Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.
The Little Stranger: Introduction
A concise biography of Sarah Waters plus historical and literary context for The Little Stranger.
The Little Stranger: Plot Summary
A quick-reference summary: The Little Stranger on a single page.
The Little Stranger: Detailed Summary & Analysis
In-depth summary and analysis of every chapter of The Little Stranger. Visual theme-tracking, too.
The Little Stranger: Themes
Explanations, analysis, and visualizations of The Little Stranger's themes.
The Little Stranger: Quotes
The Little Stranger's important quotes, sortable by theme, character, or chapter.
The Little Stranger: Characters
Description, analysis, and timelines for The Little Stranger's characters.
The Little Stranger: Symbols
Explanations of The Little Stranger's symbols, and tracking of where they appear.
The Little Stranger: Theme Wheel
An interactive data visualization of The Little Stranger's plot and themes.
Brief Biography of Sarah Waters
Sarah Waters is a Welsh-born novelist who moved to Middlesbrough, England when she was a young girl. Her father was an engineer, and her mother was a housewife. Waters casually wrote fiction as a child but did not consider writing as an occupation until much later in life. After completing grammar school, Waters went to college to study English. Waters received her BA from the University of Kent, an MA from Lancaster University, and, finally, a PhD from Queen Mary, University of London. After college, while working as an academic, Waters began working on her first novel, Tipping the Velvet. Virago Press picked up Tipping the Velvet and published it in 1998. Tipping the Velvet is a romantic picaresque novel that explores gender and sexuality. Waters identifies as a lesbian and many of her novels feature gay and lesbian characters and themes. In fact, The Little Stranger, Waters’s fifth novel, is her first work to deviate from this pattern. The Little Stranger is likely Waters’s best-known work, largely because of its 2018 film adaptation. Following the publication of The Little Stranger in 2009, Waters wrote her most recent novel, The Paying Guests, which came out in 2014. Throughout her career, critics have praised Waters’s novels, and in 2019 she was awarded Order of the British Empire for services to literature. Today, Waters lives in London where she continues to write.
Historical Context of The Little Stranger
The Little Stranger takes place in England during the 1940s, in the years following World War II. The late 1940s were a time of great social and political change in England. In 1945, Labour party leader Clement Attlee became Prime Minister of England and introduced sweeping social and economic changes. Attlee’s government was responsible for passing the National Insurance Act and the National Assistance Act, and it established the National Health Service. All of these changes benefited lower-class people, often at the expense of the higher classes. The Ayers family witnesses all of these changes and, with them, a collapse of their wealth and power. Although these sweeping reforms did not bankrupt families such as the Ayerses, they made life more difficult, so the upper classes had to alter their way of living. Of course, many upper-class people did not welcome this change, and some simply refused to give up their former lifestyle. The Ayerses are one such family; they attempt to hang on to their wealth as long as they possibly can. Their slow demise is indicative of the prevailing attitude of upper-class England at the time.
Other Books Related to The Little Stranger
Sarah Waters wrote The Little Stranger in the tradition of the Gothic novel, which starts with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764). Gothic novels often feature Gothic architecture—hence the name—and characters who are haunted (often literally) by the past. Some famous practitioners of the Gothic genre include Nathaniel Hawthorne and Shirley Jackson. However, The Little Stranger’s most obvious predecessor is Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw (1898). The Turn of the Screw is a Gothic novella, which features a manor home that may or may not be haunted. Like The Little Stranger, it is written in the first person and has an unreliable narrator. Both The Turn of the Screw and The Little Stranger are interested in the psychological profile of their respective narrators, and how the reader interprets these novels depends on how much they trust or distrust what they are told. Additionally, one of Sarah Waters’s more recent influences is Hilary Mantel. Although Mantel wrote within many different genres, she, too, dabbled in Gothic literature, as well as domestic dramas. Waters cites two Mantel novels, in particular—Eight Months on Ghazzah Street (1988) and Beyond Black (2005)—as influences for The Little Stranger.
Key Facts about The Little Stranger
- Full Title: The Little Stranger
- When Written: 2006–2009
- When Published: 2009
- Literary Period: Contemporary
- Genre: Gothic Novel
- Setting: Warwickshire, England in the 1940s
- Climax: Caroline Ayers dies under mysterious circumstances. Although her death is officially ruled a suicide, the circumstances of her death suggest she was murdered, perhaps by a paranormal entity.
- Point of View: First Person
Extra Credit for The Little Stranger
Critical Acclaim. The Little Stranger is Waters’s third novel to end up on the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards.
Movie Adaptation. The Little Stranger was adapted into a film in 2018. It was directed by Leonard Abrahamson and starred Domhnall Gleeson as Dr. Faraday.