tie up the money in your pocket-handkerchief, my worthy sir” or “Credie! What a luck!” This also makes a soldier a very suspicious person in the eyes of the reader. When the reader realises that traveler is drunk, he wants to tell him to stop and go back, but at the same time wants to know what will happen, if the traveler gets even more drunk and keeps staying in the house. “By the time the second bottle of champagne was emptied”-here the reader doesn’t believe that two bottles of champagne would be good enough for traveler to start losing a control of himself. Collins keeps building up an atmosphere of suspense, because the reader still doesn’t how the traveler can escape from such a dirty place, at night time and full of poor and low class people. The Victorian reader would have suspected that the hero was now in grave danger.

When the soldier asks to bring a cup of coffee, it creates further tension, as all the people decide to leave at the same moment. “With one accord they all rose to depart”-this gives the reader a further concern, as the hero is now alone, and nobody is going to help him. The reader realizes that all the players ‘rose to depart’ not just because they became very tired and decided to go home; this appears to be a sign, when the soldier asks other people to leave, and bring a cup of coffee. It builds up a fear in the reader, because now he sees the traveler alone and even more vulnerable. Also such phrases as: “The silence was now deeper than ever”-make the reader feel an empathy and tension, which is being created by the words: ‘silence’ and ‘deeper’.

Tension continues to build as we realise that the hero has been drugged: “I…felt more completely intoxicated than ever”, “The room whirled round and round furiously”, “I was half deafened by a violent singing in my ears; a feeling of utter bewilderment, helplessness, idiocy, overcame me”-here we can see that tension is now great. The reader understands, that there’s no chance to survive in this situation, because he sees that the traveller may have lost a control of himself and the situation. The suspense is heightened as it appears that there’s no way out. When the traveller decides to stay in the house and ‘sleep off the effects of wine’, it astounds the reader again, because the reader knows that the hero is now in grave danger, and even his life may be at risk. It builds suspense for the reader, because he knows what usually happened to those people, who were in the same situation at the Victorian time. He knew that usually people, with a big amount of money, who were accidentally caught by the arms of poor people, were never left alive.

The creation of an atmosphere of mystic and suspense is also created, when the writer gives the descriptions of the room and mysterious things which take place there. When the hero is taken upstairs, the writer gives us a very descriptive image of how the room, where the traveller was supposed to stay over the night, looked like: “a four-post bed”, “clumsy British four-poster”, “the regular stifling, unwholesome curtains”, “marble-topped wash-hand stand”, “dressing-table”, “looking-glass”, “a swarthy, sinister ruffian”. From the words like: “looking-glass” the Victorian reader gets the feeling that the traveller is disorientated. Collins is building up an image of what the traveller’s room looked like. Any object the traveller sees has a kind of mystery in it. Some of the objects, or their actions are just a plot of his imagination. This also relates to the traveller’s state, because it shows that he is very intoxicated by drugs, which make him see some things, which are extremely hard for the reader to imagine. For example, he says: “This picture put a kind of constraint upon me to look upward too” or “sinister ruffian.”

As the reader continues reading, he finds out more and more interesting things, which look and sound like something magic and which is impossible to imagine. The traveller suddenly finds out that the hat of one man on the picture disappears: “No! The hat itself was gone! Where was the conical crown?” In place of the hat and feathers, what dusky object was it that now hid his forehead, his eyes, his shading hand? Was the bed moving?” The reader understands that the traveller is drunk, and that most of the things he sees is just his imaginary, but the reader still believes that the bed is moving. For reader it creates an atmosphere of mystery and misunderstanding of what is going on. It also takes us a while to realize that the bed is moving. However, the reader might know that everything the traveller sees could be created by his image, as he’s very drugged and intoxicated.

“The next look in that direction was enough. The dull, black, frowzy outline of the valance above me was with an inch of being parallel with his waist.” Here is another example of how the author tries to get the reader’s attention. It makes him read it breathlessly, because the reader wants to find out as quickly as possible what is going to be next. All the words the writer uses, in order to create this atmosphere, help to better imagine the real situation. Collins literally transports us to this room, by saying: “Down and down, without pausing and without sounding, came the bed-top”, “I lay-down and down it sank”. “At the final moment the instinct of self-preservation startled me out of my trance, and I moved at last” Collins, once again, builds up an atmosphere of suspense, when he explains the mechanism of the apparatus, which was supposed to kill our hero. “The frightful apparatus moved without making the faintest noise.” Here, the tension builds up again and then is being released, as soon as the traveller leaves the bed. This also makes the reader to remember that those types of murdering were quite popular at the Victorian time.

Even at the very end of the story the writer never gives the reader a time to relax. Some tension is released and the Victorian reader realizes what ‘the very strange bed’ was. The traveller has gone through the most difficult part of his journey, but he is still unsafe, because he hasn’t escaped yet. The writer still creates some tension, because the reader still thinks that the soldier and some other guys from the house may come into the room at any time. “I have already got one leg over the window-sill, when I remembered the handkerchief filled with money under my pillow”- the reader wants and is already expecting a happy ending of the story, because he thinks that everything bad that could happen to the traveller has passed and there’s no danger for him any more. Unfortunately the writer doesn’t give reader even a second to relax, by making the traveller remember about the bag with money, which he left on the room. The atmosphere of suspense is being build up again, as the Victorian reader realizes that, if the hero returns back to the room, something bad is definitely going to happen. But what kind of man at the Victorian time would leave a bag with money? The reader thinks that the traveller is going to suffer his life in order to get what he won. The traveller risks and goes back to take his money and leave the murders without anything. There may still be a risk, and this really makes the reader worry about the traveller’s future again. We see how Wilkie Collins keeps creating suspense all the way to the end of the story.

Eventually Wilkie Collins gives the Victorian reader, what he was expecting to get, an interesting story with some mystery and criminal elements, which make the reader worry about the fate of the hero. Through the use of highly descriptive adjectives, Collins built up an image, which created that atmosphere of mystery and the feeling that something was always going to happen. Writing in the detective genre, using stereotypes of the Victorian type, Collins has effectively described all events in the story and made the Victorian reader concerned about the hero; feel interested in reading of the story, and sometimes not expecting what was going to happen. I think this story is a good example of Victorian ‘sensation story’, because it really makes you feel the situation and gives you one of the most mysterious examples of situations happened at the Victorian time.

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