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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 421

Fantasy developed from the gothic romance of the eighteenth century, and The House on the Strand is an excellent example of the connection between the two. Like Horace Walpole in The Castle of Otranto (1764), Ann Radcliffe in The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and numerous twentieth century paperback writers including...

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Fantasy developed from the gothic romance of the eighteenth century, and The House on the Strand is an excellent example of the connection between the two. Like Horace Walpole in The Castle of Otranto (1764), Ann Radcliffe in The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), and numerous twentieth century paperback writers including Howard Batchelor, Daphne du Maurier uses a remote, mysterious setting with ancient estates that hold dark and romantic secrets of the past. To this gothic setting and cast of medieval characters she adds the essence of fantasy, the suspension of disbelief in the unreal. Actions that occurred more than six hundred years earlier recur in a nonexistent world side by side with the real one. The characters reach this world and operate within it by using scientific principles that are contrary to experience.

Richard enters the fourteenth century by taking a drink of Magnus liquid. When it takes effect, the past reappears instantaneously, as if nothing unusual has happened. In one case, after looking down at his watch, Richard finds the village as it was in the 1300’s. Within this world, all senses except touch are heightened, and Richard can move wherever he wishes without contacting any other objects or people. Adding to the unreality is his sense of well-being and tranquillity, despite the unsettling events he observes.

The medieval characters with whom Richard becomes intrigued are enmeshed in a world of treachery and deceit. A monk who possesses medical knowledge is secretly administering poison to Sir Henry, Sir Oliver brutally murders Sir Otto on a night when the weather is equally wild and brutal, and Joanna schemes to exile Isolde to France, where she will be mistreated by evil monks. Adding to these characters is the sinister gothic setting. The weather is harsh and the landscape hostile. Even the villagers reveal their base instincts as they delight in skinning animals in the village square.

Elements of the gothic romance appear in most of du Maurier’s work. She wrote The House on the Strand late in her career, after she became known for best-sellers such as Rebecca (1938), My Cousin Rachel (1951), and The Scapegoat (1957), all of which contain similar elements of character and setting. At the time The House on the Strand was published, critics noted its predictable gothic elements but added that du Maurier handled the characters and the time shifts well. Because she lived in Cornwall and was interested in its history, she created believable historical personages. As usual in her books, the plot is suspenseful up to the last line.

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