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Tone in The Old Nurse's Story

Creepy and Instructional: The overall tone of the story is spooky, drawing readers and listeners in with the mystery of what happened at the Furnivall manor. As eerie happenings and clues to the family’s history are revealed, the danger faced by Hester and Rosamond becomes greater and more foreboding. Though readers know from the outset that the duo escape unscathed, the exact nature of the Furnivall house is what drives curious readers forward. By the end of the story, it becomes clear that the old nurse is doing more than simply recounting this tale to scare the children: she uses proverbs and ends on an unambiguous lesson, using the spooky atmosphere to capture her audience’s attention.

Tone Examples in The Old Nurse's Story:

The Old Nurse's Story

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"the great bronze chandelier seemed all alight, though the hall was dim, and that a fire was blazing in the vast hearth-place, though it gave no heat..."   (The Old Nurse's Story)

Notice how some things are eerily silent and incongruous with Hester’s senses: though the chandelier seems lit, there is no light coming from it, and although there appears to be a fire, the hall remains chilly. This not only adds to the ghostly, scary tone of the passage but also it suggests that Hester and the others are experiencing a situation or memory related to the ghostly child, who was also unable to make a sound.

"'Pride will have a fall;'..."   (The Old Nurse's Story)

This is a proverb, a short statement intended to instruct or advise. It comes from the biblical book of Proverbs (16:18). It means that someone who is overconfident in her abilities is likely to fail eventually, either due to inexperience or underestimation. Because both Maude and Grace are prideful, they will likely make mistakes during the story. Hester’s repeated use of proverbs also contributes to the instructional tone of the story.

"with the dark wound on its right shoulder..."   (The Old Nurse's Story)

This observation is sinister, suggesting that violence had been committed against the ghostly child. However, the details of the injury remain unknown, increasing suspense as readers wonder how Rosamond and Hester will escape the danger surrounding them.

"I had heard no sound of little battering hands upon the windowglass, although the phantom child had seemed to put forth all its force; and, although I had seen it wail and cry, no faintest touch of sound had fallen upon my ears...."   (The Old Nurse's Story)

If the otherworldly child crying to be let in weren’t enough, then the fact that she appears to be totally silent and unable to interact with the world ought to convey a menacing tone. Hester also seems to accept that the child is a ghost, calling her a “phantom”—another word for a ghost.

"but Miss Furnivall kept shrieking out, 'Oh, have mercy! Wilt Thou never forgive! It is many a long year ago——'..."   (The Old Nurse's Story)

Miss Furnivall’s dramatic reaction—the first display of sincere emotion we have seen from her or Mrs. Stark—is startling. Because Miss Furnivall seems genuinely afraid of the child, readers begin to suspect that she might know more than she’s saying about the cause of the supernatural happenings. This increases the suspense of the scene and greatly heightens the pervading sense of danger, and gives credibility to Rosamond’s version of events. Readers will likely begin to suspect that the supernatural events have something to do with the household’s history based on her outburst.

"if you had had a little girl to go hand-in-hand with you up the hill, don't you think the footprints would have gone along with yours?'..."   (The Old Nurse's Story)

Though the organ’s music defies rational explanation, Hester doesn’t believe Rosamond’s account of being led outside by another girl since there’s only one set of footprints outside. This shows that Hester isn’t completely convinced that there’s anything supernatural going on. Also, this deepens the mystery of the manor, creating a tone of suspense and intrigue as readers wonder what is causing the mysterious events in the house.

"I saw it was all broken and destroyed inside, though it looked so brave and fine..."   (The Old Nurse's Story)

The eeriness of the manor is intensified here. Although the organ looks beautiful on the outside, on the inside it is completely nonfunctional. It shouldn’t be able to make any noise, and yet Hester and the servants have definitely heard its music on late nights. The organ’s condition suggests a supernatural explanation rather than a rational one.

"I saw Dorothy look at him very fearfully, and Bessy, the kitchen-maid, said something beneath her breath, and went quite white...."   (The Old Nurse's Story)

Notice the servants’ reactions to Hester questioning the sound of late-night organ music. Their reactions are telling: although they refuse to give specifics and dismiss Hester’s uncomfortable question, it is clear that something frightens them. This only deepens Hester’s—and the readers’—curiosity.

"I was sometimes almost certain that I heard a noise as if someone was playing on the great organ in the hall...."   (The Old Nurse's Story)

The mystery of the manor is deepening: just as there are blocked-off portions of the estate, there is also the sound of organ music late at night. Though there may be a rational explanation for this phenomena—perhaps Hester is mistaking the sounds of the wind and wilderness for music—its presence still contributes to the manor’s otherworldly, spooky atmosphere.

"all, except the east wing, which was never opened, and whither we never thought of going. ..."   (The Old Nurse's Story)

The mysterious nature of the east wing and why it’s closed create an atmosphere of curiosity in readers (and Hester’s listeners), contributing to the sense that the manor and family history are full of secrets that some would prefer to remain buried. Out of respect for propriety, Hester and Rosamond refrain from attempting to find out more about the strange east wing.

"for I began to think I should be lost in that wilderness of a house...."   (The Old Nurse's Story)

The house, which ought to be a place of warmth and civilization’s comforts, is instead equated with the surrounding wilderness. It is a place of disorientation and danger rather than a refuge. Such details contribute to a foreboding tone.

"we saw a great and stately house, with many trees close around it, so close that in some places their branches dragged against the walls when the wind blew; and some hung broken down; for no one seemed to take much charge of the place;..."   (The Old Nurse's Story)

The setting of this tale is appropriately for a Gothic tale: the landscape is unkempt, which contributes to a feeling of neglect overtaking a once-great home. The lack of care for the house also creates a sense of isolation, which adds to the overall tone of eeriness.

"You know, my dears, that your mother was an orphan..."   (The Old Nurse's Story)

The opening lines of this story establish the scene: the elderly nurse of the title is going to tell a story to a group of children about their mother. This removes some of the suspense from the story: readers know from the onset that Rosamond and the nurse outlive or escape whatever perils they might face, so suspense must be created in other ways. This is also an example of a frame story, in which a character tells a story within the text itself.

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