Readers, thank you for joining this discussion of The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. This week we discuss the significance of the title, the characters and the conclusion. Let's get started!
Who is "the little stranger?" Is it Susan, back from the dead to torment her mother? Is it Doctor Faraday, who first came to Hundreds Hall as a little boy, a stranger to this world of wealth and privilege? Is it Betty, another stranger, a servant to the bewildered members of a declining aristocracy? Or, is it somebody else? Perhaps we are all strangers to one another and, often, to ourselves.
Which character do we feel most sympathy for? Mrs Ayres, desperately clinging to the last vestiges of her status and sanity? Roderick, unable to explain the bizarre events and his behavior even as he struggles to hold on to his inheritance and maintain his property? Caroline, isolated at Hundreds Hall and burdened by financial worries and a family falling apart?
In chapter six, Doctor Faraday comments on the appearance of the family as they huddle around a solitary hearth, dressed in "eccentric" outfits, to keep warm in the damp, dark house: "'Forgive us, Doctor,' said Mrs. Ayres, coming forward as I went in. 'I'm ashamed to think how we must look!' But she said it lightly, and I could tell from her manner that, in fact, she had no idea how truly outlandish she and her children appeared. That made me uneasy somehow, I suppose I was seeing them all, as I had seen the house, as a stranger might."
Finally, what is our impression of the good doctor? Why are we not told his first name? By thinking of him throughout the book as Doctor Faraday, he remains remote and difficult to relate to. Are we able to trust him? We see Hundreds Hall and its inhabitants through his eyes and words. However, is he a reliable narrator? Readers interested in the doctor may want to check out another intriguing doctor-narrator in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie.
Love is often complicated. Do we understand the attraction between Doctor Faraday and Caroline? Is he in love with her or dazzled by all that she represents—the class, status and place in society he could never achieve as a professional of working class background struggling to become solidly middle class? Is Caroline attracted to him or to what he initially represents to her—escape from the burden of her inheritance? Weakened by her struggles and her mother's suicide, she goes along with his plans until two weeks before the wedding and then breaks up with him: "... But I don't think one should marry out of gratitude, do you?" Do we sympathize with Caroline? Do we understand her desire to sell Hundreds, leave and make a clean break with her past? What do we feel at her tragic ending?
Who kills Caroline? The evil spirit haunting Hundreds Hall and vicitmizing the family? Susan's ghost? Or, somebody else? We can speculate and support our theories as I leave you with these passages to ponder upon and draw your own conclusions:
"The subliminal mind has many dark, unhappy corners ... " Seely tells Faraday in chapter eleven.
"And I think of Caroline. I think of Caroline, in the moments before she died, advancing across the moonlit landing. I think of her crying out: You!"
And the final paragraph and concluding lines of the book: " ... realising that what I am looking at is only a cracked window-pane, and the face gazing distortedly from it, baffled and longing, is my own."
Once again, thank you for joining the discussion. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I'm looking forward to The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, which, according to her website, is scheduled for publication fall 2014!