Any outsider in contemporary British fiction, and indeed fiction in general, is normally significant because of the catalytic role that they usually play within the text. Dr. Faraday of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger is no exception to this rule. However Faraday, in the role of ‘the outsider’ is responsible for a variety of functions and purposes within the novel which will be the focus of this essay.
Faraday’s primary role in the text is the narrator; all of the strange occurrences that happen in Hundreds Hall are told from his perspective. As an ‘outsider’ he never directly witnesses any of the events which means the reader is left with a third hand account of the goings on. However, as the character is not directly involved, he shares the reader’s distance from the happenings meaning he, with the reader, is able to investigate with a reasoned approach.
It is Faraday’s shared scepticism of the ‘supernatural explanation’ for the events that occur at Hundreds Hall that make him a part of the ‘fantastic’ nature of Waters’ novel. A fantastic text in the words of Tzvetan Todorov must:
‘…oblige the reader to consider the world of the characters as a world of living persons and to hesitate between a natural and a supernatural explanation of the events described. Second, this hesitation may also be experienced by a character; thus the reader’s role is so to speak entrusted to a character…’1
The Little Stranger fulfils the criteria of ‘the fantastic’ which is having events that cannot be explained under the laws of reality as we know it. Faraday becomes an extension of the reader in the sense that he deliberates over what has happened in the same manner that they would. Faraday is always searching for the scientific explanation; in the same way that the reader, when presented with this constructed world which resembles their own reality, will try to seek out a rational answer.
Faraday’s influence as the voice of reason is key to both the Ayres family and the reader. As a Doctor, a respected ‘outsider’, his opinion is valued highly, and resultantly he is heavily involved in the decisions the family make. As the lone narrative voice he also exerts a level of control over the reader as he offers his interpretations of events. Faraday’s profession and nature invariably steer him towards a scientific explanation which is why he is always ready to reject any idea of the supernatural. When Roderick comes to him with what he believes to be a ‘vicious presence’2 within the house, Faraday instantly rules out any explanation other than it was ‘horribly clear – that over the past few weeks Rod had been the victim of some powerful hallucinations.3 As the respected ‘outsider’ whom the Ayres value the opinion of, Faraday is able to exert considerable influence over the hall’s inhabitants and in this case ultimately is responsible for Roderick’s exit from Hundreds.
When the idea is put forward by Seeley that the extraordinary happenings in Hundreds is down to ‘some dark germ, some ravenous shadow creature, some ‘little stranger’, spawned from the troubled unconscious of someone connected with the house itself’4 the reader begins to consider that Faraday might be responsible. This creates an obvious problem because Faraday either is unaware that he might be potentially responsible, or is aware and is refraining from telling the reader. As there is no alternative version of events available the reader is hamstrung into either believing Faraday’s versions of events or doubting his reliability as a narrator.
In order to consider Faraday as a suspect, the reader must extricate themselves from his narrative of reasoned investigating and begin to deliberate over what might have happened at Hundreds on their own. When this detachment occurs, which inevitably does happen because Faraday is the only character left at the hall at the end, suspicion does fall upon the narrator who for the duration of the novel had occupied the very role the reader now finds themselves in. Todorov states that the fantastic:
‘…lasts only as long as a certain hesitation: a hesitation common to reader and character, who must decide whether or not what they perceive derives from “reality” as it exists in the common opinion. At the story’s end, the reader makes a decision even if the character does not…’5
It is debatable whether or not the reader makes a decision at the end of The Little Stranger; however it is clear that Faraday is still perplexed. The situation is of course complicated by Faraday becoming a suspect in the ‘fantastical’ occurrences that have gone before. Faraday therefore arguably instead of potentially emerging from the fantastic in the manner the reader is able to do, instead becomes embroiled within the ‘fantastic’ itself.
Part of the reason why Faraday becomes the object of suspicion is because of his desire to own Hundreds and ascend above his class. The text is filled with examples of Faraday’s longing to possess Hundreds; in his very first visit to the hall he steals a plaster acorn. When he is driving away from the hall after attending to Betty he describes the house as ‘lost to me’ when it disappears from view; Waters deliberately uses ‘lost’ as Faraday feels a connection to the house while he is there, a connection that could not ever be fulfilled due to his class.
Faraday’s ultimate goal, whether he realises it or not, is to possess the hall and to become part of the bourgeois. As an outsider he resembles Heathcliffe from Wuthering Heights as he, albeit not as aggressively, accounts for numerous members of the Ayres families’ exit from Hundreds Hall. Faraday is the instigator of Roderick’s committal to a mental institute, he ‘puts down’ Gyp the family dog and he would have accounted for Mrs Ayres also going to an institute had she not died. In the more supernatural tragedies that occur during the hall, with Mrs. Ayres’ death deserving reflection here as well; Faraday definitely merits consideration as being responsible in some way. As the circumstances of their deaths are made intentionally ambiguous by Walters, it is difficult to blame Faraday exclusively; however he certainly plays a part in the downfall of the Ayres family.
As the ‘outsider’ Faraday’s attempts to integrate himself within the hall and the family are ultimately what drives the plot. Once he has established himself as the family doctor and the voice of reason in the house, Faraday, on some level of his psyche, wants more. Once the doctor has figured out that his best chance of living in Hundreds is to marry Caroline, their awkward courtship is the focus of the narrative. Once the option of marrying Caroline is taken away from him, Faraday is left with nothing. Waters leaves this motive unspoken by him as she depicts Caroline’s demise, with Faraday merely remarking that he now goes ‘out there (to Hundreds) whenever my busy timetable will allow’6 as he is now the sole owner of the hall. Waters means for the reader to doubt Faraday and the fact that he is the only one left in the Hall at the end of the novel means suspicion will inevitably fall on him.
To return to my initial hypothesis, Faraday is a catalyst for the suspicious goings on at Hundreds Hall. Whether or not he is directly responsible is another question; nevertheless the ruin of the Ayres family only comes about after he intrudes into their lives. An ‘outsider’ character by their very nature will elicit a change in circumstances as they alter the status quo. Faraday brings to the fore in Hundreds a social change which the Ayres family cannot cope with as well as being responsible on some level for the apparent supernatural forces which haunt the house.
The choice of ‘Dr. Faraday’ as a name is significant in its meaning. A doctor is in some ways always an ‘outsider’ as their independent opinion is always sought. Walter’s never reveals Faraday’s first name, meaning that there is always a forced formality between him and the other characters. The choice of ‘Faraday’ is also interesting as it almost certainly is a reference to Michael Faraday. Michael Faraday was a scientist who was renowned for his work using conductors. By calling the character ‘Faraday’ Walters is likely implying that the doctor is a conductor for all of the supernatural events that occur within Hundreds Hall.
In this case of an ‘outsider’ they virtually have what they want- to be let inside. However, Faraday’s ‘inside’ is superficial. With the Ayres family having been deposed of, he is inside but only on a literal level. Characters like Faraday are always going to remain on the ‘outside’ because of the catalytic effect that they bring with them. In his attempts to integrate into Hundreds Hall Faraday destroys all that was ‘inside’ meaning that even though he has crossed the threshold he remains ‘outside’ and alone.