"The Old Nurse's Tale"
What is added to this story by casting it as the narrative of a nursemaid to her charges? By the fact that part of the story was narrated to her by yet another servant? Is the old nurse a credible narrator?
How may the fact that the child presented is the auditors’ now-dead mother, herself an orphan, have affected the emotion of the tale?
What effect is created by the description of the death of Miss Rosamond's parents and her journey to Northumberland? What is her new home like? What kind of social group forms around the child?
What are some of the strange elements of the new home? How is suspense gradually created?
At what point does the reader begin to become alarmed? How do we know that we are hearing of supernatural events?
What is added to the story by descriptions of the manor’s architecture and surroundings? Of the weather?
What class attitudes or stereotypes seem to be revealed in this story? What does it seem to indicate about the lives of eighteenth century aristocratic women in the provinces?
What tale of the past does Dorothy tell the narrator? What had been the role of Lord Furnivall and Grace in the deaths of Maud and the latter’s child? Is there anything symbolic in the account of the Maud and the little girl’s death?
Why is old Miss Furnivall so troubled by the ghostly child’s attempt to lure away her young relative?
What climactic events end the story? What is the relationship between the reappearance of the young Grace Furnivall and old Miss Furnivall’s death?
Which of the features of this story do you think are typical of many ghost stories, and which may be unusual?
Is the story well told? On what basis do you think this? Are we expected to believe it at the most literal level?
Does the story have a moral? If so, is it a clear or simple one? Has a revelation of her past caused the old woman’s death, or does the fact that she is dying prompt the revelation?
Gaskell wrote this story when asked by Charles Dickens to write a “ghost story” for his magazine Household Words, to appear in its first Christmas issue. Would this have been a suitable story for Christmas, a season associated with themes of reconciliation and love? What do you think may have been Gaskell’s motive in choosing such a disturbing/unforgiving story for this season?
If you have read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, another Christmas story for Household Words, do you see similarities? Which came first?
"Lois the Witch"
1. This tale was written in 1859, seven years after the publication of The Old Nurse's Tale and Other Stories in 1852. How would you compare the tone of this tale with that of "The Old Nurse's Tale"?
2. Do you see any potential autobiographical themes in the tale? Might anything in Gaskell's experience have prompted the treatment of so dark a subject?
3. What were Gaskell's own religious views? What would she likely have believed about the practice of condemning witches? (a form of persecution against helpless and somewhat marginalized women)
4. What initial situation opens the novella? What causes the reader to feel sympathy for Lois' plight? Would this motif have appealed to English readers?
5. What irony is embedded in the name of the ship which carries Lois to the New World? Are other names used in the tale ironic or symbolic?
6. What do we learn about Lois' character? (care for graves of parents and servant; sadness)
7. What is notable about her mother's final words? Does the narrator find them lacking? Heedless? Ominous?
8. Why can't Lois marry Hugh Lucy? What silent judgment seems to be made at this point?
9. What role does Captain Holdeness play in the opening section? What are his views of religion? Of the Puritans?
10. On arrival, what news do the voyagers learn about the condition of the Massachusetts Bay Colony? What has been its recent political history, and what bearings may this have on the events of the plot?
11. What are some purposes served by the scene in which Lois and Captain Holdernesse stay with the Widow Smith? What are some features of the household? Of their first feast? (145, different foods, long prayer)
12. What tales are told of the Indians and French pirates? What do you make of the tale of the desperate woman and the colonists who make no attempt to help her? (147)
13. What is Elder Hawkins response to this narration? To the Indians? (147-48) What alternate view does Captain Holdernesse present? (148)
14. What experience has Lois had with witches? What seems the significance of the memory? What had been Lois' response to the desperate witch, and to her prophecy? (pity, fear) What purpose does this incident serve in the tale? (149)
15. What seem ominous about Elder Hawkins' response to the story? In what way does Captain Holdernesse defend Lois? (150)
16. What is added to the tale by the description of the roads and forests on the way to Salem?
17. How are Lois and the Captain welcomed at the Hickson home? What seems shown by Grace's initial words and Lois' response? (153) What has motivated Grace's dislike for her husband's relatives?
18. How does Manasseh intervene in the situation? What is her uncle's response to her arrival? (155) Grace's reaction to his sorrow at his only surviving sister's death? (155, jealous of her husband's memories of home), offended at Lois' resentment at her statement that the latter's mother's death was God's will (156). What does Grace maintain in defence of her own godliness? (156)
19. What do we first learn of Manasseh's character, habits and prayer? (157)
20. What fears are suggested by the Captain's parting? (157) How are his words premonitory?
21. At this point of the story, what does the reader expect will happen? Is this a good place to end a part of a series?
22. In part II, what difficulties does Lois experience in her new home? How is she treated by each of the family members--her uncle, aunt, Manasseh, Faith and Prudence, and Nattee?
23. In particular, what is Manasseh's attitude toward her?
24. What views of Native Americans are held by the family? How is Nattee portrayed?
25. What kinds of legends are circulated in the town? (all bad)
26. What kind of narrative intrusion does the author insert at this point, and why?
27. What is Lois' relationship with Faith? What motivates her to tell Faith stories and superstitions she has heard in England, and with what result? (Prudence calls Lois a witch)
28. How do the household's young women respond to Pastor Tappau's prayers, and from what motives?
29. How can we tell the narrator's point of view? Are there elements of humor or irony in the tale?
30. What is the effect of Ralph's death on Lois' situation?
31. What is the nature of Manasseh's proposals? Lois' reasons for not wishing to marry him?
32. Why will he not accept her refusal or the fact that she has a prior attachment?
33. What is Grace Hickson's view of this possible alliance? Why does she come to accept her son's attachment to Lois?
34. What effect is created by the return of Pastor Nolan to the village? His visit to the Hickson home?
35. What do we learn about Manasseh's past emotional life? What commentary does the narrator make at this point about the family's behavior?
36. What causes an outbreak of terror among the inhabitants? By what means does the narrator undercut the credibility of those who recount alleged demonic events?
36. How do members of the community respond to Pastor Tappau's charges? Is it significant that even Pastor Nolan is frightened? How do the family members respond?
37. At the end of section II, what do readers expect will happen?
What are some themes of this tale? (the effects of mass hysteria on individuals; the cruel effects of actions prompted by fear)
Do you find parallels between this and other Gaskell stories you have read? Other Victorian tales? What is distinctive about this story?
Is there an advantage to the division of this tale into three parts? Is the tale the right length for its content?
What may be some advantages in the use of the "gothic tale" or ghost story as a form?
Page numbers for "Lois the Witch" are from the Penguin edition of Gothic Tales, 2000.
"The Manchester Man"
What is the purpose of emphasizing that the “Manchester Marriage” was made in this particular city? What types of Mancunian attitudes and practices does the narrator wish to stress?
Is the story “about” Mr. Ockenshaw, his wife, or something else entirely?
How is Alice described? What womanly virtues does she possess, and why do you think the narrator stresses these?
Are we intended to applaud the quiet, womanly virtues, or to pity Alice for the social expectations which limit her roles?
What had been her past, and the qualities attributed to her former husband?
How is Mr. Ockenshaw’s courtship described? How are we expected to react?
What aspects of parenting are emphasized? Is it important that the daughter is unable to walk?
What role is served by the servant Norah? What are her motives for concealing the return of Frank Wilson?
Do the story’s men and women mostly inhabit separate worlds? Who finally resolves the matter of the missing brooch?
How effective are the police in dealing with a crime? (not able to imagine other options) Is the justice system biased in assuming that the servant was implicated in a theft?
What do you make of the story’s ending? Why does Mr. Ockenshaw grieve over the fate of Frank Wilson?
What can be learned from his grief? Does it resolve some of the story’s conflicts?
Do you find the story unified in structure and emphasis?
What does the story assume about the morality of concealing from Alice knowledge of the fate of her former husband? Might there be other views on this concealment?
What seems to be the meaning/intent of this story?