The Tale of Terror eBook

Edith Birkhead
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 261 pages of information about The Tale of Terror.
atmosphere of horror and the sense of overhanging calamity effectually prepare our minds for the supernatural, and the wraith of old Alice who appears to the master of Ravenswood is strangely solemn and impressive.  But even more terrible is the description of the three hags laying out her corpse.  The appearance of Vanda with the Bloody Finger in the haunted chamber of the Saxon manor in The Betrothed is skilfully arranged, and Eveline’s terror is described with convincing reality.  In Woodstock, Scott adopted the method of explaining away the apparently supernatural, although in his Lives of the Novelists he expressly disapproves of what he calls the “precaution of Snug the joiner.”  Charged by Ballantyne with imitating Mrs. Radcliffe, Scott defended himself by asserting: 

“My object is not to excite fear of supernatural things in my reader, but to show the effect of such fear upon the agents of the story—­one a man in sense and firmness, one a man unhinged by remorse, one a stupid, unenquiring clown, one a learned and worthy but superstitious divine."[116]

As Scott in his introduction quotes the passage from a treatise entitled The Secret History of the Good Devil of Woodstock, which reveals that the mysteries were performed by one Joseph Collins with the aid of two friends, a concealed trap-door and a pound of gunpowder, he cannot justly be accused of deceiving his readers.  There are suggestions of Mrs. Radcliffe’s method in others of his novels.  In The Antiquary, before Lovel retires to the Green Room at Monkbar, he is warned by Miss Griselda Oldbuck of a “well-fa’urd auld gentleman in a queer old-fashioned dress with whiskers turned upward on his upper lip as long as baudrons,” who is wont to appear at one’s bedside.  He falls into an uneasy slumber, and in the middle of the night is startled to see a green huntsman leave the tapestry and turn into the “well-fa’urd auld gentleman” before his very eyes.  In Old Mortality, Edith Bellenden mistakes her lover for his apparition, just as one of Mrs. Radcliffe’s heroines might have done.  In Peveril of the Peak, Fenella’s communications with the hero in his prison, when he mistakes her voice for that of a spirit, have an air of Gothic mystery.  The awe-inspiring villain, who appears in Marmion and Rokeby, may be distinguished by his scowl, his passion-lined face and gleaming eye.  Rashleigh, in Rob Roy, who, understanding Greek, Latin and Hebrew, “need not care for ghaist or barghaist, devil or dobbie,” and whose sequestered apartment the servants durst not approach at nightfall for “fear of bogles and brownies and lang-nebbit things frae the neist world,” is of the same lineage.  Sir Robert Redgauntlet, too, might have stepped out of one of Mrs. Radcliffe’s romances.  His niece is not unlike one of her heroines.  She speaks in the very accents of Emily when she says: 

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The Tale of Terror from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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