This week we are discussing Chapters 9 to the end of the book.
For everyone else’s thoughts, check the links at The Estella Society.
We have reached the end of the story, and I have to admit that the final scenes were a surprise to me.
Last week I mentioned that I thought that the ‘Little Stranger’ was Susan, the dead child. For a time, it seemed that she was indeed the entity haunting the house and we saw her writing appearing on walls. I am quite certain that Mrs Ayres, who was the target of that series of events, believed quite firmly that it was her dead daughter that was haunting her. However, the change in manifestations from those that plagued Roderick makes me question the identity of the intelligence behind them. It seems that it chose to appear as that thing most suited to terrifying its victim: for Rod it was fire, for Mrs Ayres it was her dead child. We do not know what form it took to torment Caroline, although it seems to have been the form of a person.
One thing is very clear: I am not sure that the Ayres family was helped in any way by Dr Faraday and his insistence that nothing supernatural was responsible for the bizarre happenings. In many ways, I feel like he was ‘The Little Stranger’. He wormed his way into the family and then tried to preserve their way of life so that it was the same as when he had had a tiny glimpse of it all those years before. He was so determined to maintain the illusion of that lifestyle that he could not see how desperately Caroline needed to leave Hundreds. I am not sure why he needed to live in this fantasy of his acceptance into their class, but it blinded him to almost all the cries for help that the family gave him. He systematically ignored their own wishes and instead fulfilled his own view of what they needed. The treatment that Roderick receives seems to have made him worse, if anything, and his lack of urgency when confronted by Mrs Ayres’ ‘delusions’ leads directly to her suicide. I am still unsure of his reasons for needing to keep everyone at Hundreds, but it certainly led to both the deaths in the book.
His treatment of Caroline shows how detached he is from reality. Her obvious disappointment at his comment about not wanting to move to London is very telling. It is so clear that she sees him as a possible way to leave Hundreds, but he is completely oblivious to this. The time after her mother’s death, when he is blithely going ahead with the wedding preparations, is possibly creepier than the actual haunting. The descriptions of her reactions to his physical contact made my skin crawl and I cannot understand why he did not notice her total ambivalence towards him and disinterest in the wedding. When she broke off their engagement I was hopeful that she would move on and have some sort of happy life. Although this did not happen, I was happy that she finally made a decision about what she wanted. If she had gone through with the wedding and been trapped in the house for the rest of her life she would have been totally miserable.