"Green Tea" and The Horror of Psychological Horror

Illustration from Sheridan Le Fanu's "Green Tea," by Edward Ardizzone, 1929
There are no monsters in real-life, right? No ghosts, vampires or werewolves?

So to avoid being laughed at some supernatural writers choose to go down the psychological route.

Like, for instance, in the short story I have just read called “Green Tea,” written by Irish author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (and greatly enjoyed – find the text here.)

In the tale - first published in Charles Dicken’s magazine All the Year Round in 1869 - Jennings, an English clergyman, is haunted by a small spectral monkey that is invisible to everyone else.

The man's subsequent descent into terror and despair is narrated to us by a physician, Dr Hesselius, who sagely diagnoses two principal reasons as to why his patient’s downfall is possibly self-inflicted.

They are:

1) Jennings is given to excessive consumption of green tea whilst...

2) obsessively reading books on paganism into the early hours.

1) The story is called “Green Tea” – indicating that substance’s central role in the tale. At the time it was published British tea-drinking had grown massively in popularity  -but there was still a mistrust of oriental tea growers and packagers – who were often accused of adulterating or contaminating the product. It’s foreign-ness makes the reverend's favourite beverage suspiciously exotic - and dangerous.

As for 2) the pagan books – Hesselius admits he shares Jennings (at the time relatively novel) interest in non-Christian books – so it hardly seems a reason for life-destroying delusions.

So it seems Jennings hasn't actually done anything that bad apart from drinking tea and staying up late. Certainly not enough to warrant his terrible hallucinations and torments.

It’s hard to avoid somehow blaming Jennings.

Which is one of the cruel things about this type of psychological horror. Monstrous, even.

The Word Pool

"All speech acts are goal-oriented."
That phrase lodged itself in my brain during a linguistics lecture I once attended.
Every thing we say, every word, is to achieve some kind of goal.
I've found this idea particularly useful when writing dialogue.
When someone speaks there is a pool of alternative words they can to dip into to describe something.
Let's say a character is talking about children.
They could choose use a variety of descriptions - for instance kid, brat, squirt, rugrat, tyke, urchin or munchkin.
Each choice has a different psychological effect - brat, for instance, has negative connotations - it implies a child is badly behaved.
Of course a character can choose to speak in a responsible, measured, neutral way. But if they are angry, sad or manipulative there are plenty of charged words to scoop out of the vocabulary pool.
Each choice they make is a way of achieving that goal - and laying bare their soul.