|From Textbook Stuff|
Charles Dickens was an English novelist well-known for his books about life in Victorian England, but very few are aware that he was also fascinated by the supernatural. In fact, he was a prominent member of The Ghost Club, a paranormal investigation and research organization founded in London in 1862. His novella "A Christmas Carol" is famous not only as a Christmas classic but also for the appearance of Marley's ghost, immortalized in many a movie based on this well-loved tale. He wrote a number of supernatural short stories as well, and one of the best is "The Signalman", which you can read here, listen to an audio version here, or watch a dramatization on YouTube.
Dickens was born in Portsea, but moved about quite a bit as a boy. For a time his family was forced to live in a debtor's prison while the young Charles worked at a blacking warehouse under arduous conditions. This period in his life made such a deep impression on him that he became a strong supporter of labor reform and an advocate for the poor, which is often reflected in his written works. Eventually the Dickens family was released from prison and Charles went on to continue his education. After jobs at a law office and as a reporter, he was eventually able to make a living as a writer when his stories, originally published as serials, became very popular. Dickens married and had ten children, but separated from his wife of over twenty years after starting an affair with an actress. This affair resulted in the mystery of his life, as it is thought that he had an illegitimate son with this woman. The child supposedly died in infancy, however, and no proof of its existence has ever been unearthed.
Charles Dickens wrote a fair number of supernatural tales in addition to "The Signalman". Another favorite of mine is "The Trial for Murder", which has an unexpected twist at the end reminiscent of Saki. Dickens is one of my favorite authors. I find his novels and supernatural short stories equally enjoyable, and highly recommend them all. Anyone lucky enough to be in the vicinity of the British Library will have the opportunity to view an exhibit entitled "A Hankering after Ghosts: Dickens and the Supernatural", featuring references Dickens makes to the supernatural in his works. The exhibit starts November 29th and runs through March 4th, 2012. I wish I could be there!