The Little Stranger (2018) screenplay by Lucinda Coxon, based on the 2009 novel by Sarah Waters, directed by Lenny Abrahamson.

I’ve read a few of Sarah Walter’s books, but, as usual, with holes in my memories, I can’t remember much about them. Her other books and translation to screen include Tipping the Velvet (1998), Affinity (1999), and Fingersmith (2002).  I haven’t read Affinity.  Waters is celebrated for her ability to weave intricate tales and set against historical backdrops which was part of her Ph.D. studies. She explores themes of identity, lesbian desire, and societal norms. The Little Stranger was on my reading list. Watching the film brought much of what I’d forgotten back again. Both were (and are) terrific.


Gothic fiction is a literary genre known for its elements of mystery, horror, and the supernatural. Anything with Dracula, Frankenstein, or Werewolves is based on Gothic fiction conventions. It often features gloomy settings, eerie atmospheres, and melodramatic narratives. Originally, it was regarded as novels for middle-class women, while books such as Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White, were regarded as more suitable for men. Key components include haunted mansions, unexplainable occurrences, and heightened emotions, creating an unsettling and mysterious ambiance.

In The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters uses Gothic fiction as a framework while departing from traditional features.

  1. Ambiguous Supernatural Elements:
    • Traditional Gothic: Gothic fiction commonly embraces supernatural elements without resolution. Ghosts and paranormal occurrences are left unexplained, heightening the sense of mystery.
    • Waters’ Departure: Waters introduces supernatural elements but takes a departure by providing alternative explanations. The ambiguity challenges the reader’s perception, blurring the line between the supernatural and psychological.
  2. Psychological Complexity:
    • Traditional Gothic: Characters in Gothic fiction often embody archetypes, with their motivations and actions reflecting broader themes. The psychological depth of characters is sometimes sacrificed for the sake of the overarching atmosphere.
    • Waters’ Departure: Waters delves into psychological complexity, intricately crafting characters like Dr. Faraday with nuanced motivations and internal struggles. The haunted mansion, Hundreds Hall, becomes a stage for exploring the characters’ psyches, intertwining the supernatural with intricate human emotions.
  3. Social Realism and Historical Context:
    • Traditional Gothic: While Gothic fiction typically explores societal anxieties, it often does so in allegorical or fantastical settings, detached from specific historical realities.
    • Waters’ Departure: Waters grounds her narrative in post-war England, infusing The Little Stranger with elements of social realism. The class tensions and societal shifts mirror the historical context, providing a nuanced layer that departs from the conventional Gothic landscape.
  4. Narrative Unreliability:
    • Traditional Gothic: Gothic narratives may incorporate unreliable narrators, contributing to the sense of mystery and suspense.
    • Waters’ Departure: Waters goes beyond a traditional unreliable narrator by crafting a narrative that questions the sanity of Dr. Faraday. The unreliability extends to the readers, inviting them to critically examine the events and the narrator’s interpretations.

 The Little Stranger demonstrates Sarah Waters’ navigation of Gothic fiction while departing from certain conventions. Her infusion of psychological complexity, historical grounding, and narrative ambiguity challenges the boundaries of the genre. Waters’ departure from traditional Gothic elements enriches the narrative, offering readers a blend of supernatural intrigue and nuanced character exploration.

Class Differences

While The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters contains Gothic elements, it distinctly places class differences at the forefront of its narrative. Here are several ways in which the novel is more dependent on class distinctions than traditional Gothic fiction:

  1. Setting as a Symbol of Decline:
    • Class Emphasis: The decay of Hundreds Hall, the central setting, mirrors the decline of the Ayres family’s social status. The mansion becomes a potent symbol of the aristocratic class losing its former glory. Clearly shown by the house party Dr. Gleason attended when a boy and the current state of the house and grounds. But also by Roderick Ayres’s outbursts about death taxes and Dr. Gleason being one of them.
  2. Economic Struggles:
    • Class Emphasis: The Ayres family’s economic struggles contribute significantly to the narrative. The declining financial status of the family forces them to make compromises and adaptations, emphasizing the impact of class on their lives.
  3. Servant-Employer Dynamics:
    • Class Emphasis: The interactions between the Ayres family and their servants highlight the rigid class distinctions of the time. The employment relationship is steeped in traditional hierarchies, illustrating the challenges and tensions arising from class differences.
  4. Dr. Faraday’s Ambitions:
    • Class Emphasis: Dr. Faraday, though a central character, is from a lower social class. His aspirations to rise above his station are palpable throughout the novel. The narrative explores the complexities and challenges of upward mobility, highlighting the pervasive impact of class on individual destinies.
  5. Tensions and Resentments:
    • Class Emphasis: Tensions between the Ayres family and the local community underscore the social disparities. The resentment and disapproval from the community towards the declining aristocracy exemplify the palpable class divisions in post-war England.
  6. Haunted by the Past:
    • Class Emphasis: The ghostly occurrences in Hundreds Hall can be interpreted as manifestations of the haunting effects of the past, including the class system. The Ayres family is haunted not only by supernatural entities but also by the ghost of their former status and wealth. Shown dramatically by the mauling of the parvenu American’s little girl.  
  7. Narrative Lens and Perceptions:
    • Class Emphasis: Dr. Faraday’s narrative perspective is shaped by his class background, influencing his perceptions of the Ayres family. His observations and judgments often reflect the societal attitudes prevalent during the era, providing insight into the impact of class on interpersonal dynamics.
  8. Post-War Social Changes:
    • Class Emphasis: The novel is set against the backdrop of post-war England, a period marked by social shifts. The exploration of class differences becomes a lens through which Waters examines the changing landscape and challenges faced by the aristocracy.

In The Little Stranger, class differences transcend mere background elements and become integral to the narrative’s fabric. The novel navigates the intricacies of a society in flux, where the rigid class structures of the past collide with the realities of a changing world.

Confirmation Bias Unveiled:

Confirmation bias, a cognitive phenomenon, occurs when individuals selectively seek, interpret, and remember information that aligns with their pre-existing beliefs. This psychological tendency often leads to the reinforcement of existing opinions, ignoring contradictory evidence.

Modern Case Studies:

Social Media Echo Chambers: In the age of social media, confirmation bias thrives within echo chambers. Individuals follow, engage with, and consume content that reaffirms their existing views. This insular digital environment intensifies confirmation bias, limiting exposure to diverse perspectives.

Political Polarisation: Confirmation bias is clearly shown in political discourse, where individuals gravitate towards news sources that align with their political ideologies. (See for example the moron’s moron Donald Trump and his cult followers.) This selective exposure reinforces existing beliefs and contributes to the widening gap between opposing viewpoints.

Health and Wellness Trends: In the realm of health and wellness, confirmation bias can influence choices related to diets, alternative therapies, or lifestyle changes. People often seek information that supports their desired outcome, overlooking contradictory evidence and potentially compromising their well-being.

Confirmation Bias and Hauntings: Interpreting the Supernatural:

The Little Stranger explores the psychological toll of haunting experiences on the Ayres family and the possible effects of post-traumatic-stress disorder (which didn’t exist then). Dr. Faraday’s interactions with the family unfold against the backdrop of Hundreds Hall’s mysterious occurrences. Confirmation bias, in this context, mirrors the characters’ tendency to interpret events through the lens of their preconceived beliefs.

Psychological Tensions and Beliefs:

As the Ayres family grapples with supernatural phenomena, confirmation bias plays a role in shaping their perceptions. Each family member’s unique beliefs and traumas contribute to the unfolding narrative. The film masterfully intertwines psychological tensions with supernatural elements, blurring the lines between reality and perception.

Audience’s Lens:

For the viewer (or reader), confirmation bias can influence the interpretation of the film (or book). Viewers lean towards explanations that align with their preconceived notions about hauntings or the psychological thriller genre. The haunting at Hundreds Hall becomes a canvas onto which individual beliefs and biases are projected.

The Little Stranger offers an exploration of confirmation bias within the context of hauntings. The characters’ interpretations, shaped by their personal histories, resonate with the broader theme of how biases can influence our understanding of the supernatural. The film challenges us to question our biases and confront our shadow self within the narrative. A reminder, the true ghosts are the ones we bring with us.