A ‘Short Story’ is a Narrative Prose that is shorter than a novel and usually not more than 15,000 words in length. The ‘Short Story’ is one of the oldest and most natural forms of Prose fiction. Edgar Allan Poe first formally defined the short story in 1842. A short story has different characteristics such as, it can be read or told on a single occasion, has only one main event and only a few main characters. The most well known type of short story is the fairytale. In the essay I will compare two short stories in a number of ways.
I will compare the victims in each story, the crime committed in each story, the villains committing the crime and concluding my overall opinions. I will be looking at ‘A Terribly Strange Bed’ written by Wilkie Collins in 1856 and told in a first-person view with classic language of the period. It is about a respectable young man staying in Paris after finishing his education and who ventures to a rough gambling house where he ‘breaks the bank’ in a game of Rouge et Noir. He gets led astray and then nearly killed by a lethal bed in a cunning plan by ‘the old soldier’ who is the master of the gambling house.
I will be comparing the above ‘A Terribly Strange Bed’ with ‘The Landlady’ by the very well known Roald Dahl written in 1960, told in the third person’s view in modern language form. This story is about a nai?? ve, young man who travels from London to Bath on business and in looking for lodgings in a local pub he comes upon a strangely compelling bed and breakfast accommodation owned by a generous but mysteriously behaving landlady. The intended crimes in ‘A Terribly Strange Bed’ is made positively clear throughout the story. They are seduction, manslaughter and intended murder.
The intended crimes in ‘The Landlady’ is uncertain and not spelt out in the story. The reader is forced to draw his own conclusions throughout the story from the information the writer gives. The reader could conclude such crimes as manslaughter and seduction but the writer never spells out any crime, just hints and then ends the story before we are able to witness the result of any crime. I think that the crime in ‘A Terribly Strange Bed is far worse a crime than in ‘the Landlady’. This is because the crimes are made very clear and the man is constantly accusing the bed and the old soldier of murder.
For example, “in a moment I discovered the murderous conspiracy framed against me”, “sight of the murderous canopy” and “the villains who worked it from above evidently believed that their purpose was now accomplished”. The landlady’s intended crime is only implied and before Billy can tell us what he thinks, the landlady cuts him off mid-sentence as if to put him off her trail. For example Billy is saying, “‘wasn’t that the name of the Eton schoolboy who was on a walking tour through the West Country, and then all of a sudden… ‘ ‘Milk’, she said”.
We are not shown exactly what Billy is thinking and instead, the writer uses phrases to make the reader make his own guesses and judgements. The victim of the committed crimes in ‘A Terribly Strange Bed’ is a young man who had just finished his education at college and staying in Paris with an English friend. He is really looking for more danger and excitement to inject into his dull, solemn, bored and tired attitude of his ‘fashionable’ gambling house, Frascati’s, at the Palais Royale. He yearns for a more informal ‘ragged’ gambling house, obviously looking for more excitement.
He likes to be a bit risky with his young life and has a character that is very buoyant, intelligent and a little gullible. In ‘The Landlady’ though, the victim is a man named Billy Weaver who is an educated, sensible and polite character who is 17 years old, dresses suitably and wishes to be successful in his line of work. He is slightly adventurous but sensible and not looking for any amount of trouble. Billy is not looking for danger or excitement but looking for company and economy in his lodgings “there would be beer and darts in the evenings and lots of people to talk to and would probably be a good bit cheaper too.
He thinks he will find all this at a local pub, The Bell and Dragon. I think that the victim in ‘A Terribly Strange Bed’ is defiantly looking for trouble, danger and more excitement for many reasons. He ventures to a rough gambling house After getting lucky his friend begs him to leave “He came to my side, and, whispering in English, begged me to leave the place”. The victim stupidly rejects his friend’s warnings and continues gambling, describing himself as “gambling drunk”.
The Victim is then very gullible in his rush of winning and is convinced by the old soldier to make many rational decisions and takes his offers, suggestions and comments as friendly gestures. He prefers to take advice and suggestions from the old soldier rather than his friend (unaware on their true intentions) because they are friendly and supportive “If I had been in my senses I should have considered him personally as being rather a suspicious specimen of an old soldier” and he realises later that he should have not trusted him.
The Victim in “The Landlady” is in no way looking in trouble. He sees the B;B on the way to The Bell and Dragon and decides that he will stay in the B;B instead as an experience. He mentions himself being frightened of these sorts of lodgings and has a rather stereotypical view of them “he had never stayed in any Boarding houses, and, to be perfectly honest, he was a tiny bit frightened of them. The name itself conjured up images of watery cabbage, rapacious landladies and a strong smell of Kippers in the living room”.
The villain committing the crime in “A Terribly Strange Bed” is a tall man described as an “Old soldier”, wearing a shabby soldiers overcoat, has “goggling blood shot eyes”, A “Mangy mustachios”, his nose is broken, his hands are dirty and “His voice betrayed a barrack-room intonation of the worst order”. From his appearance described I would consider him to be a dodgy character, this is because it makes me wonder why there is an old soldier in a gambling house and in such a bad condition. I would judge him as being very rough and would say and think he is a heavy gambler gone bust and definitely the type to commit a crime.
In “The Landlady” there is no person who commits a crime, as we know, only a suspect. One could think that the landlady was the criminal with a mixed up mysterious character that is quite strange. She is around 45 or 50 years old, has around pink face and gentle blue eyes. She is very welcoming towards Billy and he compares her to the mother of your best school friend who was welcoming you in to stay for the Christmas holidays. From the landlady’s appearance I would not judge her to be a dodgy suspicious character because of her enthusiastic, warm welcome and her elderly, harmless appearance.
The old soldier’s actions seem to be very friendly and helpful in “A Terribly Strange Bed” and he asks for nothing while giving and offering advice and drinks for the young man. This makes the old soldier seem very genuine and thoughtful towards the young man. The old soldier was supporting the young man at first and when he “broke the bank” the old soldier helps the young man secure his money while picking up every last coin and giving him advice all along. Then the old soldier asks the young man to share a bottle of champagne with him, which he accepts. The old soldier forces many more glasses towards the young man who drinks them all.
Then without a hint he gets the young man coffee and more advice but this time on a lower tone of voice. The old soldier tells the young man to go home swiftly but then comes up with all manner of excuses to why the young man shouldn’t go home. Eventually says that he should stay at the gambling house and even makes it out that he stay’s there and that the accommodation is very good. All these actions are calculated to be evil because each of the old soldier’s actions makes the young man view him positively and therefor easier to manipulate because he is less likely to become suspicious.
The Land lady’s actions seem odd because of the way she says things and replies to Billy as if she can read his mind. Examples of this include “I saw the notice in the window,’ he said, holding himself back ‘Yes I know’ ‘I was wondering about a room. ‘ ‘It’s all ready for you, my dear, she said”. She continues using words and phrases similar to this throughout the story, which makes you think she’s weird, and a bit scary but still very thoughtful and friendly at the same time.
She can appear at times to be very intelligent by the way she changes subjects at funny moments and cuts Billy off when he might be guessing what her thoughts and intentions may be. The narrator of ‘A Terribly Strange Bed’ spells out exactly that the old soldier has been very involved in the attempted crime. He informs us that the old soldier is the master of the gambling house and would have probably meant he was the person who devised the plan to kill and steal from the winners of his house. The old soldier is not operating on his own though.
It is told that the croupier and the woman who had made and drugged the young man’s coffee were all in on the plan. The old soldier is punished for his attempted crime for being ‘sent to the galleys’. In ‘The Landlady’, although the author only suggests what the landlady is going to do. We piece together the clues for ourselves, and the writer never spells out exactly what happens and the story finishes before we can witness the result of any crime being committed. In my opinion I think that the intended murder in ‘A Terribly Strange Bed’ was the worst crime because it was evil, very well planned and had the man very convinced.
If it hadn’t been for his coffee being drugged too strongly, and his quick and conscious thinking, he would have been dead for sure. The victim in ‘A Terribly Strange Bed’ appealed to me the most because of his reckless behaviour and exciting character. I think that the villains in both stories and both very good in different ways but the old soldier character has to be the best because of his intelligent and cunning plan, convincing advice and his appearance is of a classic ‘bad’ guy.
The landlady was also a good villain because of her strange comments and weird behaviour. Out of the two stories I prefer ‘A Terribly Strange Bed’ because I like the ‘mystery’ approach to the story line and the complicated and well devised plans. I also like the wording and the old-style language that the story is written in. The exciting, quick and young reckless attitude that the story implies appeals to me more than the more subtle, calm, mysterious, and strange attitude that is brought forward in ‘The Landlady’.