Soumya Chakraborty (Jadavpur University)
Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities, 4.1, (2012)
Quite overshadowed by Dickens the social reformer and Victorian England’s most popular and prolific author, lay Dickens a man fascinated with the occult and the supernatural, a practitioner of mesmerism, a believer in the pseudo-science of phrenology, a man so obsessed with the Gothic that time and again he registered a covert, symbolic re-emergence of it throughout his works. Dickens harboured a lifelong attraction towards the supernatural, evidenced in his childhood fondness for the weekly magazine The Terrific Register, dealing with themes of ghosts, murder, incest and cannibalism, and in the several ghost-stories interspersed throughout the corpus of his work. Deeply involved in the 19th Century debates over the existence of spirits and the veracity of ghost sightings, Dickens oscillated between faith in the existence of the other-worldly and scepticism. Always concerned with the psychological aspect of the supernatural, Dickens’ work shows a constant engagement with the eerie, the uncanny and the grotesque. This paper attempts to explore not only the evolution of the theme of the supernatural in Dickens’ works but also his changing attitudes towards it.
Dickens’s biographer John Forster wrote ‘Among his good things should not be omitted his telling of a ghost story’ (Forster 1890:286). The interspersed but unmistakeable presence of ghosts and goblins, the grotesque, the eerie and the uncanny throughout the works of Dickens bears ample testimony to Forster’s claim. The development of Spiritualist movements on both sides of the Atlantic in the 19th Century and the Victorian tussle between faith and doubt as well as the new experiments and research regarding the science of seeing interacted with Dickens’s lively imagination and story- telling genius to spawn a distinct body of supernatural fiction starting right from Dickens’s early literary days of the Pickwick Papers right upto the fag end of his literary career.