Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Carleton’s choice of the first-person point of view of an observer, although he himself did not see the events described, is a romantic literary device—typical of such writers as Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne—to emphasize the reactions of the teller. Although ostensibly merely an eyewitness report of an event, the account reflects the kind of self-conscious patterning of reality that is characteristic of the modern short story.
The first nineteenth century tale-of-terror device Carleton uses to fictionalize the actual is the premonition the narrator has about the meeting, although the summons he receives has nothing extraordinary or startling about it. He has a sense of approaching evil; an “undefinable feeling of anxiety” pervades his “whole spirit,” very much like the undefined sense of anxiety that pervades the spirit of many of Poe’s narrators, such as the unnamed narrator of “The Fall of the House of Usher” when he first rides into view of the ominous house. Moreover, like many Poe narrators, Carleton’s narrator says he cannot define the presentiment or sense of dread he feels, for it seems to be a mysterious faculty, like Poe’s “perverse,” beyond human analysis.
A completed action, treated as if it were an action in process, “Wildgoose Lodge” is a classic example of how the modern romantic short-story writer developed techniques to endow experience with thematic significance without resorting to allegorical methods of symbolic characterization and stylized plot construction. What makes “Wildgoose Lodge” a modern story is the heightened perception of the engaged first-person narrator, who is both dramatically involved and ironically aware at once. Moreover, the story’s selection of metaphoric detail with the potential for making an implied ironic moral judgment—the atmospheric weather, the ironic church setting, the physically isolated house, and the imagery of the leader as Satanic and his closest followers as fiendish—shift the emphasis in this story from mere eyewitness account to a tight thematic structure. It is just this shift that signals the beginning of the modern short story most commonly attributed to Hawthorne and Poe in the following decade.