Having read recently The Invisible Woman (October 2, 2016), a biography on Dickens, I was then curious to read more of his work. I had always been familiar with A Christmas Carol and read excerpts of some of his work, but never a complete work, and never had I heard of his writing anything of a haunted house. This work is not completely his own. It was a serialized collection of stories for the holiday edition of his literary journal All The Year Round. It was a collaboration of friends and contemporaries, like Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, and others.
As introduced by Wesley Stace in my edition, the premise of the story is that the narrator and several friends move into a reportedly haunted house. They are asked to keep to themselves the events that unfold, and at the end of their stay (a period of some weeks) to recount the story of any haunted activity that they experienced. However, this is not the haunted story you might expect to get if A Christmas Carol is what you are after. They are fascinating stories, indeed, but not scary. The “ghosts” here are the haunting memories of the guests’ pasts, their childhood, fears, insecurities, memories. It is not the house that is “haunted” but the guests. Each guest occupies a different room in the house, and these rooms are chosen by lottery. Dickens himself directed his contributors to choose the plot but gave them the premise of the house haunted by memories.
To be quite honest, I really liked just three of the eight stories, one by Dickens (he did three in total), one Collins (a very Poe-like feel to it), and one by Hesba Stretton. There was a strange story by George Augustus Sala that I mildly enjoyed until the end which I found utterly confusing. The story by Elizabeth Gaskell, while long, was interesting towards the end, but I felt that it took too long to get moving. It also was so hard to read the dialogue which she did in English dialect. I must admit, I skipped a lot of the dialogue, but still managed to follow the story.