In Gaskell's short story "The Old Nurse's Story": How does Gaskell describe Furnivall Manor? What are the uncanny elements of this new home for Hester and Rosamond? How does the story employ...

In Gaskell's short story "The Old Nurse's Story":

  1. How does Gaskell describe Furnivall Manor? What are the uncanny elements of this new home for Hester and Rosamond?
  2. How does the story employ the elements of a Victorian Gothic novel, including an atmosphere of mystery and suspense, the combination of feeling threatened and having a fear of the unknown, supernatural events involving ghosts and other creatures coming to life, some events that are natural and some that are supernatural, high overwrought emotion (anger, sorrow, surprise, and terror, emotional speeches, breathlessness, panic, and female characters experiencing fainting, screaming, sobbing, terror, abandonment), and women being threatened by a dictatorial male character?
  3. Does the story have a moral? Consider jealousy, pride, revenge, anger. Is this story relevant today? Explain.
Expert Answers
jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In her short story "The Old Nurse's Story," Gaskell describes Furnivall Manor as covered with overgrown vegetation and situated in a wild park with "gnarled thorn-trees, and old oaks, all white and peeled with age." Though the wild forest was long ago cleared to make a garden, the forest has regrown so that it now overshadows the house. The interior of the house is grand in its proportions and fitted out with a bronze chandelier, oversized organ, and giant sofas, and the atmosphere is gloomy.

The description of the house, including the sense that nature is itself gloomy and demonic, is one of the supernatural, Gothic elements of the story. The portraits on the wall also seem to follow people with their eyes. Another supernatural, ghostly element of the story is the organ music that comes out of nowhere, which the servants blame on the wind in the trees. Some people claim it is the dead master playing, and the sound is described in the following way: "[It] wailed and triumphed just like a living creature." Hester, the nurse who is the narrator of the story, reacts to these frights, as well as to the temporary loss of her charge, Rosamond, with overwrought emotions: "It was bitter cold; so cold, that the air almost took the skin off my face as I ran; but I ran on, crying to think how my poor little darling must be perished and frightened." When she tries to find Rosamond outside, she battles the supernatural cold and suffers from near hysteria. When the phantom child, another Gothic element of the story, appears at the window, the organ music reaches a crescendo.

The old lord represents the typical dictatorial figure in Gothic literature. His pride creates envy and bitterness between his daughters, and his desire for revenge causes the death of his granddaughter. The moral of the story is that pride and desire for revenge lead to bad ends. This story is relevant today, as many parents still try to control their children, including who their children marry, and seek revenge if their children do not listen to them.

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