Bram Stoker’s The Judge’s House is a traditionally gothic mystery story. Malcolm Malcolmson “feared complete rural isolation” because of “its charms,” which suggests that he is not a character afraid of the loneliness of being secluded or the strange happenings that often accompanied loneliness. This means that he is unlikely to leave if strange events take place, giving an early suggestion of his stubbornness against any dissuasion, and therefore a story that is likely to have more suspense in, as he is obviously going to stay put if things begin to get more unusual.
The “desolate” gothic looking house that attracted Malcolmson had been “long empty” due to an “absurd prejudice,” but Malcolmson “thought it needless to ask” as to why this prejudice had arisen. This is the first sign of suspense, as the reader wishes to know what mysteries are held in the house. The inn’s landlady was shocked to hear that he was staying there, but was unable to tell of “what there was against the house itself,” as she had come from “another part of the country”. Again the suspense is raised, as one does not find out any further details about the discrimination against such a dwelling. When the landlady tries to prevent him even staying for one night, he ignores her advice, thinking that he would have “too much to think of to be disturbed,” ratifying the suggestion that others would be unlikely to dissuade him.
When he arrives at the house to find the landlady Mrs Witham herself waiting there, it was obvious that she was “curious to see the inside of the house,” and see as to why the local people were in such trepidation of the house. This furthers the suspense, as the rumours about the house seem to be corroborated, or at least taken very seriously. As Mrs Witham left, left, she referred to “the things” that he may encounter, the image of which “was too much for her nerves, and she fled” and this ambiguity again creates suspense.
The lonely, traditional furnishings in the “great dining-room” give an archaic impression of a cold and dusty room except for the fire. Only the glow from the lamp and the fire relieve and lighten the shadowy room, which makes the mysterious noises stranger, as he is unable to see the rats that make the sounds. When he noticed “an enormous rat” sitting on the chair by the fireplace, he was unable to scare it away, and so rushed to kill it with a poker. The rat escaped “with a squeak that sounded like the concentration of hate,” and the return of the “noisy scampering” seemed rather odd, both of which increase the suspense, as what happens is very bizarre, and the reader wants an explanation.
When Malcolmson saw Mrs Witham the following day, the relief that she displays at having seen him survive the first night is also peculiar, and when he describes the rat as “a wicked looking old devil,” she takes him literally, thinking it really to be the devil, rather an extreme view of the previous night’s events. This anxiety enhances the tension due to the trepidation shown by Mrs Witham. Malcolmson rejects any such truths, and on his arrival at the house, the noises had already begun, to which he responded this time by trying to “to frighten them”. The “sudden of silence” and the rat’s return from the prior night seemed disconcerting. The repeat of the increase of noise when the rat had been chased up the rope appeared most mystifying, with another rise of suspense, as this would be likely to occur again and one wants to find out why.
Whilst Malcolmson handled the alarm bell’s rope, he noticed that one “could hang a man with it,” hinting that he is doomed, and therefore elevating the tension. When the rat returned and was hunted for the second time that night, it gave a “look of terrible malevolence,” another unusual description for a rat’s behaviour, again suggesting that this is no ordinary rat. Malcolmson saw where it leapt – into a picture – but was unable to see the painting through a “coating of dirt and dust”. This delaying tactic used by Stoker means that the reader has to wait until the following day to find out if there is any significance about where the rat leapt, therefore increasing the suspense. The irony of The Bible that “fetched” the rat caused him to look “round uneasily,” and this is the first time we see any sign of agitation from Malcolmson, possibly another sign that the story is doomed, and increasing the suspense, as thoughts return of the rat being satanic.
The following day when Malcolmson visited Mrs Witham, it seems slightly curious that she has invited a doctor to “advise” Malcolmson. This adds to the suspense, as we can clearly see other people’s concerns for Malcolmson. When told by the doctor that the rope was used by the hangman to execute the “victims of the Judge’s judicial rancour,” accompanied by Mrs Witham’s second scream, the suspense is once again raised, and the Doctor’s prompt exit begins a tense scene.
The “promise of a storm” that night means that aid will take longer to arrive, and traditionally, bad weather is often an indicator of difficulty, placing Malcolmson in a far more isolated and therefore more tense situation. When Malcolmson had investigated the rope, his attention was suddenly drawn to the previously unconsidered pictures. The shock that the rat’s eyes protruded from the painting of the Judge based on the same room that he currently stood in almost caused him to “drop the lamp,” and then when he “looked over to the corner of the fireplace,” he exerted a “loud cry” and the lamp fell on the floor. Due to the “howling storm”, this went completely unheard, and achieved nothing.
The tension reaches a peak here, as the reader is intrigued as to how the rat with the “Judge’s baleful eyes” appears on the chair so quickly. Malcolmson’s terror at the possibility of “calling the outer world to his assistance” being greatly diminished suggests that he is beginning to have further fears, and he is therefore more likely to be susceptible to anything strange that will happen. The tension begins to reach another peak when “the figure of the judge had disappeared” from the centre of the canvas, and on the discovery of the Judge being in the room, Malcolmson was “horror-struck” and “breathless”. This is where the tension and suspense are at its highest, as the reader is disturbed by what is happening.