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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

Broadly, Fairfield tends towards repetition for effect, not only in an immediate context, which produces an echoing sensation that intensifies an aura he is attempting to create, but intermittently throughout his narrative, which acts like the incremental repetition of traditional balladry, serving to advance the narrative and heighten some mood. Another noticeable stylistic element is the prominence of ancient trees and old architecture, which often seem to be imbued with ghosts of the past. He begins “A Century Ago” (1876) with a lengthy description of the old houses that connect him to his past. In “Quick Consumption” (1871) he describes the Dunbar family’s habitation in a way that suggests its animate nature (note also the unrelenting repetition of the word “by”): “. . . gray old building after dark; and it was inhabited by bats and by cobwebs and by hooting owls, and by mildew and by mold and by flitting apparitions, and by soundless feet that walked on its moldering floors, and by goblin faces that looked out from its weird, curtainless windows; and over all brooded, bat-like and terrible, the demon of quick consumption” and, “Its blank, odd, eye-like windows, with the goblin faces in them, have ceased to stare into the night.”

One might guess from the passage above that the word “goblin” is highly favored by Fairfield. In his thinly-disguised autobiographical narrative of becoming a writer in New York (“Timothy Tot: A Prose Story with Poetic Passages,”1872), with flashes back to his childhood and education, Fairfield ties the animism of old trees to the imagery of goblins. “There was one gnarled old oak, in particular, west of the house, that always gave me the impression of a thinly disguised goblin, I being in constant anticipation of seeing it take goblin legs and walk off, leaving neither stump nor other vestige of having stood there.” [p. 133] Fairfield uses the word “goblin” no less than a dozen more times in this article: we have “goblin moons” and “goblin hills and woods” [p. 298], and many variations on “goblin old house” [303, 387, 388, 458, 466].

 Looking at word use and phrase patterns, one can see in his two exhumation narratives the similarities of his description of New England’s vampire tradition. In “Quick Consumption” (1871) he writes: “It is one of those weird old superstitions with which the household literature of New England abounds. It is, that the heart of the dead, dying not, by some strange rapport, feeds upon the vitality of the living—the living being thus actually eaten up of the dead; and weird stories are afloat of the dead having been taken up, and there having been found, still red and warm, in the midst of ghastly rottenness, the hearts of some who have died of quick consumption. Whole families have gone of it, one after another, the dead gnawing and feeding upon the vitality of the living, until, as the last dropped into the grave, the red, warm heart in the coffined corpse, having no living relative upon the vitality of whom to feed, has wasted also and died—died at last in its coffin for want of something upon which to prey.”

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