Romantic love does not feature prominently until the second half of The Little Stranger, when it becomes the central focus of the novel. For much of the story, Dr. Faraday does not express a romantic interest in Caroline Ayers. In fact, in the first half of the novel, he does quite the opposite. Faraday regularly calls Caroline a “plain” woman and appears more interested in her mother, Mrs. Ayers, if anything. However, when Faraday attends a dance with Caroline, someone makes a joke suggesting they are romantically involved. From this moment forward, Faraday pursues Caroline romantically and eventually asks her for her hand in marriage.
However, there is reason to question whether Faraday’s pursuit of Caroline is as innocent as it seems. As Caroline herself points out toward the end of the book, Faraday seems more interested in Hundreds Hall, her manor home, than he is in her. There is a good deal of evidence that suggests Caroline is correct. For instance, Faraday repeatedly urges Caroline to marry him as soon as possible, despite her discomfort. He also discourages Caroline from selling Hundreds, though he doesn’t explain why. Overall, Faraday shows a complete disregard for Caroline’s feelings and only worries about his desires. Even after Caroline’s death, Faraday still finds himself going back to Hundreds Hall to wander the empty halls on his own. Though Faraday’s attachment to Hundreds is never fully explained, it is reasonably clear that he cares more for the property than for Caroline.
Although Faraday’s pursuit of Caroline is manipulative, it appears as though Faraday does not consciously realize what he is doing. In his discussion on the paranormal with Seeley and Caroline, Faraday learns that paranormal occurrences are the result of an overwhelmed unconscious mind. At the end of the novel, while Faraday wanders around Hundreds on his own, he thinks he senses an evil presence in the home. However, when he turns around to look, all he sees is his reflection. This moment suggests that Faraday is responsible for the evil in Hundreds, which spawns from his unconscious desires. Therefore, the novel suggests that Faraday’s manipulation is two-fold; though he does manipulate Caroline, he also spends the entire novel manipulating himself—and, perhaps, the reader as well.
Desire, the Unconscious, and Manipulation ThemeTracker
Desire, the Unconscious, and Manipulation Quotes in The Little Stranger
I first saw Hundreds Hall when I was ten years old. It was the summer after the war, and the Ayreses still had most of their money then, were still big people in the district. The event was an Empire Day fête: I stood with a line of other village children making a Boy Scout salute while Mrs. Ayres and the Colonel went past us, handing out commemorative medals; afterwards we sat to tea with our parents at long tables on what I suppose was the south lawn.
The road we had taken, too, was one I remembered going up and down as a boy at just about this time of year—carrying out the midday ‘snap’ of bread and cheese to my mother’s brothers as they helped with the Hundreds harvest. No doubt those men would have been very tickled to think that, thirty years on, a qualified doctor, I would be driving up that same road in my own car with the squire’s daughter at my side. But I felt overcome suddenly with an absurd sense of gaucheness, and falseness—as if, had my plain labourer uncles actually appeared before me now, they would have seen me for the fraud I was, and laughed at me.
Mrs. Ayres informed her that Roderick had gone away out of the county ‘to stay with friends’: that was the story she put about, and if anyone locally asked me about it I said only that, having seen him after the fire, I’d advised him to take himself off on a holiday for the good of his lungs. At the very same time I was taking the contradictory line of trying to play the fire down. I didn’t want the Ayreses to come under any sort of special scrutiny, and even to people like the Desmonds and the Rossiters, who knew the family well, I told a mixture of lies and half-truths, hoping to steer them away from the facts. I am not naturally a duplicitous man, and the strain of warding off gossip was at times a tiring one.
To think that all this time people had been watching us, speculating—rubbing their hands—! It made me feel fooled, somehow; it made me feel exposed. A part of my upset, I’m sorry to say, was simple embarrassment, a basic masculine reluctance to have my name romantically linked with that of a notoriously plain girl. Part of it was shame, at discovering I felt this. A contradictory part, too, was pride: for why the hell shouldn’t I—I asked myself—bring Caroline Ayres along to a party, if I chose to? Why the hell shouldn’t I dance with the squire’s daughter, if the squire’s daughter wanted to dance with me?
‘Unconscious parts, so strong or so troubled they can take on a life of their own.’ She showed me a page. ‘Look. Here’s a man in England, anxious, wanting to speak to his friend—appearing to the woman and her companion, at exactly that moment, in an hotel room in Cairo! Appearing as his own ghost! Here’s a woman, at night, hearing a fluttering bird—just like Mother! Then she sees her husband, who’s in America, standing there before her; later she finds out he’s dead! The book says, with some sorts of people, when they’re unhappy or troubled, or they want something badly—Sometimes they don’t even know it’s happening. Something . . . breaks away from them. And what I can’t stop thinking is—I keep thinking back to those telephone calls. Suppose it’s Roddie, all of it?’
I shook my head. ‘This is a weirder thing even than hysteria. It’s as if—well, as if something’s slowly sucking the life out of the whole family.’
‘Something is,’ he said, with another bark of laughter. ‘It’s called a Labour Government. The Ayreses’ problem—don’t you think?—is that they can’t, or won’t, adapt. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve a lot of sympathy for them. But what’s left for an old family like that in England nowadays? Class-wise, they’ve had their chips. Nerve-wise, perhaps they’ve run their course.’
‘The subliminal mind has many dark, unhappy corners, after all. Imagine something loosening itself from one of those corners. Let’s call it a – a germ. And let’s say conditions prove right for that germ to develop – to grow, like a child in the womb. What would this little stranger grow into? A sort of shadow-self, perhaps a Caliban, a Mr. Hyde. A creature motivated by all the nasty impulses and hungers the conscious mind had hoped to keep hidden away: things like envy, and malice, and frustration . . .’
But I barely heard it. He’d started me thinking, and the beat of my thoughts, like the ticking arm of a metronome, would not be stilled. It was all nonsense; I knew it was nonsense. Every ordinary thing around me worked against it. The fire was crackling in the grate. The children still thundered on the staircase. The whisky was fragrant in the glass . . . But the night was dark at the window, too, and a few miles away through the wintry darkness stood Hundreds Hall, where things were different. Could what he had suggested have any truth to it? Could there be something loose in that house, some sort of ravenous frustrated energy, with Caroline at its heart?
‘Oh, no, I haven’t seen her yet. I feel her.’
‘You feel her.’
‘I feel her, watching. I feel her eyes. They must be her eyes, mustn’t they? Her gaze is so strong, her eyes are like fingers; they can touch. They can press and pinch.’
‘Do you, really?’ she asked me. ‘Or is it the house you want?’
The question stunned me, and I couldn’t answer. She went on quietly, ‘A week ago you told me you were in love with me. Can you truly say you would feel the same, if Hundreds weren’t my home? You’ve had the idea, haven’t you, that you and I could live here as husband and wife. The squire and his lady . . . But this house doesn’t want me. I don’t want it. I hate this house!’
She was like a stranger to me. I said, ‘How can you say these terrible things? After all I’ve done, for you, for your family?’
‘You think I should repay you, by marrying you? Is that what you think marriage is—a kind of payment?’
And in the slumber I seemed to leave the car, and to press on to Hundreds: I saw myself doing it, with all the hectic, unnatural clarity with which I’d been recalling the dash to the hospital a little while before. I saw myself cross the silvered landscape and pass like smoke through the Hundreds gate. I saw myself start along the Hundreds drive.
But there I grew panicked and confused—for the drive was changed, was queer and wrong, was impossibly lengthy and tangled with, at the end of it, nothing but darkness.
She had called out: ‘You.’ […] She called it as if she had seen someone she knew, sir, but as though she was afraid of them. Mortal afraid. And after that I heard her running. She came running back towards the stairs. I got out of bed, and went over to the door, and quickly opened it. And that’s when I saw her falling.
Then across that image there came another: the Hundreds landing, lit bright by the moon. And once again I seemed to see Caroline, making her sure-footed way along it. I saw her doubtfully mounting the stairs, as if drawn upwards by a familiar voice; I saw her advance into the darkness, not quite certain of what was before her. Then I saw her face—saw it as vividly as the faces all around me. I saw recognition, and understanding, and horror, in her expression. Just for a moment—as if it were there, in the silvered surface of her moonlit eye—I even seemed to catch the outline of some shadowy, dreadful thing—
If Hundreds Hall is haunted, however, its ghost doesn’t show itself to me. For I’ll turn, and am disappointed – realising that what I am looking at is only a cracked window-pane, and that the face gazing distortedly from it, baffled and longing, is my own.