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Here’s my analysis of the murder of Sir Carew Danvers in Robert Louis Stevensons’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde much debated ( and contested) with my GCSE English students! 


Nearly a year later, in the month of October, 18—, London was startled by a crime of singular ferocity and rendered all the more notable by the high position of the victim. The details were few and startling. A maid servant living alone in a house not far from the river, had gone up-stairs to bed about eleven. Although a fog rolled over the city in the small hours, the early part of the night was cloudless, and the lane, which the maid’s window overlooked, was brilliantly lit by the full moon. It seems she was romantically given, for she sat down upon her box, which stood immediately under the window, and fell into a dream of musing. Never (she used to say, with streaming tears, when she narrated that experience), never had she felt more at peace with all men or thought more kindly of the world. And as she so sat she became aware of an aged and beautiful gentleman with white hair, drawing near along the lane; and advancing to meet him, another and very small gentleman, to whom at first she paid less attention. When they had come within speech (which was just under the maid’s eyes) the older man bowed and accosted the other with a very pretty manner of politeness. It did not seem as if the subject of his address were of great importance; indeed, from his pointing, it sometimes appeared as if he were only inquiring his way; but the moon shone on his face as he spoke, and the girl was pleased to watch it, it seemed to breathe such an innocent and old-world kindness of disposition, yet with something high too, as of a well-founded self-content. Presently her eye wandered to the other, and she was surprised to recognise in him a certain Mr. Hyde, who had once visited her master and for whom she had conceived a dislike. He had in his hand a heavy cane, with which he was trifling; but he answered never a word, and seemed to listen with an ill-contained impatience. And then all of a sudden he broke out in a great flame of anger, stamping with his foot, brandishing the cane, and carrying on (as the maid described it) like a madman. The old gentleman took a step back, with the air of one very much surprised and a trifle hurt; and at that Mr. Hyde broke out of all bounds and clubbed him to the earth. And next moment, with ape-like fury, he was trampling his victim under foot and hailing down a storm of blows, under which the bones were audibly shattered and the body jumped upon the roadway. At the horror of these sights and sounds, the maid fainted.


This chapter reveals Hyde as a murderer, through the eyewitness account of an innocent maidservant who ‘saw’ the whole incident. Her innocence renders her (apparently) reliable and sets up a contrast with the corruption of ‘evil’ Hyde. The account is structured to make the incident appear to unfold as it happened and this gives the witnesses account, drama, authenticity and horror. So let’s be clear about the implications of the crime. Why is London ‘startled’ by the crime? ( Notice the theatricality of London’s personification,  as if the whole city of London is some outraged moral guardian).

The murder of Sir Carew Danvers makes public the violent behaviour of Hyde and involves the police for the first time. This   is important as the murder sweeps aside the privacy and secrecy maintained by Dr Jekyll’s (protective) friends and now renders Hyde a criminal fugitive. Interestingly however,  despite London being ‘startled’ by the crime, the reader might notice that the pursuit of Hyde is still restricted to a policeman and Mr Utterson,  and thus seems far less dedicated in this sense, then the nightmarish mob who pursue Bill Sykes after the murder of his lover Nancy, in Dickens’ Oliver Twist. (1837-39).

Perhaps the privacy surrounding Dr Jekyll’s uneasy alliance with Hyde still contains the outcry at Danvers’ death. Maybe there is something else involved in the death that makes the hunting of Hyde far more contained than the death of Sikes in Dickens’ novel. And remember that in Dickens’ novel, Sikes can be hunted to extinction, because he is a murderous thug- certainly no gentleman like Hyde/ Jekyll. Certainly,  Dickens’ response to Nancy’s death seems more egalitarian than Stevenson’s, which seems covertly protective despite the apparent horror.

I find the extract fascinating because the narrative point of view and structure, conspire to create a most unreliable version of events, despite the surface account being authenticated by the presence of an innocent witness, the respectable ‘maidservant’ in her garret home.

So let’s explore this extract and see why the apparently ‘truthful’  version of events might be rather questionable, despite the evident sincerity of the fainting maid.

Nearly a year later, in the month of October, 18—, London was startled by a crime of singular ferocity and rendered all the more notable by the high position of the victim.

The language of moral outrage, jeopardy and class, follows the realist convention of the time frame. The ‘gap’ in the time since the first three chapters,  is easy to overlook in its implications. The narrative affects the style of reportage, and gives Hyde’s crime the distinction of being exceptional, specifically, of ‘singular ferocity’ ironically anticipating the activities of Jack The Ripper. (1888) In fact, the stage version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde(three months before the first Ripper murders)  was even blamed as a possible inspiration for the serial killer, with its portrayal of contrasting, outward, gentlemanly respectability with inner criminality and evil.

But if we consider the time lapse, between Hyde, trampling on a child and then murdering Danvers, then we might wonder what such a silence might imply in terms of Hyde’s self-control and morality? I wonder if we overlook Hyde’s year’s silence too because we are drawn to read quickly by our interest in the graphic details of Carew’s murder?( Even stranger if we consider why the murder is bloodless despite the violence).  Nevertheless, if we stop for a moment to reflect on the time lapse, then it might be interesting to evaluate what such an apparent lapse might signify.

So here are my thoughts: Hyde is fond of transgression. He feeds Jekyll’s ‘wild’ secret nature. Hyde loves adventures and thrives on his nighttime escapades.He believes he can buy his way out of trouble. ‘Name your price.’  He even has an apartment in the heart of Soho, so he can live at ‘home’ with transgression.  Are we to believe that for nearly a year Hyde’s criminality has been held in check? And that the act of murder can be explained by his pent-up nature, exploding into murder, after the self-torture of a year’s self-control? Repression leading to sin, because of the level of self-denial? Surely this appears unlikely, even if we assume Jekyll has exercised a degree of control over the indulgences of his ‘other’ side? What seems likely is that his misbehaviours might have been confined to those parts of London where criminal acts were commonplace and where his victims would not be of the same class as Carew Danvers.

Of course, Jekyll may have tutored his ‘Hyde’ side in the art of discretion, just as in my previous blog I talked about Jekyll’s ‘gentlemanly’ intervention with the bribe after the child trampling incident. Hyde’s attack on the child provides the first glimpse we have of his effect on his fellow Londoners, but the outcry surrounding remains local and only shocking because of the interventions of the ‘gentlemen’, Enfield and the ‘Sawbones’,  who coincidentally, were witnesses to Hyde’s crime. If they had not intervened, would anyone have managed to punish Hyde at all? Remember the child is hardly under the close guardianship of caring parents because the child out wandering in the middle of the night anyway. Perhaps the gentlemen are in reality policing themselves, as a form of protection and containment? (Enfield is returning, late at night, from the euphemistic  ‘end of the world‘! )

So, I would imagine that Hyde has NOT been quiet and well behaved in the missing year. My contention would be that Hyde with the direction of his ‘Jekyll’ side, Hyde has just been careful,  and indulged his excesses in areas of London where prosecution and detection would be less likely. This careful behaviour suggests the mentoring ascendancy of the Jekyll side to Hyde, yet surely also shows connivance and premeditation too? Remember the mention of Dr Jekyll’s slyness in Chapter Three.The sly aspect of Jekyll surely shows that even when Jekyll is identified as Jekyll, his hiding Hyde is very much operating behind the ‘scenes’ so to speak. This makes me consider the whole problem of visibliity in novel and its relationship to understanding. Do we see what we expect to see? And things or people might travel undetected,  when they are out of their familiar context?  Let’s see!

And so to the maid servant’s account. Could there ever be a more innocent, sentimental and wide-eyed account of murder than hers? The account seems initially drenched in the tone and lexis of fairytale benevolence. Where we wonder is the handsome Prince?

It seems she was romantically given, for she sat down upon her box… and fell into a dream of musing. .. never had she felt more at peace … she became aware of an aged and beautiful gentleman with white hair,…and very small gentleman, to whom at first she paid less attention…the older man bowed and accosted the other with a very pretty manner of politeness. ..

Evidently, the maid is a state of romantic dreaminess,  suffusing everything she sees with a special lens. If she is in love, this is courtly love, untainted by sexuality. The ‘peace’ of the maid establishes her purity and goodness. She is contemplative. She bestows on Carew Danvers the noble respectability that any gentleman of the realm would be proud9yet deserving) to receive. ‘Aged and beautiful with white hair.’ There is nothing sullied or primitive about this peer of the realm.  The maid further reinforces the peer’s goodness with a flattering phrase about his manners towards the ‘small gentleman’ which demonstrate,  ‘A very pretty manner of politeness.’all is beautifully ideal and good. But do you detect anything amiss in this scene? Anything perhaps incongruent with the message of perfection that the maid is surely striving to communicate?

Think about the idealism of the account, the fairytale aspect and then the horror when the sentimental viewpoint turns to graphic slaughter. Is the physicality of the scene too much for the maid? Is the sentimental tableau, suddenly animated by forces and physical desires beyond her thresholds of understanding, so she has to faint to regain her innocence?

Look at the role of the ‘cane’ in the scene. How much energy does Hyde invest in his powerful instrument?! Surely Stevenson is endowing Hyde with a highly potent, phallic weapon? ‘‘ Mr Hyde broke out of all bounds and clubbed him to the earth.” Perhaps the scene is truly a retaliation at an unwanted pick up attempted by Danvers on the (oxymoronic-taboo-enticing) ruffian ‘small gentleman‘ Mr Hyde?   Do remember the connotations of the verb ‘accost’ – might suggest a form of sexual advance by  Danvers, then Hyde becomes agitated, using the ‘heavy cane‘ ironically gifted to Jekyll by none other than a certain Mr Utterson! The violation of Danvers is made clear, what is not clear( because of the narrative viewpoint of the maid)  is the motivation of Hyde and the reason that Stevenson makes so much of the club/cane, to the point when it seems an agent of rape as much as murder. (Again, interesting to compare to Sikes  in Oliver Twist). Obviously,  Danvers’ behaviour towards Hyde,  is completely undeserving of his callous slaughter. My point is that the scene is witnessed and constructed by a narrator ill equiipped to read it at all. And that is precisely Stevenson’s ‘trick’!

Look too,  at the alliterative combination of ‘pretty’ and ‘politeness‘. Does this seem altogether feminine in its aspect, even a projection of the maid’s own behaviour, onto the night strolling, innocent figure of Carew Danvers? Or is the feminisation of the maid’s  construction of Danvers as a courtly, if aged(sexually safe) Knight’s  behaviour, a sly  hint at his flamboyance perhaps, a camp manner that like Lanyon’s ‘theatrical’ behaviour,  might  hint at ‘gentlemen’ whose preferences are most likely   ‘other’ than the conventional  heterosexual respectability of the Victorian ‘gentlemen’? Hyde in his roughness and energy, might easily pass for a rent boy on the prowl?

Thus, the scene invites us to read otherwise, to defy the surface sweetness of the maid’s version of Danvers and to read an altogether different scene, where a strong possibility of sexual indiscretion seems altogether likely and possible.

Sometimes students worry about attaining depth in their creative and analytical writing. They feel their understanding of character, in particular, may remain quite conventional or superficial and that this undermines the quality of their writing.
Here’s an easy way to add depth to your writing whether in terms of your English Literature studies or in your creative writing. Think about this question:
What secret defines or haunts your character?
It’s a simple, but a far-reaching question. Secrets motivate characters whether they move away from their secrets or move towards them, however stealthily.  Emotions are entangled with secrets, and shame or embarrassment may prevent characters admitting what they have experienced or felt.
In short, a secret often supplies motivation and thus generates action. Secrets often explain seemingly inexplicable behaviours. They give psychological realism and depth.
So please think about the secrets of your character.  Preferably the deeply buried secrets that often govern lives but may never be admitted or expressed directly for fear of exposure or shame.
Let’s look at an example of a powerful secret in a narrative. Let’s examine a  very popular GCSE English Literature text which is relevant to students.
Here’s an interesting moment in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, where Hyde is surrounded by an angry gathering after he has deliberately trampled on a child. (The Story of the Door).
” I am naturally helpless. No gentleman but wishes to avoid a scene,” says he. “Name your figure.”
Enfield is reporting the incident to his companion, Utterson and the choice of the language selected by Hyde is surprisingly civil, discreet and apparently vulnerable.  Remember he is surrounded by antagonism and has behaved atrociously, yet he speaks very easily of his ‘helpless’ situation and  claims he is a ‘gentleman’ who ‘wishes to avoid a scene.’ The latter claim seems ironic, even contradictory after he has drawn attention to himself so clearly with his violence. The easeful way in which he takes control of the situation, and demonstrates his sensitivity and worldly knowledge of economic settlements, contrasts with his out of control behaviour a few moments before. It is as if the primitive has suddenly become usurped by the worldly and this creates a feeling of surprise and fascination for the spectators or readers, both within and without the novel.
Interestingly, the speech of Hyde shows apparent disassociation from the deed he has committed. This disassociation is one of the underlying concerns of the novel. It has links to the themes of secrecy, silence and contradiction and thus implicates all the male characters in the text.
For who is actually speaking here? Who is performing civility so well? Hyde? Dr Jekyll? Is one ventriloquising the other, suggesting a very slippery, dangerous relationship between the apparent speaker and the ‘real’ subject? Language is a form of  camouflage and can be adopted to protect and to defuse?
What after all, might be the motivation in adopting such a calm, strategically civil tone when chaos is all around? 
Surely we suspect that Hyde’ s secret is that he is able to speak as another because he is an/other?
The chaos of the situation requires that Hyde speaks as a gentleman and thus is able to restabilise the upset through his composed language(and tone) and financial offer(bribe). So he speaks as a gentleman and slips back linguistically into Jekyll, even though his outside, protective ‘other’ veneer, remains Hyde.
Interestingly the episode is also retrospectively narrated by Enfield. It is worth noting that Hyde’s language is unexpectedly that of the gentleman and that Enfield might have been expected to ‘filter’ Hyde in a more derogatory way, with vulgar language as an indication of Hyde’s fallen ways. But Enfield gives us here the speech of a gentlemanly Hyde. Odd?
 Think also about the way Jekyll commits suicide as Dr Jekyll but becomes Hyde as a corpse. Is this to remind the reader that Hyde and Jekyll are (in truth) one?!
So much of the novel’s moral darkness is assigned to the wicked Hyde, that it is sometimes overlooked that Hyde is really Jekyll unleashed; his repressed respectability flung away in order to indulge the pleasures he craves. Thus the secret is hidden in plain sight in this instance. Hyde can ventriloquise Jekyll because he is Jekyll. The latter cohabits the body of Hyde,  so he can literally hide and indulge his desire for transgressive behaviours.
It’s almost as if Hyde is the ventriloquist ‘s glove puppet and the ventriloquist is Jekyll himself.
Maybe the repeated disgust at the appearance of Hyde emanates from the bigoted filter through which he is ‘seen’ or significantly, not seen. Remember how Hyde’s appearance is always rendered illegible and ‘other’? Hyde is ‘wrong’, therefore he cannot be acknowledged as being from the gentleman class.
Hyde cannot be recognised as  Dr Jekyll or where would that leave his friends? Thus we see not the dead body of Jekyll,  the gentleman self-harmer, but ‘see’ instead the body of the ruffian,  ungentlemanly,  Edward  Hyde.But maybe Utterson sees what he expects, what is comforting to the ruling classes, rather than what he actually witnesses, which would implicate himself and his kind too intimately with Hyde and what he represents? 
In my next post I will speak further about the slipperiness of the language of Hyde/Jekyll and look at the cunning jest contained in the apparently vulnerable declaration of  Hyde, that ”I am naturally helpless.”  What does that adverb ‘naturally‘ , actually mean in the full context in which it is spoken? 

Macbeth Act 3 Scene 4: How is the relationship been Macbeth and his wife presented? (Select which word fits your interpretation most effectively).


The extract opens with Lady Macbeth condemning/humiliating/reprimanding/desperately questioning her husband’s almost hysterical behaviour when he believes he is looking on the ghost of Banquo. ”Are you a man?” . This frantic question is delivered through the use of the aside and this  adds to the dangerously intimate/secretive/vengeful/recriminatory nature of the privately whispered challenge. This question reminds the audience of Lady Macbeth’s favourite/preferred/recurring/humiliating strategy for dealing with her husband’s anxieties, for she undermines Macbeth’s masculinity and courage yet again through her barbed/pointed/cruel/desperate/callous question “are you a man? “which seems to suggest he is not a ‘man’, but a coward. 



From early in the play we have witnessed Lady Macbeth’s emasculating attacks on her husband, when he falters in his bloodthirsty ambitions.  What is ironic,  is that the audience knows that Macbeth has secretly ordered the murder of Banquo, and that  Lady Macbeth is in ignorance of her husband’s machinations. This reveals their growing estrangement/separation/isolation/lack of intimacy which will lead ultimately to suicide for Lady Macbeth and to a  gruesome end for Macbeth himself.




Macbeth retaliates immediately and claims his very humanity is challenged by the vision ‘which might appall the devil”. The oxymoronic language adds nightmarish drama to the scene, for how can the devil be appalled by anything?  And the audience might appreciate the added irony that in murdering both his King and best friend, Macbeth has degraded/reduced/diminished himself to the point that he and the devil are interchangeable.



At this point of the play Macbeth is clearly in denial of his guilt,  even though the hallucinations he suffers reveal his repression is failing to keep his guilt under control. The scene is highly charged as the interaction between the couple and the ghost of Banquo takes place before the audience on stage, gathered to celebrate Macbeth’s Kingship. The audience in the theatre are thus watching the watchers on stage watch Macbeth, and this  strangely voyeuristic scene, creates a scene of exceptional tension/drama/intensity/energy as well as giving representation to the volatile/dangerous/compelling/unsettling intimacy that exists between Lady Macbeth and her husband.




Perhaps this is the scene (which demonstrates Lady Macbeth’s improvised resourcefulness yet again)  also reveals the seeds of her own downfall as the sensitivity and imagination of Macbeth are scorned/trivialised/mocked/dismissed as  being merely ” a woman’s story”  once again returning to her technique of emasculating/humiliating/undermining her husband’s male potency as a means of protecting herself from detection. This choice of words ironically foreshadows her own story of guilt later in the play when she becomes obsessed with wiping away the evidence of her bloody guilt from her hands, rather like Pontius Pilate after he betrayed Christ.




Lady Macbeth’s failure to acknowledge Macbeth’s sighting of Banquo, makes Macbeth even less likely to confide in her and brings their relationship to the brink of ruin. She prides herself on her practicality/rationality/resourcefulness and her improvised salvation of the scene in front of guests, actually fails to convince the attendant nobles of their innocence.

Macbeth’s  continuing  conversation with the ghost, externalises the events of the play and his choice of language seems  unsettling because it talks in disturbing/visually unnerving/ spiritually unsettling terms about the horrific reappearance of the dead  from “charnel houses and our graves“.  The audience both within and without the play would feel the nightmarish aspect of the drama becoming even darker, outstripping the repugnant effect of even the dismal witches in the opening scene. The marriage of the Macbeths seems bitter and full of latent  recrimination; their passion sacrificed to their murderous ambition and  unsatiated greed.


Tell me a story to soothe my head. Tell me a January ghost story, please.

So this is what she heard more or less. A ghost story in January, the month of new beginnings.


The house was on the second row at the beach. Not as extravagant as some, but still beautiful and spacious, if a little sad. And the house came with its own dark red car that the agent said was  hers to drive should she wish to explore the area.

‘I am new so that might be fun,’ she said and scratched the back of her right hand.

The agent frowned at the word fun,  but then decided Rachel Haworth looked too conservative to be any fun on the roads or anywhere else.

’I have a truck myself’ he said. ‘A large truck says a lot about me apparently.’ He laughed at his fine jest. ‘I like transporting stuff.  Always in motion, my wife says. I’d sell the car and sort this place if they’d let me. But they’re stuck in their ways’. His voice trailed off.

‘Really ‘said Rachel. ‘I rather like the sombre atmosphere. It’ll help me to work’.

The agent knew nothing about studying and was unsure about the word sombre,  so he changed the subject. ‘The car is a stick shift so be careful. It’s worth quite a bit. God know why no one wants to sell it.’

‘We’re used to manuals in the UK. It’s what we drive.’

Frank the agent had nothing more to add. Rachel Haworth was evidently a dull girl abroad for the first time.  No wonder she was still studying.

Rachel made coffee as soon as he left and took the wooden elevator down to the garage. The garage had several lights but only one seemed to work and that lit up the car in the corner.

Only two seats with space just enough for a large handbag or maybe shopping for lunch. Red paintwork with black leather seats. A small steering wheel and wheel trims with silver spokes. Curves and Chrome. Rachel had no idea about the engine size. The car sparkled secretly; even in the dim light. it looked alive. She peered down at the bonnet, managing to read a slanted  ‘A C’, then she checked another badge, read Cobra, and giggled.  Such a long, long way from the staff car park at her school where everyone drove sensible cars to accommodate expanding families and weekends at the DIY store.

Shy Rachel Haworth now owned an AC  Cobra. They would never believe it in the staffroom. Rachel scratched her hand again. Her whole body itched at the thought of the school bells and all the worthy statements about the school’s mission. Maybe a month here would settle her. She knew her parents hoped for an improvement. Of course, they would have accompanied her,  but her mother had several friends who were getting married again and needed her presence. Her father was very busy with his accountants.  They accompanied her in spirit.


The car looked expectant, gleaming even under the single light. ‘I wonder how long you’ve sat here’, she said trying out a new tone of her voice.

Her Cobra. Her escape. The keys were in her hand, so why not?   Rachel tried the ignition, expecting nothing but silence. But the car started the first time.  A loud, venomous roar of approval from her Cobra.

‘So, you’re itching to escape too,’   she said. God knows how you’re still running, but I’m so glad you are.

She tentatively pressed the accelerator and gently edged out onto the beach road. Early runners and a family keen to get to the beach before the heat became too much for the children.

Rachel waved, wishing for a headscarf and sunglasses. She indicated to the right but relented. Why go where everyone goes?   She swung the car to the left, accelerated, and was thrown back in her seat by the power.

Oh, my God. OH, MY GOD! The car shot forward eager to head out beyond the straggling houses and towards the lighthouse that marked the limits of Folly Beach. As if under the Cobra’s spell, Rachel couldn’t resist revving the car a little more,  even though the speed restrictions were clearly marked at 20mph.

For a moment she heard the sound of the morning bell at school. And the admonishing tone of the Second Mistress to all the staff and girls in the corridors. ’Walk, don’t run!’  She pressed further down on the accelerator. And felt the rush of warm air on her face and the scent of herbs and salt. Thrilled, She put out her tongue and turned on the music. ‘There’s an angel on my shoulder, in my hand a sword of gold.’

‘Really,  REALLY!’  she shouted to the sky,  to the beach,  to the world.

 A Ghost Story for January!


“He scudded past the golden maple and the bay tree, and there they all were in the summer- house which was home. And he took a flying leap up the steps and was among them.


It was there that Calloway found him next morning. He must indeed have run up the winding path like a boy, for the new-laid gravel was spurned at long intervals by the toe prints of his shoes.”


(  Pirates,   by EF Benson).


1) Note down at least one of your favourite ghost stories and remind yourself of the reason for the ghost’s presence. Think about the ingredients that make for a successful ghost story: atmosphere, setting, the ghost’s motivation, the twist. 


  • All good ghost stories involve at least one highly motivated ghost and lots of atmosphere.  Our favourite ghost stories manipulate our anticipation and unnerve us with their distinctive qualities and troubling ways.


  • Think about the way the writer manipulates the narrative to destabilise the equilibrium of both protagonist and reader.


  • Sometimes writers play around with the interchangeable relationship between the living and the dead and remind us that the living can be as spectral as the past. The ghost and the protagonist exist in an uneasy relationship,  in a progressively uneasy place. 



Here are a few writers talking about the popularity and function of ghost stories. Do you find their thoughts interesting?


  • Ghost stories ..Tell us about things that lie hidden within all of us, and which lurk outside all around us…(Susan Hill)


  • We are all ghosts. We all carry inside us, people who came before us.(Liam Callahan)


  • Always, there has been something personal about ghost stories. ( Robert Dunbar)


  • Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within.(Shirley Jackson)



  • The narrator, I think, must succeed in frightening himself before he can think of frightening his reader.( EF Benson)



  • It is always Christmas Eve in a ghost story.( Jerome K Jerome)



  • We need ghost stories because we,  in fact, are ghosts.( Stephen King)


Preparation task.


2). Before we start your story think of something you or your protagonist fear. Make a note. And consider the tone of your story. Will it be serious, comic, innocent, grim, sympathetic, curious, a mixture?


3) If you already know who your ghost might be,  then make a note of their character and a brief biography. You can change your mind! Set rules,  limitations on your ghost’s powers. 


Writing Task.


For two minutes introduce your protagonist in a setting with your chosen atmosphere. Make your character do something in this setting. Ordinary is good as it can become extraordinary.


(Then as prompted,  respond to each question for a minute or so developing your story ideas….)


  • Why?
  • And?
  • And?
  • So?
  • And?
  • But?
  • So?
  • But? 


Now review what you have written. 

Change or add to your writing.

Can you recognise any theme you wish to pursue? 













Macbeth Act 2 Scene 2.


Who was it that thus cried? Why, worthy thane,
You do unbend your noble strength, to think
So brainsickly of things. Go get some water,
And wash this filthy witness from your hand.
Why did you bring these daggers from the place?
They must lie there: go carry them; and smear
The sleepy grooms with blood.


I’ll go no more:
I am afraid to think what I have done;
Look on’t again I dare not.


Infirm of purpose!
Give me the daggers: the sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures: ’tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil. If he do bleed,
I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal;
For it must seem their guilt.
Exit. Knocking within

Despite Macbeth’s murder of Duncan, we recognise his greater complexity and depth of character, and see all too clearly in this exchange, the degrading effect of his wife on their relationship.  Her resourcefulness and initiative are presented here as being a seductive, yet reductive aspect of her relationship with her husband. Her apparent skills are revealed to be hollow and lead to the permanent estrangement of the couple, as Macbeth excludes his wife from any more important decisions in the play, perhaps suggesting that he blames his downfall and isolation on the degrading effect of his relationship with Lady Macbeth. 
This extract explores the dangerous intimacy between Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth. Their relationship is presented powerfully here, as Macbeth has just murdered his King and is full of horror and self-disgust, even fear. Lady Macbeth directs her husband to think differently about his crime, through belittling his horror and fear. ‘You do unbound your noble strength to think so brainsickly of things’. Lady Macbeth attempts to alter Macbeth’s remorse through flattery, referring to his  ‘noble strength’,  where she attempts to restore his self-esteem, even vanity and then to dismiss his horror and fear as ‘brainsickly things.’ Such dismissive language attempts to dilute the impact of Macbeth’s reaction to his murder of Duncan. Her choice of language presents her seeming belief that guilt is wrong, a weakness or illness,  rather than any sign of lingering morality on the part of her husband. Macbeth clearly relies on his wife here for direction and support. Yet as I argued at the beginning, such an intimacy is dangerous as her interventions lead to their ruination and others. When Macbeth refuses to be manipulated into returning the daggers to the murder scene,  Lady Macbeth inflicts a very disparaging, negative vocabulary on her husband. She belittles him:’ infirm of purpose!’ Here we can see the shift in her relationship. She chastises  Macbeth for being weak and thus undermines his masculinity and relationship with her. She takes charge and uses imperatives to seize control of the aftermath of the murder . ‘ Give me the daggers.’ The audience would have been horrified by Lady Macbeth’s domination of her husband here. They would see her commands as both unfeminine and emasculating. Their relationship is uneven and destructive. Lady Macbeth even dismisses the ‘dead’ as being mere ‘pictures’ that only a child would fear. This psychological mistake returns to haunt her later in the play and leads to her eventual suicide. Her strategy of making ‘the grooms’ seem guilty is arrogant and simplistic. Lady Macbeth is seduced here by her own power over her husband and believes mistakenly that her plot will convince others.

 Conversely, Macbeth’s apparent weakness in allowing his wife such power in the relationship could be an unconscious strategy on his part, where he gives her the apparent power to convince him to murder, because he needs  the chastisement of his wife, whom he knows wants to be Queen as much as he craves the throne for himself.



Was the hope drunk
Wherein you dressed yourself? Hath it slept since?
And wakes it now to look so green and pale
At what it did so freely? From this time,
Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard
To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting I dare not wait upon I would,
Like the poor cat i’th’adage?


Prithee, peace.
I dare do all that may become a man;
Who dares do more is none.


This extract explores the reaction of Lady Macbeth to her husband’s decision not to kill King Duncan towards the end of Act One. Ironically,   Macbeth’s conscience and integrity, are belittled by his wife as drunken bravado, false posturing and delusion: ‘ was the hope drunk wherein you dressd yourself? ‘ Lady Macbeth’s dismissive tone and language, ‘hope drunk’  use sustained personification to mock Macbeth’s ‘sickly’ change of heart: ‘ it wakes…so green and pale’. Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband’s fear of impotence, and his emotional  dependency on her, through her suggestion that his newborn, moral behaviour is unmanly and feminine: ‘green…pale‘ This is ironic,  as she is taking the masculine position in dominating her husband and this would have disturbed audiences of the time as she has usurped her husband’s role in their marriage just as he will usurp the King in Act two.

I  find this exchange unnerving as Macbeth’s decency and integrity are cunningly read by his wife as symptoms of his weakness and failure as a husband and man.  She  brutally denigrates Macbeth’s love for her making it clear (and ironic), that their marriage and love are  linked to murder and that only  violence can  prove their love.’ From this time such I account thy love.’ This denigration of his love is designed to hurt Macbeth as he is clearly dependent upon his wife for affection. She cements her dismissal of Macbeth’s  manliness with her explicit use of the word ‘ coward’ which she says is all he will be when he reneges on his promise to kill Duncan. Murder has become a test of romantic commitment. Killing consummates love according to Lady Macbeth.
Macbeth’s retaliation underlines the impact of his wife’s chastisement: ‘ I dare do all that may become a man‘. Macbeth dangerously accepts his wife’s translation of ‘man’ linking it to violent masculinity and aggression, forgetting that manliness is linked to humanness too. This obliteration of man’s humanity is only challenged later on in the play by Macduff after he is informed of the deaths of his wife and children on the orders of the ‘manly’ Macbeth. Macduff demands of Malcolm that he should be able to ‘ feel’ and grieve as a man and that this involves the full expression of emotion. Macduff’s definition of being a ‘man’ brings change to the nihilistic values of the play.


A Christmas Carol directed by Roland Metcalf will be on Tuesday 12th December Salford University at 7pm and Wednesday 13th at 7pm in Media City at the Digital Performance Lab. Tickets are £5 for adults and £2 concessions. Box office number is 01612956019 or alternatively visit or
Here’s a fun creative writing exercise. It involves Free writing and caged lifts!
This exercise  works best if you write using a timer. Working against the clock liberates your mind from overthinking and perfectionism, both the dangerous enemies of creativity! 
Writing freely is very liberating and often surprising as the act of writing transports you to places and to characters whose company may feel strange, unexpected, bizarre, poignant and tender….
Imagine getting into a lift supposedly empty and you press the floor and the floor is ignored and you stop at another and heaps of people get in, some pushing around to clear more space, some more bashful, worrying about personal space and whether they should get out at their floor or the next! 

Writing freely can feel like that I wonder if we played with this experience playfully….we might consider how emotions and behaviours may become concrete in characters.I have written about ‘writing rubbish’ on this site and writing freely with a prescribed time limit is often a very simple way to generate all sorts of ideas…


So imagine a lift. Can be one you know or one you make up. New or old. I like caged lifts! 

Now imagine characters stepping in and out of the lift, your lift.
Consider who they are and what behaviours they might reveal or embody.
Write about  whom  we might stand next to. Use the following if the ideas help. 
1) curiosity.
2) flattery.
3) shyness.
4) arrogance.
5) loyalty.

“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But, it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”
Great Expectations, Chapter 9. 

Graham Swift’s novella Mothering Sunday makes me cry each time I reread it and I think I’ve now read the novella five times. There’s something utterly poignant and special about the story which recreates one life-changing day in the life of the protagonist Jane Fairchild,  who relates her exceptional  day through multiple chronological perspectives. Special days have been explored before in fiction, notably in Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway and joyce’s Ulysses and also, in a different way, by Dickens as revealed above.

This playful oscillation between proximity and distance,  between direct experience and the distance that gives such experience shape, is largely seamless and captures the way a mind reflects and reflects again. We repeatedly exchange  the original point of view of a twenty-two years old maid with that of a much older celebrated novelist. And this interweaving creates an alternating sense of elation,  mourning, liberation and acceptance. Perspective is what gives us back to ourselves after any upsetting, powerful experience. Acceptance in the novel singles out Jane as a special survivor. The experience of acceptance,  is probably why I adore the novel. Jane could have told a story full of recrimintaion and blames. she is an orphan, she suffers tragedies, yet she carries on and is grateful. She accepts her own condition as being full of possibility despite the difficulties.

There are places in the novel where we know that the protagonist doesn’t know and will never know the truth of her relationship with her lover,  the upper-class Paul Cunningham. And the spaces where she knows she doesn’t know , allow her the spaces to create stories that help her to survive and even to thrive.

For eventually she recognises that stories are all we have to make sense or not make sense of our life experiences.

Whether she could have changed the course of her life and ‘ story’ by talking to Paul Cunningham directly on the exceptional day, she will never know. However, Jane Fairfield grows as a result of the magical, impossible gift of an empty grand house and the final intimacy with Paul that leaves her with a change of perspective and new words that never go away. She becomes a writer because she wants to experience new words and the world that accompanies such words. Jane tells her truth and that gives her joy as well as sadness and all the spaces inbetwen too.

A book of consummate skill, humanity  and magic. one of the best I have ever read!

So what was it then exactly, this truth-telling? … It was about being true to the very stuff of life, it was about trying to capture, though you never could, the very feel of being alive. It was about finding a language. And it was about being true to the fact, the one thing only followed from the other, that many things in life —of so many more than we think—can never be explained at all.”

I must say a few words about NaNoWriMo. It has boosted my writing productivity enormously and is great fun too!
 NaNoWriMo is the worldwide,  motivational competition to write a 50000-word novel in the month of November.
You just sign up and log in to your proposed novel title (and nom-de-plume), and off you go, trying to reach the daily target of approximately 1600 words each day.
So far, I am managing about 1200 words and I enter my changing word count onto the site and am addicted to monitoring the graph and writing statistics. At my current rate, my first draft will be written on December 9th. So I am falling slightly short of the finish line, but still writing FAR, FAR  more of my novel, then I would have managed without Nanowrimo.
The value of the challenge is the word count which I find very motivational. I have also experienced the revelation that PLANNING  my writing ahead each day, makes it much, much easier to write quickly.
My daughter was flabbergasted that this was news to me.
 I have realised that waiting for the ‘muse’,  or being a ‘pantser’ (writing on the hoof) forces me into creative cul-de-sacs, and thus wastes huge chunks of time. Little wonder that I hadn’t managed to get to the end of my novel.
So here are FOUR  massively helpful tips for writing any long piece of writing:
1. Plan what you are going to write before you set off writing. I’m not talking about huge, cumbersome plans, I’m talking notes, short ideas, direction. Mindmaps. RESONANT ideas or scenes.
2. Check your word count and aim for targets every day where possible. Routine is invaluable as it makes writing a HABIT. 
3. WRITE.  And keep going!
4. Write at the SAME time each day. Your mind and body develop a ROUTINE and it helps!
Why English Tuition boosts your grades and your ability to think more productively. 
We all speak differently but when we write that uniqueness may be lost. We often try to write with an ‘academic’  voice that doesn’t feel like our own, which we may hope will earn us excellent grades.   Our writing voice may even sound exactly the same as everyone else’s voice. This flattening of originality is unnecessary. And a dispiriting shame!
English Tuition encourages you to find confidence in your own individual voice.
Tuition encourages you to think more openly and creatively,  so that your responses have depth and originality.
How do you gain such a voice and attain greater depth?
I can suggest at least three reasons:
1)  You are listened to as an individual with your own original ideas.  Subsequently, you gain greater depth in your writing and subject knowledge.
2)  You will start to synthesize your ideas, so you make deeper, better connections.
3)  Your English tuition will energise your thinking and encourage a positive, enthusiastic approach to your studies. This is never confined to just English either!


Shyness affects us all and I have written about confidence and shyness on Tusitala several times. There are lots of tools that we can all use to boost our self-belief, particularly when we are in new situations like University! 

I have just finished a superb course on Creative Writing with Curtis Brown, called Write to the End of your Novel: I would recommend to anyone who is interested in writing a novel to look at their Courses and submission criteria. I found the course material and their forum inspirational. And the Curtis Brown regular news letters are also fabulous too. 

One of the exercises produced this piece of writing and it does relate to the feeling of reticence that many students have when speaking in groups. sometimes, it feels very difficult to speak up and out. This story is a fictionalised version of the truth! 

Morrissey lied. Shyness was crap.  The monster sat waiting every Tuesday morning at 11. For the final year  English tutorial. Autumn term lasted 10 weeks. The sly calendar in Sydney’s head had  ticked off five weeks already and  she’d only managed two hellos and half a good bye which didn’t feel very good at all.

Sydney relied on the maths to prove that  next time might be better.  But Morrissey was still a traitor so she  told her brother to burn all his records and show loyalty. He didn’t.
‘What are you like Sydney?’ said a friend. ‘Just practice speaking in a mirror.  Go slowly. They’ll listen’.

Unfortunately, the tutorial was crammed full of single hons students who all spoke very quickly and drank together. Sydney noticed they all had names ending in ‘i’ which confirmed her worst fears.  Red haired Toni and blonde Pauli teased  their  tutor too,  ‘Oh Pete,’  they cried and wagged their fingers wickedly.  

Sydney had belly flopped in hell.


Dr Peter Winstanley came from Birmingham and smoked Marlborough cigarettes one after another. He always needed a light followed by  salt and vinegar crisps,  which he then spilt down his suit. Sydney didn’t smoke and hated crisps. By week six, even her feet felt depressed.

  George Eliot didn’t help much either.  Two weeks on Middlemarch apparently.  As luck didn’t have it, they all adored the maturity of her writing, the complexity of her moral insights,  and Peter smoked more than ever.  Sydney felt all dried up and bitter,  and said absolutely nothing even when she made it to the door.

‘Conrad’s Heart of Darkness next week,’ drawled Peter reaching for Toni’s lighter.

‘Wonderful’ they cooed as one. . ‘Week seven already.  Soon be Christmas’. 

The following Tuesday, with gritted teeth, Sydney soaked herself in the only perfume she wore on Saturday nights.  She counted her steps as she marched up the hill  to the university and then took the stairs not the lift.

Bugger Morrissey. 

Two minutes in, a wide  pause and  Sydney took a breath. Grab that opening girl! But faltering at the fence, nothing came  out.  Gallantly, a smiling Pauli mentioned some fascinating background reading and everyone leapt in claiming secondary sources to die for.

Sydney might as well  have been in a cage full of parrots.

Fifteen minutes left and Sydney’s buried rage boiled. Hungry as hell and tired of secrecy,    Sydney knew why she  got Marlow and that all that darkness. That bloody silence on that dismal   river. She lifted her feet onto the seat. Crossed her legs. Forgot to breathe.
‘I disagree’ she said, from nowhere.  I think Marlow needs Kurtz. Very much. The horror is himself  It’s a lonely, heartless book. ‘

No one spoke. Not even Toni who looked out the window as if she was about to wave to a brand new friend.

Peter Winstanley brushed away some crisps and sighed. ‘ You know Sydney, I think you’ve a point there. It is a lonely book. Don’t suppose you fancy writing an essay about it?  I’d like to read it, you know.’

Suspense: How do you analyse suspense in an extract? (GCSE English)

Here are a few questions that produce stimulating answers to any question about suspense or tension. Remember  suspense is created through a  combination of elements. Always identify the conflicts you can see in a passage. Sometimes, reading them aloud, may also make the conflicts more apparent. 


Read the extract from Chapter 12 of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.( I have explored this passage in full in a previous blog post)

The din was on the causeway: a horse was coming; the windings of the lane yet hid it, but it approached. I was just leaving the stile; yet, as the path was narrow, I sat still to let it go by. In those days I was young, and all sorts of fancies bright and dark tenanted my mind: the memories of nursery stories were there amongst other rubbish; and when they recurred, maturing youth added to them a vigour and vividness beyond what childhood could give. As this horse approached, and as I watched for it to appear through the dusk, I remembered certain of Bessie’s tales, wherein figured a North-of-England spirit called a “Gytrash,” which, in the form of horse, mule, or large dog, haunted solitary ways, and sometimes came upon belated travellers, as this horse was now coming upon me.

It was very near, but not yet in sight; when, in addition to the tramp, tramp, I heard a rush under the hedge, and close down by the hazel stems glided a great dog, whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees. It was exactly one form of Bessie’s Gytrash — a lion-like creature with long hair and a huge head: it passed me, however, quietly enough; not staying to look up, with strange pretercanine eyes, in my face, as I half expected it would. The horse followed, — a tall steed, and on its back a rider. The man, the human being, broke the spell at once. Nothing ever rode the Gytrash: it was always alone; and goblins, to my notions, though they might tenant the dumb carcasses of beasts, could scarce covet shelter in the commonplace human form. No Gytrash was this, — only a traveller taking the short cut to Millcote. He passed, and I went on; a few steps, and I turned: a sliding sound and an exclamation of “What the deuce is to do now?” and a clattering tumble, arrested my attention. Man and horse were down; they had slipped on the sheet of ice which glazed the causeway. The dog came bounding back, and seeing his master in a predicament, and hearing the horse groan, barked till the evening hills echoed the sound, which was deep in proportion to his magnitude. He snuffed round the prostrate group, and then he ran up to me; it was all he could do, — there was no other help at hand to summon. I obeyed him, and walked down to the traveller, by this time struggling himself free of his steed. His efforts were so vigorous, I thought he could not be much hurt; but I asked him the question —

“Are you injured, sir?”

I think he was swearing, but am not certain; however, he was pronouncing some formula which prevented him from replying to me directly.

“Can I do anything?” I asked again.


  • The setting. Where are we? What time of day? Why is this effective and important? Does the setting create a sense of threat? If so, to whom and why?

  • Think about the weather. Does it reinforce the emotions of the protagonist(s)? Pathetic fallacy?

  • Whose point of view dominates? How does this affect the sensory impressions we receive as readers? Are we relying on the visual or aural? Is the narrator vulnerable in any way and why is this important? Power shifts are very important in the creation of suspense-filled narratives.

  • Think about the pace of the extract. Does the sense of excitement and suspense escalate during the passage? How is this achieved? Look at the verbs in the narrative. Are they powerful and active? Are there any other interesting or strange uses of language? How do they create suspense?

  • Is there any sense of relief in the extract? What effect does this have on the suspense?

  • Are there any conflicts in the passage? Remember they may be psychological, or physical or even social. Are there conflicts around female/male behaviours too? Which characters seem most powerful and does this change?

  • How is dialogue used to create suspense? Or is it used to relieve suspense?

  • Do you think there are any other devices or ‘tools’ used to create a feeling of suspense in the passage?

The figure in these two phases haunted the lawyer all night; and if at any time he dozed over, it was but to see it glide more stealthily through sleeping houses, or move the more swiftly and still the more swiftly, even to dizziness, through wider labyrinths of lamplighted city, and at every street-corner crush a child and leave her screaming. And still the figure had no face by which he might know it; even in his dreams, it had no face, or one that baffled him and melted before his eyes; and thus it was that there sprang up and grew apace in the lawyer’s mind a singularly strong, almost an inordinate, curiosity to behold the features of the real Mr. Hyde. If he could but once set eyes on him, he thought the mystery would lighten and perhaps roll altogether away, as was the habit of mysterious things when well examined.

This nightmare visitation of Hyde is described vividly,  using an all-knowing third person narrator,  who has the ability to ‘see’ into Utterson’s head. We can appreciate why Utterson might dream of Hyde: he feels protective of Dr Jekyll and is concerned by the seeming anomaly of the new will. However certain aspects of the language unsettle us and do not easily lend themselves to understanding. My previous blog about this passage discussed Utterson’ dream in detail, yet was by no means an exhaustive reading. When I taught the passage again this weekend, I noticed still more aspects of the description that seemed strange.

A) Why does the narrator claim that Utterson sees Hyde, ”  (it) glide more stealthily through sleeping houses”, when Hyde( in our first glimpse of him) moves violently as he stomps on a child? The verb ‘glide’ endows Hyde with a subtlety and lightness of movement that is in direct contrast to his behaviour. The pronoun, ‘It’ seems designed to dehumanise him too, suggestive of his otherness and difference. He may even appear supernatural in his movements as he is gifted with a movement and speed, that resembles flight.  We are not far away here from the world of ghosts and Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Hyde is rendered a shape-shifter still further when, ”or move the more swiftly and still the more swiftly, even to dizziness, through wider labyrinths of lamp lighted city,” which gives Hyde powers that cannot be explained by the limitations of the rational mind. We sense the exuberance and intense power of the athletic Hyde and the night city seems a playground in which Hyde can test his powers. The word labyrinth adds Gothic horror to the nocturnal playground. What can be seen is not to be rationally understood, and the movements of the liberated Hyde are without censor or moral care: ” at every street-corner crush a child


B).” had no face or one that baffled him and melted before his eyes;” The inability of Utterson to see Hyde’s face is one of the recurring horrors of the novel. Hyde remains an illegible creature, a man who cannot be known and therefore ‘caught’ by society or even the individual. His facial absence is suggestive of a moral absence at the heart of Victorian society, particularly the world of the Victorian gentleman.  Of course, Hyde is really Jekyll, so we may argue that Utterson dare not recognise Hyde because in doing so, he would have to admit his friend’s complicity in Hyde’s evil behaviour. So, Utterson is literally and metaphorically ‘blind’ to Hyde’s doppelganger, Jekyll.  I would also say that the seemingly uncensored experience of the dream, still reveals Utterson’s repression in the denial of the ‘face’ of Hyde. Hyde is a Judas figure, bent on the discrediting of Victorian respectability, so his face is censored even when discovered in a dream. Such is the repression of Victorian Society that its gentlemanly representative Utterson, must still shroud himself and the reader, from the secret degradation at the heart of late 19ThC society, with its sexual practices that must not be admitted to consciousness and acknowledgement, for fear that they will destabilise all the hypocritical denials on which the Victorian society depended for its respectability.

A couple of weeks ago, one of Phoenix writers gave a fascinating workshop on screenplay and Love Actually. Our writing task consisted on selecting two characters from a box and then making them talk to each other. We were meant to then expand the conversation into other scenes so that the ‘spillage’ brought new scenes to the story.  I have signed up for my second writing course with Curtis Brown and find the course inspiring. It helps to cement ideas and the forum and standard of teaching is superb. We worked on some ‘pure dialogue’ recently so I attempted to make the Phoenix writers’ exercise pure dialogue too. At least I have a rather strange scene! And maybe makes you realise how much we rely on props for our dialogue? Interesting to decide what is really necessary. 

Do you know you’ve parked on the white lines.?

Thank you. Am sure I’m ok. No one cares. It’s too early.

Your front wheels are right over the lines. Both of them.

Well, they’re slightly over the lines. Marginally.  Look,  I’m in a hurry. My gym class. Thank you for noticing.  

I will wait whilst you reverse. I’ll stand here. I’ll guide you in.  

That’s kind, But I’m okay. Clever girl though. You’ve guessed I hate parking, haven’t you?

I’m not clever. And  I hate school.

 I hate parking too. But don’t you have to get to a lesson or something?

Yes. Double French. But I noticed your car. I like that colour red.  It matters to me.

Really,  I see. You like red cars.  Maybe you’ll learn one day?

No need to learn.  I can drive already.  

Ah. Amazing!  Shame you’re about five years too early though.  

My father taught me. Just in case. We drove everywhere.  He made me learn. So I could help him.

I see. A Practical education.

No, you don’t see. You just think you do.

Ok, I don’t.  It’s early. But good story. So, Gears, brakes and clutch too?

You don’t believe me, which is okay. Now let me park your car.

Look the car is fine. I’m off to my class now. But thanks for your care. You’re smart.

Tell me what your registration is without checking.  

Haven’t a clue. Doesn’t matter.

It’s APH 572

Is it? Excellent. You can read.

I can read.

Clever girl.

Not clever. It’s my father’s car. Alan Patrick Hurst.

Never heard of him.

Then park the car again.



Of what?

Tell you when you park properly.

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Mr. Utterson was sitting by his fireside one evening after dinner, when he was surprised to receive a visit from Poole.

“Bless me, Poole, what brings you here?” he cried; and then taking a second look at him, “What ails you?” he added; “is the doctor ill?”

“Mr. Utterson,” said the man, “there is something wrong.”

Take a seat, and here is a glass of wine for you,” said the lawyer. “Now, take your time, and tell me plainly what you want.”

“You know the doctor’s ways, sir,” replied Poole, “and how he shuts himself up. Well, he’s shut up again in the cabinet; and I don’t like it, sir I wish I may die if I like it. Mr. Utterson, sir, I’m afraid.”

“Now, my good man,” said the lawyer, “be explicit. What are you afraid of?”

“I’ve been afraid for about a week,” returned Poole, doggedly disregarding the question, “and I can bear it no more.”

The man’s appearance amply bore out his words; his manner was altered for the worse; and except for the moment when he had first announced his terror, he had not once looked the lawyer in the face. Even now, he sat with the glass of wine untasted on his knee, and his eyes directed to a corner of the floor. “I can bear it no more,” he repeated.

“Come,” said the lawyer, “I see you have some good reason, Poole; I see there is something seriously amiss. Try to tell me what it is.”

“I think there’s been foul play,” said Poole, hoarsely.

“Foul play!” cried the lawyer, a good deal frightened and rather inclined to be irritated in consequence. “What foul play? What does the man mean?”

“I daren’t say, sir” was the answer; “but will you come along with me and see for yourself?”


Suspense is immediately generated at the beginning of this chapter through the tension lurking at the heart of an apparently tranquil scene. Such seeming calmness in a narrative concerned with the grotesque secrets of the privileged appears all too temporary.   This suspicion proves correct in the next breath,  when Jekyll’s loyal servant, Poole, appears to rupture the peace of the bachelor hearth: ‘‘Mr Utterson was sitting by his fireside one evening after dinner when he was surprised to receive a visit from Poole.” Here, the signifiers ‘fireside’ and ‘dinner’  reinforce the idea of respectability, tranquility  and normality. Utterson’s rituals are those of a morally, unblemished character,  unlike the secret  criminality and secrecy surrounding Dr Jekyll and his double/nemesis, Mr Hyde. However, the appearance of Poole is suggestive of desperation and panic. For Poole has been forced to quit his faithful post at Jekyll’s,  to call upon the lawyer, Utterson, who Poole hopes can in order restore legality and stability to the anarchy of ‘foul play’. Poole has traversed the city in order to ask for help from the trustworthy figure, lawyer  and ‘detective’, Utterson.

Utterson’s role as the detective is made clear here, via the appearance of the desperate Poole. Interestingly, the servant class in Stevenson’s novel, represent loyalty and integrity. They are (forced)witnesses to Jekyll’s fall and are horrified by his transgressions. The word ‘surprised’ reinforces the strange hour and event of Poole’s visit and may even suggest a wariness on Utterson’s part, about the nature and reason for the visit. This wariness adds to the tension and suspense as the reader tends to identify with Utterson as he is a site of (relative) normality in the novel and is our ‘eye’ on the action.If Utterson is wary, then so are we. Utterson knows this is not a civilised hour to call and that Poole would only call if something terrible had occurred.

The suspense is clarified and heightened by Poole’s simple declaration: ‘there is something wrong.’ The clarity of the assertion underlines Poole’s morality. Our suspicions are confirmed. We may even notice an ironic echo of Marcellus’ famous pronouncement in Hamlet that ‘there is something rotten in the state of Denmark’.  The world is in disorder and Poole needs the intervention of Utterson to repair the ‘wrong’. The refusal of ‘wine’ and the obfuscation of Poole heighten the suspense as they suggest the anxiety emanates from something Poole fears to express in any direct manner. This illegibility around Jekyll’s relationship with Hyde is an essential aspect of the narrative. It is literally ‘unspeakable’ which again reinforces a sense of dis-ease in the narrative and which feeds the reader’s own imagination as to the precise nature of Hyde’s monstrousness.

When Poole who is stoical and dutiful confides to Utterson, ‘I can bear it no more,’ we feel the burden of his knowledge of Jekyll.Even the most stoical reach a limit and this spiritual and moral exhaustion makes Poole deeply sympathetic and again heightens suspense.

“I think there’s been foul play,” said Poole, hoarsely.

This declaration is cathartic for Poole. He brings into the open the possibility of criminality and even murder. The adverb ‘hoarsely’ suggests acute anxiety and fear. The very words he utters are difficult because they relate to the unspeakable.

Utterson’s reaction is both curious and even strange. “Foul play!” cried the lawyer, a good deal frightened and rather inclined to be irritated in consequence. “What foul play? What does the man mean?”

Look at the seemingly antagonistic emotions exposed in Utterson by the revelation of ‘foul play.’  Utterson’s fear is understandable but then he is also ‘inclined to be irritated in consequence.‘ Is this irritation due to his loss of composure? Does Utterson feel implicated or complicit with Jekyll’s fall into ‘foul play’? Perhaps he is compromised as he had tried to save Jekyll, recognising in Jekyll an aspect of himself and other gentlemen in Victorian society.

When Poole is referred to as ‘the man’ rather than by the pronoun ‘you’ we sense distanciation on the part of Utterson, who is endeavouring to detach himself, even linguistically from the impending chaos of the ‘foul play.’ This technique defamiliarises the reader for a moment until we recognise the psychological implications of this move.

When Poole refuses to elaborate further, we, like Utterson as forced to journey literally and metaphorically into the night, in order to,” see for yourself?” The verb of seeing is heavily ironic and reveals the duplicitous and anxious relationship between seeing and believing. We cannot refuse the invitation and neither can Utterson, so we are forced to go and see for ourselves. A truly chilling, yet thrilling spectacle awaits!


In my last post I talked about the way a simile used by the protagonist, Edmund Hooper reveals a great deal about his psychological character.  Our metaphors and similes give us away.

I now wish to look at the final sentence of the opening.  This analysis proves how simple writing can be enormously effective and affecting too.

So here’s the last line. It’s in a paragraph by itself:

But he knew where to find the key. 

The final sentence of the opening to Susan Hill’s novel is set apart from the rest of the opening. This isolation gives sinister drama to the meaning of the line and generates a marked sense of foreboding. The alienation of the line suggests danger. We are reading an unsettling promise:

But he knew where to find the key. 

The contrasting preposition ‘but’ communicates the secret intentions of the character,  ‘he’.  we feel ‘he’ has observed the whereabouts of the key for a reason. The specific mention of the ‘key’ seems a metaphorical gateway into something secret and disturbing. The reader suspects future problems around the use of the’ key‘ with its unlocking of the sinister sounding ‘Red Room.’ The line also shows the power of the protagonist. We sense his watchfulness; his acute observations make him  appear  predatory and we await his choice of victim or prey.

If you read the line aloud, it is interesting to place the emphasis on different words. This allows us to hear the tone of voice, and therefore hear the threat and secret intention.

The reader knows that the protagonist will ‘find the key.‘ We await the time and outcome with trepidation!



GCSE English Language students have looked at the opening to Susan Hill’s chilling novel, I’m the King of the Castle recently. The novel makes readers think about their expectations and the way cleverly estranging(defamiliarising) characterisation can create unease immediately.  Techniques should be analysed for the way they animate writing. Similes, for example, bring different things closer, but this closeness may reveal deep psychological secrets, in a seemingly natural, (in this case) conversational way.

Here’s an example. The boy Edmund Hopper has been taken to visit his dying grandfather in a ‘sick room’ that smelled ‘sour’. We are not clear where this sensory impression originates until Edmund relates to his father his thoughts about the dying man. ‘All he looks like,’ Edmund Hooper said, ‘Is one of his dead old moths.‘ Edmund’s choice of simile is unsettling. He animates his experience through a language linked to death and creatures associated with repulsion.

We might feel the boy is panicked into disgust by fear, or we might feel he is a very literal boy who sees no point in avoiding the direct truth. However, there is something unsettling, even blase and dismissive about the simile. If you read the comparison aloud, you become all too away of the derisory emphasis on the word, ‘All’. The humanity of the dying man has been taken away and all we encounter is the ‘dead old moths.’ The ephemerality of a moth is now fixed to the dying man. He has become a mere moth and as such, infinitely expendable and forgettable. Hopper’s character is thus anchored from the opening to a capacity for unconventionality(no respectful ‘manners’)  and even dehumanising coldness. This foreshadows his later bullying behaviour towards another boy(Kingshaw) and creates an immediate link to death which never leaves either the character or the atmosphere of the house itself.

Remember our metaphors and similes reveal us. Look for the way a character or event is animated, and consider the underlying effects. What is being foregrounded or foreshadowed?  Notice how we as readers are encouraged to explore a character through ‘meeting devices’ such as a simile. 

More in part two.


Sydney’s mind was like perfect amber. Things stayed longer in her head than even they thought possible! All Inclusions felt welcome in Sydney’s mind’. Domenica laughed at her joke as if Sydney was talking to her in the room. ‘ We declared ourselves collectors then  Nora’


‘You had transcended the Originals then?’  said Nora.

‘Now Look at this ring Nora . Don’t be ungrateful.  I trust you to behave graciously’.

Nora held the ring. It sat warm in her hand. Too large to be vulgar. It looked extravagant, original. A gift of affection perhaps or something else?


“It transcends mere accessory don’t it Nora?”


Nora looked closely at the ring. Doing as she was told, aware of the new tone of the collector. Something had agitated her.


‘Please look closely Nora. . I’m watching everything.’

Domenica rarely uttered the word please.

Inside the ring something dark and fragile waited for Nora’s look.An insect perhaps. Something that once,  might have flown. The resin appeared to pulse. So small a pulse that maybe Nora imagined the movement. Then another pulse. Unmistakable. . A delicate breath now making tiny bubbles in the viscous liquid. Then closing up again. Not possible?  Nora glanced up and Domenica blew smoke rings into the air.  Her mouth  brazen with red lipstick. Heartless lips.
Something inside the ring took another breath.  The Amber felt so warm in Nora’s hand.

‘Nora Finn what am I going to do with you?’

Nora felt the ring shudder at Domenica’s voice and when she checked, a lonely pupil veiled by the deep brown resin, gazed back at her.

‘The ring breathes’. 

‘Maybe.  Maybe you are just more powerful than you realise Nora.’

The shadow deepened.


‘Am I part of your collection Domenica?’

‘Not yet. I take my time. There are many ways a collector may collect you know’.

‘I’m your biographer’.

‘You are. And that is my oldest ring. Take it. Wear it. Be kind.

Listen to what he might choose to tell you.  He’s run out of words for me. One can hardly blame him’.  


Dominica reached for the ring and placed it on Nora left forefinger. 


Nora held it to her ear.


Maybe she imagined too much. But the ring spoke as Domenica promised.

A hoarse faraway voice. Sweet. Forlorn.  Alive. 

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‘It was a cold grey day in late November.’ Thus begins Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. The dismal declaration of the weather foreshadows the uneasy tension surrounding the protagonist’s future new home at the Inn of the title.  The specific details give realism to the story and make the initial journey in the coach bleak, monotonous and uncomfortable. The weather forms the first antagonist in the story and we suspect will be followed by others, perhaps of a more human variety.

The personification of the coach gives a Gothic animation to the journey and allows the protagonist, Mary Yelland to be introduced in a seemingly natural way. She is announced on the stage of wintry, foreboding weather. This stage reveals her introspection and stoicism. She is differentiated from the rest of the human on the coach,  and we know intuitively that she is the heroine, because her fragility seems luminous despite the tumult outside the coach. Mary may be powerless against the storm, but leaving ‘home’ seems to hold more power over her and the future seems more dangerous than any hazard conjured by merely and predictably, bad weather.

Du Maurier is brilliant at creating foreboding atmospheres in her novels and stories. This opening uses pathetic fallacy in a complex way so that we expect Mary Yelland to transcend her problems because she is so sharply individuated from the petty concerns of the others in the coach. Mary is exceptional and her entrance into the novel subtly reveals this,  through the animating devices of foul weather and the puny human transport involved.

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“Had he and I but met
            By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
            Right many a nipperkin!
            “But ranged as infantry,
            And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
            And killed him in his place.
            “I shot him dead because —
            Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
            That’s clear enough; although
            “He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
            Off-hand like — just as I —
Was out of work — had sold his traps —
            No other reason why.
            “Yes; quaint and curious war is!
            You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat if met where any bar is,
            Or help to half-a-crown.”
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The Title of the poem.
The title of the poem reveals the irony of the poem’s message. This is because the title uses the third person pronoun ‘he’ in order to deflect attention away from the actual author of the anonymous man’s death- namely the first person ‘I’ speaker of the poem. The narrator’s displacement is suggestive of guilt. The speaker is attempting to hide from his conscience through the veiling effects of syntax. War commits soldiers to killing the ‘foe’ yet does not prepare them for the burden of guilt; for the mental horror of taking a life.  Ironically, the title avoids any direct admission of responsibility, unlike the main body of the poem itself which steadily reveals the psychologically damaging repercussions of following orders in war.
Note the sombre tone of the title. It reads dismally: as an inconvertible fact. This sombre tone is in direct contrast to the animated, friendly tone of the first stanza. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the speaker is happier imagining his dead enemy alive, rather than killed on the battlefield.The animation is always interesting in any text. It guides the reader or listener to an energy source and personal truth. The poem uses the dramatic monologue to explore the futility of war: in this case the Second Boer War. Hardy was opposed to this war and the poem explores his antipathy towards the war through an act of imaginative ventriloquism using the dramatic monologue.

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First Stanza. 


The animated cosiness of the opening stanza explores an alternative meeting with the dead man, a meeting unencumbered by war:    ‘Had he and I but met’. Here the qualification ‘Had’, reveals the random cruelty of war. The speaker is ruminating, trying to come to terms with the reality of what he has done, however legitimately. The conversational tone belies the nightmare of conflict and the simplicity of the rhyme scheme suggests the narrator is an ordinary soldier:  a pawn like the man he killed. Perhaps the simplicity also suggests that the soldier is trying to rationalise his conflicting emotions and conscience.
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Second Stanza.
The first line underlines how like a  ‘game’  war might appear, to those in power. The men are ‘ranged’ by powers higher than they. The men, like the speaker,  and the man he killed,  are mere pawns in the game of war.
This is a very intimate war. The speaker describes how they are arranged ‘face to face.’ The battle involves close fighting and survival or death seems a matter of chance. Nothing sanitised however,  about this conflict.
Both men are disciplined and dutiful, so the dead man died ‘in his place.’ The terrible sense than the speaker and the man he killed are almost doubles of each other,  underlines the palpable horror of his enemy’s death as being almost like his own. Killing another human being has destroyed part of himself; destroyed his peace of mind.
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Third Stanza.

The speaker has gathered himself for his direct admission at the beginning of the third stanza. He uses the pronoun ‘I’ so there is no ambiguity about his ownership of the action.  We feel as if the speaker has perhaps drunk some ale and is now ready to deal with what has occurred. Yet the precarious positioning of the ‘-‘ at the end of the line reveals the effect of his thoughts on the coherence of his words. The dash shows hesitation, reluctance and maybe the way that speech actualises the reality of our actions. The dash certainly breaks up the flow of the line and indicates some form of fragmentation, both of the syntax and also the composure of the speaker.When the second line begins with the word ‘because’ we sense the self-justification of the speaker. He is remembering his role as a soldier. He needs to resort to his role in order to compose himself again. Yet the rather forced, internal rhyming of ‘so’ and ‘foe’ and the repetition of ‘foe’ creates and communicates a feeling of awkwardness or discomfort.

Look at the pauses or caesurae generated by the semi colons and the full colon.  The painful irony of the hiatus after the verb ‘was’ is apparent as the speaker is using the past tense reminding himself that the ‘foe’ is now dead. This is further ironised by the hiatus after ‘clear enough;’ – evidently he is striving to believe it is clear and he has done his duty, yet the pauses tell another story.

The qualification of the word ‘although’ carries us over into the next stanza using enjambment;  underlining the unfinished business of the speaker’s rumination about the man he killed.

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Fourth Stanza. 
The hesitations and colloquial voice of the speaker,  reveal his sense of guilt and anxiety around his role as a soldier. Men signed up because they needed a job to feed themselves and their families. The proliferation of the dashes shows how afflicted by doubt the speaker is at this stage of the poem. He has killed someone very much like himself. The plainness of the last line of the stanza, ‘No other reason why’  is both bathetic and moving in its simplicity. The irony of the rhyme ‘I/why’ does not escape the speaker or the listener-reader.
The more the speaker examines his actions through speech, the more he recognises how haunted and guilty he feels.
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Fifth Stanza.
The attempt at the syntactical shrug in the final stanza is transparently obvious.  “Yes; quaint and curious war is!’ The preponderance of clipped, single syllabled words reminds us of the fact that the speaker is an ordinary soldier, perhaps a farmer, now enmeshed in recrimination,  but fighting to regain his old ways. The reference to a ‘bar’ underlines the cosiness of the reflection. The discussion is fuelled by alcohol perhaps, and serves to remind the speaker of the similarities between himself and his ostensible’foe’.  He ends the poem on a note of charity: ‘half a crown’ yet tragically and ironically charity has become corrupted by war into senseless slaughter. Maybe the reference to money also evokes a sense of betrayal- like Judas perhaps? The speaker certainly seems to recognise that killing another human being is deeply unsettling and that he has betrayed something infinitely precious within himself.
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Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.

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Ruth Rendell’s thriller A Judgement in Stone opens with a devastating clarity.  We are in no doubt as to the killer, victim and the motive. Yet, what we are told, goads us into reading the rest of the novel. We read on, because we want to know WHY Eunice would kill a family, because she was illiterate. The novel moves with horrifying inevitability to the grand guignol climax on St Valentine’s Day night and we can do nothing but read ! 

(It seems deeply ironic that we read to explore the motivation of the killer: this act resonates because we can do what Eunice Parchman could not).

Rendell is a witty, arch writer, as well as being sinister.  The ‘Parched’ aspect of the killer’s name suggests aridity or thirst;  even a longing perhaps for what is missing- ‘parchment’ we wonder? Yet our ‘reading’ proves us wrong. Instead, Rendell presents a killer whose sense of secrecy and shame have poisoned her psyche to the point of psychopathy. The ordinary act of reading has become the enemy of Eunice Parchman’s equilibrium. Books are her antagonists. Eunice loathes those who enjoy words, so she destroys them. 

When   Eunice joins the Coverdale family as their ‘stony’ house keeper, they little realise how their cultured ways will kill them, but we do,  and we are powerless to save them!

A superb read.

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Coup de Grace.

The woman smiled at the tiny plasticine figure sprawled on the passenger seat. “You enjoy yourself there whilst you can.” She nudged his head with her finger so that it lolled on his shoulder. “So sorry about all your friends.”
The woman took a moment to check her bag (what a novelty!) and then started the car.  You’ve chosen wisely this time, she whispered to herself and then eased the Mercedes into second, then third gear.’’ I wonder which gear shows most compassion?’ she asked the blue plasticine figure, who now looked all out of shape and slightly forlorn. Unsurprisingly, he offered no advice, so she opted for a thoughtful, slow, third gear as befitting a diligent young physician on holiday.

The car felt beautiful. Sophisticated. Smooth.  Enjoying herself now, the woman checked her face in her mirror, easy to do with such a long, elegant neck.   Yes, my darling, you are looking mighty fine this evening. Quite the part as always. Well, nearly always. The woman checked herself. Don’t remember that. Not here. Not now.


A few minutes passed before she smiled again. Darkness danced at the edge of her thoughts. Then a welcome recognition dawned. Didn’t people always see what they expected to see? Of course they did.
There was a long bend ahead, so she concentrated on the road and slowed down, buying herself time. Last night’s encounter made tonight inevitable. Was the correct phrase fool proof?  She admired her new driving gloves. They felt like pelt sitting on the wheel. They felt alive.

Couldn’t be far to that junction now.


The woman gathered herself, ordering her thoughts. My Dr Beauchamp this evening will be impulsive, with perhaps the merest hint of melancholy. The woman laughed then, because five hundred yards ahead, there were the bright, flashing Police lights she had been promised.   Someone in a yellow coat was trying to pull tape across the road to block it. Striped cones were scattered hurriedly, some still on their sides. On the other side of the tape, two police cars sat slewed across the junction, lights on full.  Fortunately, as anticipated, there was no sign of an ambulance yet. She had only five or six minutes at the most to make her impression, so she lowered her window.

Thankfully, the crash was messy. A large white van lay on its side with a small car buried in its rear end. A solitary wheel stood in the road.  A huge red motorbike lay broken against a derelict farm’s stone wall. The tarmac glistened with broken glass and purple streaks of oil or petrol gave lurid colour to the spectacle. The air was scented with something like fear.


A large policeman approached the woman’s window. “You’ll have to turn around and head back up to Dunstall I’m afraid. We’re waiting for the ambulances. ”
“How awful,” said the woman slowly.  “It looks dreadful, Can I help at all? My name’s Grace Beauchamp. I’m a hospital surgeon on vacation. The woman showed a card through the window. The Policeman hesitated, unsure and slightly defensive without knowing why. He was about to reply when another voice spoke from behind him.

‘Dr Beauchamp, could you please look at the drivers?
It was a female police constable. She looked very young and very pale. Probably nauseous too, thought Grace.
‘’It’s my vocation. I’m sure I can do something’ said Grace.  (Why are women always such nurturers, she thought.)  She climbed out of her car carrying a black bag. “Call me Grace. Show me where they are, please. “
The van driver shivered in a wool blanket drinking hot tea whilst a man watched. Someone from a house nearby, decided Grace and held the driver’s hand appropriately, pretending to check his pulse. He felt cold despite the hot drink.
“Shock, “said Grace to no one in particular.” Keep him warm and hydrated.’’
“Didn’t see him,” said the van driver tearfully. Didn’t hear him either. Nothing’’.

‘’Not your fault at all ‘’said Grace soothingly, for once telling the truth.
By contrast, the car driver seemed remarkably unscathed.
“Your lucky day,” said Grace and squeezed the young woman’s hand meaningfully. “Stay off work, though. Rest. Take your time. Recover yourself.  ”
“I will – thanks, “said the attractive young woman and stared gratefully at the blonde Doctor, aware of the pale policewoman at her side and of the gold card in her pocket engraved Resurgam.  ‘Thank you, so very much.’
‘’I’m afraid the motorcyclist ended up over the wall. No chance at all, said the policewoman, still looking ill. Just glad no one can see him from the road’’

‘’Horribly fortunate’’ said Grace and intimated with one hand that they should all stay behind with the injured.
‘’May I see the victim?’’

Without waiting for permission, Grace climbed over the wall, trying to remember her new physique.  She jumped down and listened in her special way. No one had followed. She was safe. Yet, as she suspected, there was something breathing in front of her that should not have been breathing. Dead things should remain dead, shouldn’t they? That was the law. Their law.

The motorcyclist sprawled out on the ground like a broken doll. His helmet looked intact. His dark amber visor remained closed. Grace crouched beside him, watching. As she suspected, the police had been too hasty in their judgement, too unaware of what they were dealing with. Grace leaned forward closer: there was the smallest trace of condensation in the visor and a  small letter ‘D’ acted as the visor’s clasp; unmistakeably marking him as  one of Domenica’s own.


Checking behind her again, Grace whispered aloud the mantra she had once learned from a very forthcoming hospital intern:  “3, 4, 5 keep you alive.” She crouched lower, and cupping the helmet between her hands, she spat on the visor and then jolted the head abruptly to the left, snapping the neck, suffocation no doubt a surprise bonus.  She wiped the condensation away.

“Propinquity,” said Grace, ‘’Propinquity, ’’ and reached down into her black bag.

A few moments later, she climbed back over the wall, now remembering who she was.  An ambulance was just reversing into position.

‘’You were right about the motorcyclist,’’ she said to the pale policewoman. ‘’He felt nothing, though. “

Seeing the approach of the paramedics,   Grace walked sadly towards her car, offering only a brief, apparently resigned wave to the others. The policeman looked engrossed on his phone, busy at his job.

“Take care Doctor,” called out the female driver, towards Grace’s retreating back. ”Mind how you go on these roads.”


The Mercedes turned around carefully and headed off quickly for somewhere that was not Dunstall, driven by someone who was not Grace.


The uninjured female driver smiled at the paramedics. Life was good.


Beside the blue helmet of the dead biker, sat  a tiny,  plasticine man. 

Phoenix writers met for a critique session last week, before the summer break. I wrote this in my sunny yard, trying to make a conversation between two people carry an undercurrent of menace. Nora may be rather more than a biographer and the apparent villain, Dominica, may have her own justification for her ‘collection.’  

Hearing someone else read your writing aloud is an excellent way of learning where your writing doesn’t flow or sound ‘right’. It also allows you to test the naturalness of your conversation. 

‘Even a cuckoo needs friends’ said Dominica. ‘And I was the perfect cuckoo at home with my father and his second wife’. Dominica lit another small cigar.

‘Second wife; you mean your step-mother? Did she own a name?’  said Nora.

‘She owned lots of things: occasionally my father but  never, ever me. I  called her stepmother. I was being honest.  I never gave her another name. Why would I?’

‘Did you care?’  said Nora.

‘Care!  Certainly not. She figured little in my world’.

‘I see’ said Nora and wrote down something else. 

Dominica tilted her head and blew smoke upwards, towards heaven. ‘Do you? ‘she whispered. After a minute, she narrowed her eyes, then examined her polished nails.

She glared at two laughing workmen carrying furniture across the courtyard.

‘School passed slowly for me  Nora,  until I made a friend. I had been banished. Can you imagine that?  Banished from my old home. Perhaps you can imagine. We are new to one another. Perhaps you can.  My rage festered. I used to eat all my food so slowly, always thinking. Thinking.  You know Nora even my bones felt full of rage. Molten. ‘

Nora stared at Dominica and then nodded. She could imagine.

‘Yet sad to say, I was a mere child. Revenge appeared out of my reach’.

Through the smoke, Dominica watched her new biographer. She liked to observe people, to test them.  ‘I was young Nora. Imagination was all I had left to me. School dragged on.  Dismal days. Lonely weeks. I fed on the life inside my head. No one approached me. Perhaps they didn’t dare. After all, I smelt of rejection and disdain. Now I smell of Jicky.’  Dominica reapplied her amber lipstick and smiled at Nora.  ‘Even now friendship eludes me’. 

Nora paused, holding her breath for a beat.  ‘Does that bother you Dominica?’

‘Bother me?  No. Not at all. I have my collection now. Exceptional people do exceptional things. We have to fly close to the sun. The cosiness of ordinary life bores me anyway’.

‘I have never found life particularly cosy’ said Nora looking at Dominica’s painted nails. She leant forward and adjusted her chair.

Dominica took a long sip of Lapsang.  This biographer had backbone.

‘Who was your school friend then Dominica?’

Dominica smiled and looked at Nora carefully measuring her. ‘When I met Alice, she was rather small,  like a stray field mouse.   But Alice exuded loyalty.  She needed my care. Craved it. We both gained from the arrangement. I might have a picture somewhere’. Dominica opened her monogrammed bag and appeared to search inside. 

‘I thought Alice became an exceptional chemist Dominica. World class.’

Dominica smiled showing immaculate teeth. ‘My, you are well informed, Nora’.

‘I thought that’s why you gave me the assignment’.

‘Perhaps. Maybe. Yes, Alice had a brilliant mind. She had a rare talent for improvisation. There were times I felt awe. But she finally faltered Nora’. Dominica shrugged. ‘She finally  lacked the courage that would — ‘


‘Take her to those places close to the sun?’ said Nora, looking about the courtyard at the preparations for the Burgos Grand Gala.


‘Touché’ said Dominica denying herself another cigar.’ That’s enough for this morning’s sketch of my past. I need to chastise some creatures, but first let me introduce you to a very special member of my collection. A personal favourite. Magdalena sleeps a good deal but her beauty is palpable. My refined  Amber is exquisitely effective.  Suspend your preconceptions, please. Follow me. I think we’ll take the second stair case’.

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They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days.

Not any more, though. Now, when a murderer pays the penalty for his crime, he does so up at Bodmin, after fair trial at the Assizes. That is, if the law convicts him, before his own conscience kills him. It is better so. Like a surgical operation. And the body has decent burial, though a nameless grave. When I was a child it was otherwise. I can remember as a little lad seeing a fellow hang in chains where the four roads meet. His face and body were blackened with tar for preservation. He hung there for five weeks before they cut him down, and it was the fourth week that I saw him.

He swung between earth and sky upon his gibbet, or, as my cousin Ambrose told me, betwixt heaven and hell. Heaven he would never achieve, and the hell that he had known was lost to him. Ambrose prodded at the body with his stick. I can see it now, moving with the wind like a weather-vane on a rusty pivot, a poor scarecrow of what had been a man. The rain had rotted his breeches, if not his body, and strips of worsted drooped from his swollen limbs like pulpy paper.

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It was winter, and some passing joker had placed a sprig of holly in the torn vest for celebration. Somehow, at seven years old, that seemed to me the final outrage, but I said nothing. Ambrose must have taken me there for a purpose, perhaps to test my nerve, to see if I would run away, or laugh, or cry. As my guardian, father, brother, counsellor, as in fact my whole world, he was forever testing me. We walked around the gibbet, I remember, with Ambrose prodding and poking with his stick; and then he paused and lit his pipe, and laid his hand upon my shoulder.

‘There you are, Philip,’ he said, ‘it’s what we all come to in the end. Some upon a battlefield, some in bed, others according to their destiny. There’s no escape. You can’t learn the lesson too young. But this is how a felon dies. A warning to you and me to lead the sober life.’ We stood there side by side, watching the body swing, as though we were on a jaunt to Bodmin fair, and the corpse was old Sally to be hit for coconuts. ‘See what a moment of passion can bring upon a fellow,’ said Ambrose. ‘Here is Tom Jenkyn, honest and dull, except when he drank too much. It’s true his wife was a scold, but that was no excuse to kill her. If we killed women for their tongues all men would be murderers.’

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I wished he had not named the man. Up to that moment the body had been a dead thing, without identity. It would come into my dreams, lifeless and horrible, I knew that very well from the first instant I had set my eyes upon the gibbet. Now it would have connection with reality, and with the man with watery eyes who sold lobsters on the town quay. He used to stand by the steps in the summer months, his basket beside him, and he would set his live lobsters to crawl along the quay in a fantastic race, to make the children laugh. It was not so long ago that I had seen him.

‘Well,’ said Ambrose, watching my face, ‘what do you make of him?’

I shrugged my shoulders, and kicked the base of the gibbet with my foot. Ambrose must never know I cared, that I felt sick at heart, and terrified. He would despise me. Ambrose at twenty-seven was god of all creation, certainly god of my own narrow world, and the whole object of my life was to resemble him.

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My Cousin Rachel opens with a lingering glimpse of a gibbet. Formative childhood experience is suffused with fear, even through the comparative safety of  retrospect.  The reader’s expectations are thus shrouded in death and dread: Du Maurier clearly adored Dickens’ Great Expectations!  In both novels the sensitivity of a young narrator is corrupted by disturbed,  ‘heartless’ adults.  In Du Maurier’s dramatic opening, the ‘old days’ seem all too proximate; all too fervently described. Psychological contamination fascinates Du Maurier, as well as the duality of human beings. Du Maurier’s imagination was voracious, particularly around erotic need arising from repression. Physicality is always haunting: ‘rotting breeches’,  and yet life’s absurdities are also darkly comic, ‘a sprig of holly’. We cannot escape the imprinting reality of the world evoked and neither can the young narrator who appears a pawn in Ambrose’s sinister game.

Du Maurier’s imagination anchors her first person narrator to grotesque death from the beginning, so that we know that the narrator’s destiny will be inextricably shrouded in horror. This insinuating horror structures both the extract and  the novel.  Criminality looms large in the life and imagination of Du Maurier’s narrator, just as with Pip in Great Expectations .  This foreshadows the strange, contradictory relationship which forms the main interest of the My Cousin Rachel’s narrative: specifically the narrator’s relationship with Rachel herself, which also shares certain aspects with Estella’s treatment of Pip.


The opening fuses the visual with the psychological and this interfacing generates a sense of the uncanny which never leaves the narrative. The young narrator trusts the choices made by his mentor Ambrose and such trust we feel is dangerously gifted. Even from the beginning, we are ambivalent about Ambrose’s goodness. The apparent benevolence of the ‘pipe’ is at once at war with the nearly sexual callousness of the  ‘prodding stick.’  We sense Ambrose  enjoys his power over the narrator. He may be exploitative.  He wants to make his charge spectate upon something awful so he, Ambrose,  can watch. From this opening we find such behaviour voyeuristic,  and inappropriate. Ambrose’s curiosity is far from innocent. He seems decadent, toying with his charge, playing at being a guardian, yet all too aware of darker arts.

Sexuality is thus enmeshed with abjection from the opening. Emotional growth is tampered with from the ‘primal scene’  of My Cousin Rachel (as with Dickens), so the reader can expect the narrator’s evolution to be awkward!

Yet Ambrose is a ‘god’ to the young narrator and as such inspires adoration and acquiescence. Ambrose feeds his young charge with unnecessarily disturbing experiences and these affect the narrator’s ability to discriminate  between one experience and another. Is the narrator a ‘toy’ or experiment to Ambrose? And where are the female figures in this opening? Nurture is absent. Masculinity here is brutal and unforgiving. Every image has phallic undertones. Women are scolds. Murder is understandable though outside  of the law( almost regrettably to Ambrose).

The desire to ‘resemble Ambrose’  seems mentally unhealthy and ill fated. It is also psychologically ironic. The infatuated, obsessive nature of the narrator’s love for Ambrose becomes displaced onto Cousin Rachel, with desperate, morally destructive  consequences. Just as in Dickens’ Great Expectations, Du Maurier’s novel explores the question whether we are truly ‘authors’ of our own lives, or whether others hijack our destinies,  even from beyond the grave( see Rebecca too!)

Riveting writing. As much about getting things wrong as right. Probably why it’s such a compelling novel to read.


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‘Go on,’ whispered Mrs Danvers. ‘Go on, don’t be afraid.’
I shut my eyes. I was giddy from staring down at the terrace, and my fingers
ached from holding to the ledge. The mist entered my nostrils and lay
upon my lips rank and sour. It was stifling, like a blanket, like an
anaesthetic. I was beginning to forget about being unhappy, and about
loving Maxim. I was beginning to forget Rebecca. Soon I would not have
to think about Rebecca any more ..

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{Here’s a wonderful moment in Rebecca where Du Maurier reveals her skills as a writer of intense drama and pyschological suspense. GCSE and GCE Students  have enjoyed exploring Rebecca and find her writing compelling,  easy to see why}. 

Verbs matter. Verbs transport your readers.  Look at the effect of ‘whispered’ in the passage above. The verb gives a confidential even conspiratorial tone to the repeated ‘Go on.’  We can hear the soft, cajoling encouragement of ‘go on‘ because Mrs Danvers is close enough to her victim(the first person narrator) to whisper. The unsettling proximity of the house keeper is established through the use of the verb, ‘whispered.’ Mrs Danvers is breathing her poison into the narrator’s ear: offering a deadly reassurance: ‘don’t be afraid.‘ A Judas kiss of a whisper.

Whispered’ also resonates with sibilance. You can hear the ‘s’ sounds and it sounds in this context creepily intimate, snake-like, almost sexually insinuating. It feels as if Mrs Danvers is behaving as a temptress, yet her austere appearance denies this. However the twist is to remember that  she is behaving as Rebecca. Maybe she is even being Rebecca.  Consequently, Mrs Danvers is on a seductive holiday from herself. Her language(which she believes is Rebecca’s) is FALLEN!


In Gothic writing, hierarchies are upset. Mental, physical and psychical boundaries are destabilised. The confidante here, is  a dangerous, surreptitious assassin. Perhaps Mrs Danvers believes she is now Rebecca herself. She is familiar enough with her dead mistresses voice to perform her desires(or so she thinks?) For Rebecca is Mrs Danvers’ barely secret obsession.


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If Mrs Danvers is being ‘Rebecca’, then  she performs ‘ Rebecca’, seductive; powerful; potent. Mrs Danvers is ventriloquising Rebecca’s  voice in the way that infatuated lovers often do. Being Rebecca for Mrs Danvers seems the ultimate homage to her dead mistress. She is resurrecting Rebecca by speaking as if she IS Rebecca, so she can dispose of Rebecca’s usurper, the second Mrs De Winter, and restore Manderley to what it was.

The effect of the whisper is palpably apparent.‘ The mist entered my nostrils and lay
upon my lips rank and sour’. We are unsure of what is real and what is imagined. Everything is animated and distorted under the influence of the Gothic impulse.

The trance -like state continues, so the narrator admits to disorientation and feels under an ‘anaesthetic’.  The narrator is tempted, the ‘whispered’ imperatives are propelling her to the very edge. Yet as I said in my last blog, the final word is  still Rebecca’s.’ I was beginning to forget Rebecca. Soon I would not have to think about Rebecca any more .’  What an irony! It is as if Mrs Danvers in ventriloquising Rebecca,  has conquered the narrator’s survival instinct. ‘Rebecca’ has claimed her.  Mrs Danvers and the second Mrs De Winter are mere cyphers compared to the original Mrs De Winter, Rebecca!

But of course this is not the end, nor is it the end of Rebecca. The fog has brought a ship onto the rocks and below that ship, lies a small boat with the body of a mysterious woman closed inside the cabin…

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(Chapter 14 Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. )

This chapter intrigues students because it is  Gothic and unsettling. The Gothic elements interface  sexuality, secrecy and wealth.  Here, the house-keeper Mrs Danvers,  attempts to talk her young employer, the second ‘Mrs De Winter’, into committing suicide by jumping out of a high window. Ironically, the fog which veils the height of the window from the susceptible Mrs De Winter, ironically saves her too, by bringing a ship onto the rocks and therefore breaking up the scene.

I will examine the extract in sections.

 This scene plays on the narrator’s primal fears (and the readers’ of course) of  rejection. Its power emanates from the mounting recognition that Mrs Danvers is winning the battle for the narrator’s life and soul!

In this scene, the housekeeper Mrs Danvers,  cannot resist her own predatory nature, as she feels omnipotent;  inspired  in her own head by her soulmate, the dead Rebecca.  The steady, breathless excitement of Mrs Danvers in the scene builds momentum and uneasy  eroticism: in Mrs Danvers’ mind, she  will ‘slay’ the pathetic usrper (the narrator) and thus pay homage to her beloved, dead mistress Rebecca De Winter. The scene problematises the real identity  of the ‘possessed’ and the ‘possessor’,  as we remain unsure who the true ‘author’ of this scene might be. Can the dead , author the destruction of the living? Can Mrs Danvers ventriloquise Rebecca,  or is Mrs Danvers so insanely attached to Rebecca, that her mourning becomes murder? 

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Mrs Danvers came close to me, she put her face near to mine. ‘It’s no
use, is it?’ she said. ‘You’ll never get the better of her. She’s still
mistress here, even if she is dead. She’s the real Mrs de Winter, not
you. It’s you that’s the shadow and the ghost. It’s you that’s forgotten
and not wanted and pushed aside. Well, why don’t you leave Manderley to
her? Why don’t you go?

Mrs Danvers deliberately violates the narrator’s personal space, creating a disturbing proximity from which to feed her listener verbal poison. Her closeness ironises care: A Judas kiss. ‘She’s the real Mrs De Winter.’ The first person narrator seems peculiarly susceptible to the undermining suggestions of Mrs Danvers. Mrs Danvers is physically and verbal intent upon destroying her dead employer’s usurper. Her attachment to the ‘real Mrs De Winter‘ appears unhealthily obsessive and voracious- like an insatiable need that can never be fed. It feels as if Mrs Danvers is some sort of vampire, feeding off her new mistresses insecurities in order to  rescue her dead mistress from her grave. The house(Manderley) seems a tomb more than a home because Rebecca is gone; she is not a home.  Du Maurier compresses space and physicality to conjure an ‘unhomely’  claustrophobia that  can  only be released through death. 


Interestingly the servant has usurped her mistress in terms of authority and confidence. One student suggested that Mrs Danvers is possessed by her dead mistress, and this inspires her actions. Mrs Danvers feels all too potent. She is on fire with her mission. Therefore Mrs Danvers bombards her young listener with so many questions, that the first person narrator becomes overwhelmed and falls into a hypnotic trance.  The questions hack away at the insecurities of the narrator. ‘They corrode: Why don’t you go?’ Who can withstand such pronouncements of rejection? ‘It’s you that’s the shadow.’  Such pointed declarations poison any equilibrium remaining to the narrator.


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I backed away from her towards the window, my old fear and horror rising
up in me again. She took my arm and held it like a vice.

‘Why don’t you go?’ she said. ‘We none of us want you. He doesn’t want
you, he never did. He can’t forget her. He wants to be alone in the house
again, with her. It’s you that ought to be lying there in the church crypt,
not her. It’s you who ought to be dead, not Mrs de Winter.’

She pushed me towards the open window. I could see the terrace below me
grey and indistinct in the white wall of fog. ‘Look down there,’ she said.
‘It’s easy, isn’t it? Why don’t you jump? It wouldn’t hurt, not to break
your neck. It’s a quick, kind way. It’s not like drowning. Why don’t you
try it? Why don’t you go?’

The repetition of ‘why don’t you go?‘ is insidious in its effect upon the narrator. The monstruousness of Mrs Danvers is made palpable through the vulnerable first person narrator. The simile ‘like a vice’ emphasises the vampiric performance of Mrs Danvers and her cruel, desperate physicality as she is taken over by her diabolical idea to destroy the second Mrs De Winter. We feel this act is some sort of ‘gift’ dedicated to her beloved dead mistress, Rebecca. Maybe her malevolent eloquence emanates from Rebecca herself as the violating ghost, or Mrs Danvers feels as if she is speaking for Rebecca in Rebecca’s beloved voice.


It is a terrific scene, as it is intensely real and possible. The promise of a ‘quick, kind way’ to die shows the terrible logic of Mrs Danvers and is unnervingly persuasive to the beleaguered listener.  Interestingly the psychology of this promise is convincing too, as the new Mrs De Winter will not suffer the slow death of ‘drowning’ like the original Mrs De Winter. Once again, the terrible love of Mrs Danvers is all too apparent. Murder by hypnotic suggestion gives Mrs Danvers cathartic expression for her adoration of the dead Rebecca. In true Gothic style, murder becomes a form of consummation’ Look down there…’  and this scene, like so many Gothic stories, manages to eroticise the act of murder too!

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The fog filled the open window, damp and clammy, it stung my eyes, it
clung to my nostrils. I held on to the window-sill with my hands.
‘Don’t be afraid,’ said Mrs Danvers. ‘I won’t push you. I won’t stand
by you. You can jump of your own accord. What’s the use of your staying
here at Manderley? You’re not happy. Mr de Winter doesn’t love you. There’s
not much for you to live for, is there? Why don’t you jump now and have
done with it? Then you won’t be unhappy any more.’

I could see the flower tubs on the terrace and the blue of the hydrangeas
clumped and solid. The paved stones were smooth and grey. They were not
jagged and uneven. It was the fog that made them look so far away. They
were not far really, the window was not so very high.

After the deluge of questions that are really diabolical imperatives, it is hardly surprising that the ‘flower tubs’  and ‘smooth and grey’ stones look relatively innocent and non-threatening to the young narrator.  The ‘solid’ quality of the flowers is striking. They are known and therefore not like the ‘jagged and uneven’ thoughts of the narrator’s  mind perhaps. The known soothes her agitation. Secrets threaten to destroy, allied as they are, to self -doubt.

The fog seems a trickster, trying to complicate the narrator’s perception of the ground. Suicide does appear easy to the narrator. And Mrs Danvers cruelly and highly manipulatively suggests that jumping from the window ‘ of your own accord’ would solve the unhappiness that afflicts the narrator. Mrs Danver is manipulating a lexis of choice (and even autonomy and courage)  when the reality is that she is attempting to kill the young mistress. Look at the confusion and pathos instilled by the qualifications ‘really’ and not so very’.  Mrs Danvers is Du Maurier’s Iago figure(See Othello) feeding contamination through a whisper!

But do we sympathy wholeheartedly with the narrator,  or is her vulnerability sometimes irritating? Is her naivety a weakness that allows monstrousness to flourish? Mrs Danvers is a predator, yet her power is largely given her by the narrator. Mrs Danvers’ malignancy is fed by the impotency and persistent naivety of the narrator. Mrs Danvers is love obsessed, the narrator crazed too, but by jealousy or something profoundly unspoken?

As several students suggested, if Mrs Danvers is under the ‘spell’ of the dead Rebecca, then aren’t both protagonists in this scene acting under the thrall of the absent temptress, so that ironically they are both victims of Rebecca too? 


‘Why don’t you jump?’ whispered Mrs Danvers. ‘Why don’t you try?’

The fog came thicker than before and the terrace was hidden from me. I
could not see the flower tubs any more, nor the smooth paved stones. There
was nothing but the white mist about me, smelling of seaweed dank and
chill. The only reality was the window-sill beneath my hands and the grip
of Mrs Danvers on my left arm. If I jumped I should not see the stones
rise up to meet me, the fog would hide them from me. The pain would be
sharp and sudden as she said. The fall would break my neck. It would not
be slow, like drowning. It would soon be over. And Maxim did not love
me. Maxim wanted to be alone again, with Rebecca.

‘Go on,’ whispered Mrs Danvers. ‘Go on, don’t be afraid.’
I shut my eyes. I was giddy from staring down at the terrace, and my fingers
ached from holding to the ledge. The mist entered my nostrils and lay
upon my lips rank and sour. It was stifling, like a blanket, like an
anaesthetic. I was beginning to forget about being unhappy, and about
loving Maxim. I was beginning to forget Rebecca. Soon I would not have
to think about Rebecca any more ..


Look at the use of specific detail in the extract. The tangibility and sheer proximity of the window sill and Mrs Danvers’ ‘grip on my left arm’  engender a powerful tension and dramatic immediacy. The narrator is clinical and detached about the effects of her jump. ‘The pain would be sharp and sudden as she said.’ How ironic is it that even when she is contemplating yielding to Mrs Danvers’ imperatives to jump, the narrator acknowledges the truthfulness of her killer?

The imperative and challenge ‘don’t be afraid’ hijack the language of affirmation and courage. The rhythm of the words that follow and the repetition of ‘forget’ are very seductive. The narrator is about to jump and yet who preoccupies her final thoughts,  whose name is on her lips?

Rebecca’s name haunts the narrator. She is almost her last word. How truly Gothic and suggestive of an obsession shared with Mrs Danvers.

Yet, if we read the tale from a supernatural perpsective,  does Rebecca almost make Mrs Danvers kill her rival?

Or, perhaps the narrator is actually going to join her rival. Will she join Rebecca in a deadly embrace?

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As I relaxed my hands and sighed, the white mist and the silence that
was part of it was shattered suddenly, was rent in two by an explosion
that shook the window where we stood. The glass shivered in its frame.
I opened my eyes. I stared atMrs Danvers. The burst was followed by another, and yet a third and fourth. The sound of the explosions stung the air and
the birds rose unseen from the woods around the house and
made an echo with their clamour.

‘What is it?’ I said stupidly. ‘What has happened?’

Mrs Danvers relaxed her grip upon my arm. She stared out of
the window into the fog. ‘It’s the rockets,’ she said; ‘there must
be a ship gone ashore there in the bay.’ We listened, staring into the
white fog together. And then we heard the sound of footsteps running on the terrace beneath us.

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The fog saves the narrator. As it lures a ship onto the rocks, the rockets break the hypnotic trance and the scene dissolves, becoming now practical and concerned with information: ‘What is it? ‘ . The narrator speaks again, reclaims her voice, even if ‘stupidly’ suggests that she is waking out of a spell.  Mrs Danvers also seems to alter: ‘relaxed her grip on my arm.’  The nightmarish scene involving the window is gone. Mistress asks for information of the house- keeper. How perfectly normal. ‘Something’ all too real has usurped their terrible intimacy. There is a new puzzle, and we suspect something even more strange is about to happen. Needless to say, this strangeness involves Rebecca, again suggesting that the dead mistress possesses a Svengali-like power.

Wonderfully written. Psychologically brilliant: Who’s possessing whom?

In the end, I could not help sympathising with the beautiful, elusive figure of Rebecca herself: vilified, adored and probably misunderstood!


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Tusitala has been resurrected this week after yet another hacking. Many thanks to Shaun Kirk for giving CPR to my site!  I am very pleased to discover my blog once again! 


The new GCSE English specification is much more demanding:  I would advise all students entering year 10 or 11 in September to read as much as they can.

A 19thC. novel will help with your literature paper and reading thoughtful 20thC. novels and stories will boost your confidence for the language papers. 

Over the next weeks, I will post lots of articles to help students with their English GCSE examinations in both the language and literature. 

 Enjoy your reading because as Stephen King tells  us: “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 


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