The Old Nurse's Story (E. Gaskell) and The Axe (P. Fitzgerald): Of the two stories you have read, which do you think is the most effective ghost story? Which story do you prefer and why?

Essay by BerneHigh School, 11th grade April 2004

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English ghost stories became popular in 1855 when a tax reform brought about the withdrawal of duty on newspapers. This brought about a magazine boom that fed the large literate middle class who were thirsty for sensation. To satisfy their readers, magazines needed stories and promised "fiction of powerful interest". Charles Dickens owned one of the most popular periodicals of the time - All the Year Round, first published in 1859. Dickens filled the bumper Christmas editions with his stories, forgoing the Christmas link to ghost stories for the modern age. They were a popular feature for the season where "pocketbooks were opened a little wider than usual".

Ghost stories were much more popular in the 1900s because there were few forms of entertainment. They were a lot more effective in those days - the typical flickering candlelight and crackling fires provided a suitable atmosphere for its transmission. According to Jung, television and cinema has dampened our "primitive feelings and apprehensions".

Despite some people's beliefs that civilisation has bred the ability to be scared out of us, a well-written ghost story will still have the desired effect. For this to happen there are important ingredients one must include. A strong sense of place or of the elements is essential and every detail must be carefully selective. Of course, there must be a classic location that gets cut off; typically, it has always been a gothic tower or a cemetery, but a suburban house could work equally as well. A ghost story would not be satisfying without a real ghost - an image of someone who has died - and a reason for the ghost to haunt - effects on the past and present. A moral would be preferable, as there would be added satisfaction if there were a point...