Thursday, February 9, 2012

Short Stories on Wednesday: Charles Dickens turns 200

Dickens is one of those writers who have been with me all my life. Starting with the Mickey Mouse version of A Christmas Carol, moving on to pocket classic editions of Oliver Twist and David Copperfield and eventually, more grown up versions of Great Expectations, Bleak House and Our Mutual Friend. Over the years I’ve enjoyed so many of his works, although some a little less than the others (The Old Curiosity Shop; not so much). I wanted very much to ring in his 200th birthday by reading The Pickwick Papers but I realized that, considering how scattered I am right now and the size of the book, I’ll probably spend the rest of my 30’s reading just this book. So, I read 2 of his short stories instead and I’m glad I did.

The Lamplighter

In case the title hasn’t tipped you off, this is the story of a Lamplighter. Tom Grig light’s streets lamps for a living and one night while he’s going about his business he catches the eye of a ‘scientific gentleman’. This gentleman claims that according to certain planetary predictions, Tom is the very man to marry the gentleman’s beautiful young niece. What’s more is that Tom will inherit the immense fortune that will surely result from the philosopher’s stone which is in the process of being made. As is to be expected, nothing turns out according to plan.
This was a fantastical story with a bunch of kooky, oddball characters. It’s a light and easy read which is a bit uncharacteristic for Dickens. Give it a go. Here it is.

The Trial for Murder

The story starts off with a murder. We aren’t given any details about the murder but it is supposed to be a very infamous scandal of the time. The narrator of the story is an ordinary bank official, in no way connected to the murder. Until one day, he starts to see the murdered man, or his ghost. This is bewildering to him since he hasn’t seen the likeness of the murdered man in the press or anywhere else. One day, the narrator is summoned to jury duty and the case before the court is this very murder. The murdered man haunts the court, the jury and the narrator in particular. What makes it spookier is that the accused seems to have an inexplicable fear of the narrator even though the two have never seen each other before.
This is Dickens doing a proper, old-fashioned ghost story and doing it very well. It’s not quite as bloodcurdling as an Edgar Allen Poe, for instance, but it’s pretty goosebump-inducing throughout. This story is vaguely reminiscent of some other popular short story that I’ve read but for the life of me, I can’t remember which. If you figure it out, do let me know. You can read The Trial for Murder here.

There are few more Dickens stories that I could recommend. The Child’s Story, The Haunted House series and The Baron of Grogswig are the stories that I’ve read and liked. Do share your favourites.
I know Dickens is often accused of being overly sentimental and melodramatic, but the same could be said of many authors, especially those belonging to his era. I don’t mind a little sentimental melodrama every now and then. There’s no denying that Dickens did write some very enduring stories and created some very memorable characters.