Bah! Humbug! Complete Ghost Stories by Charles Dickens

Christmas Spirits…

santasantasantasantasanta

 

 

So far in this little mini-series, I’ve tried to tempt you with some great performances of Dickens’ work. But you’re all such organised people that I’m sure by now your Christmas presents will all be bought and wrapped, your cards have been posted, your decorations are up, your food order has been placed, and there’s nothing left to be done but cook the meal…and it’s a little early for that, perhaps! So plenty of time to curl up with a good book and…

 

HAVE A DICKENS OF A CHRISTMAS!

 

dickens ghost storiesThe Christmas season wouldn’t be complete without a good ghost story or two, and in this collection we get twenty. The centrepiece is, of course, the novella length A Christmas Carol, and we also get what is probably Dickens’ next best-known ghost story, The Signalman, which is perhaps the most chilling tale in the book. The other stories range from several very short ones through to another novella-length one, The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain.

“When twilight everywhere released the shadows, prisoned up all day, that now closed in and gathered like mustering swarms of ghosts. When they stood lowering, in corners of rooms, and frowned out from behind half-opened doors. When they had full possession of unoccupied apartments. When they danced upon the floors, and walls, and ceilings of inhabited chambers, while the fire was low, and withdrew like ebbing waters when it sprang into a blaze.”

The joy of Dickens’ ghost stories is that they are truly family reading – not one of them would be unsuitable for reading aloud to a mixed age group. Many of them were first published in one of Dickens’ periodicals, All the Year Round or Household Words and were very much intended for the whole family. Others (The Queer Chair, The Goblins who Stole a Sexton, etc.) are taken from the novels, mainly Pickwick Papers, and these are usually more humorous than scary. In fact, humour runs through the majority of the stories, with The Signalman and The Portrait Painter’s Story being the main exceptions.

The Goblin and the Sexton
The Goblins who Stole a Sexton

As with any collection, the quality of the stories varies a bit, but even Dickens’ less good tales stand up well. The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain is, like A Christmas Carol, a morality tale; this time reminding us that sorrow and trouble are part of what makes us human, and with a strong social message about the dangers of allowing the continuance of an underclass excluded from things the rest of us take for granted – a message that relates almost as much to today’s society, sadly. This story also contains who must surely be the most annoying of all Dickens sickly-sweet heroines, Mrs. Swidger, a woman so indefatigably happy she brings out all of my homicidal tendencies (which, I hasten to assure you, I restrict to fictional characters).

“So she rolled out the crust, dropping large tears upon it all the time because he was so cross, and when she had lined the dish with crust and had cut the crust all ready to fit the top, the Captain called out, ‘I see the meat in the glass!’ And the bride looked up at the glass, just in time to see the Captain cutting her head off; and he chopped her in pieces, and peppered her, and salted her, and put her in the pie, and sent it to the baker’s, and ate it all, and picked the bones.”

(NB This is not a recipe for Christmas dinner.)

In the shorter stories, Dickens often takes the opportunity to mock the spiritualism that was becoming so popular in the Victorian era, turning much of his humour on the mediums and table-rappers. There is also a recurring theme which suggests that Dickens believed many apparitions and hauntings owed as much to alcoholic spirits as the other kind. Overall this is a jolly little collection, filled with madness, murder, revenge and other such traditional Christmas fare; and, whether chilling or humorous, all written with Dickens’ masterly story-telling skills. Whether you read one a night throughout the Christmas season, or splurge and read the whole thing over a few evenings, it’s guaranteed to ensure that you Have a Dickens of a Christmas!

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21 thoughts on “Bah! Humbug! Complete Ghost Stories by Charles Dickens

      • Yes, I’ll be right there with you–up til 3am listening for those reindeer hooves and jingling bells, all while wrapping away. Oh, we listened to Patrick Stewart’s “A Christmas Carol” on our driving trip over Thanksgiving. Fabulous! Thanks for the recommendation! Now, yet another Dickens to add to the collection.

        • Oh, I’m so pleased you enjoyed it! Whenever anyone takes me up on a recommendation I start to worry in case they hate it, but Patrick Stewart’s always a fairly safe bet. And so’s Dickens…

  1. 😆 Poor, FEF! Don’t let it bring out homicidal tendencies! And what a recipe… 😆

    Actually, the professor is still behind in his Christmas shopping… 😦

    (I’m also still reading the Dickens’ book with a dino in the beginning, you know.)

    Ghost stories. The professor loves ghost stories. And goblins. How neatio.

    • Dickens’ women have a tendency to make me want to throw sharp objects – may I borrow your knives? I thought it was particularly mean that he made her make the pastry before eating her…but glad he remembered the importance of seasoning…

      Me too! I can’t understand why Santa doesn’t do all the shopping himself.

      (Are you really? Poor C-W-W! 😆 I’ll make a New Year’s Resolution not to talk you into more than one book at a time next year! Are you enjoying it?)

      These ones are fun – not very scary, but enjoyable. You’d like the one about the pie, I think…

      • Well, overall, it’s a good thing. You can practice your knife throwing. And, yes, I’d lend a few to you. Only if you throw properly, though.

        I thought it rather amusing. She should have defended herself, at least…

        😆 Dadblame him! He doesn’t do his job!

        (Yes, I am. It’s a bit hard getting into it, but Dickens’ prose are amazing. The professor is awed.)

        Did you laugh at all?

        • I’d try my best but you might want to take cover, just in case…

          Oh, the murderer didn’t get away with it in the end! In fact, what happened to him sounded marginally more unpleasant than what he did to her…

          (It’s the language and the quirky characters I love, and the social comment, rather than the plots, which can be a bit over-complicated with sub-plots all over the place – though Bleak House does have a better plot than most. But I’m glad you’re enjoying the writing. 😀 )

          Several times – especially the stories about spiritualism. Couldn’t help wondering what Conan Doyle thought of them!

          • I’d stand behind you, madam. Unless you throw backwards…don’t even know if that’s possible…

            Ooo, what happened to him? 😀

            (I love quirky characters too. I do hope I can get through it. Tis rather thick. And I want to see someone burst into flames.)

            He believed in fairies, right?

            • Hmm…when I throw things, there’s no knowing where they’ll end up…

              Normally, I’d say ‘read the book’, but since the poor Professor is already reading two… the sister of the victim got her own back by marrying the Captain, and when he told her to prepare the pastry for a pie for herself, she took a deadly poison first, so that when he ate her he was poisoned…”and Captain Murderer had hardly picked her last bone, when he began to swell, and to turn blue, and to be all over spots, and to scream. And he went on swelling and turning bluer, and being more all over spots and screaming,until he reached from floor to ceiing and from wall to wall; and then, at one o’clock in the morning, he blew up with a loud explosion.”

              (Yes, it’s a beast of a book. I’m afraid I think the spontaneous combustion and the murder both happen quite late on.)

              And all the fake mediums…

            • I understand that, for sure.

              😆 😆 I like the blowing up part. That sounds so incredible. (I really appreciate you telling me, FEF!)

              Well, that’s okay. I’m reading, ’cause it’s FEF’s favorite book.

              But he had a cool mustache.

            • Yes, the description made me laugh! (My pleasure, C-W-W!)

              I’m very honoured, and I hope you enjoy it, but don’t feel you have to struggle all the way through it if you don’t…

              Hmm…is there such a thing?

  2. Food, yes. Presents and wrapping, not so much. I always read “A Christmas Carol” on Christmas Eve – maybe this year I’ll add some of the other ghost stories. I agree about ” The Signalman” – very chilling. The Dickens Estate should pay you commission!

  3. I really liked The Signalman, a very good story, but then I like a good ghost story.
    Not much of a Christmas here, I still have trouble wrapping my mind around the idea when it’s like 30 degrees Celsius outside, and just the sight of a Christmas tree fills me with wonder but not in the way you’d expect, more like, Is it Christmas, really, when did that happen?

    • Yes, I’ve always thought it must be odd celebrating Christmas in sunshine and heat. Mind you, it must have some advantages – no fog, snow and icy roads to deal with on the way to Christmas dinner!

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