A new exhibition at the Charles Dickens Museum entitled To Be Read At Dusk: Dickens, Ghosts & the Supernatural celebrates Dickens’s interest in the paranormal. Opening in time for Halloween, the exhibition runs from 5 October 2022 – 19 February 2023 at 48 Doughty Street, Holborn, the home of Dickens and his family in the late 1830s.
Charles Dickens wrote twenty ghost stories throughout his life, published from 1836 onwards. From A Christmas Carol to The Signal Man, to elements of Bleak House and Nicholas Nickleby, as well as The Chimes and The Trial for Murder.
The exhibition brings together a collection of objects, posters, letters and books to reveal just how much Dickens enjoyed creating eerie scenes, disturbing characters and building tension to play with the emotions of his audiences.
Among the highlights of the exhibition:
The first public display of a letter from Dickens to his spiritually minded acquaintance, William Howitt, in which Dickens asks whether Howitt can suggest a haunted house that his friend might visit. On 31 October 1859, Dickens writes to Howitt about ghosts and asks whether he knows of “any haunted house whatsoever within the limits of the United Kingdom where nobody can live, eat, drink, sit, stand, lie or sleep without sleep-molestation” as he has a friend ready to pit himself against it.
Charles Dickens’s own copy of The Haunted Man, his 1848 ghost story. Dickens physically altered copies of his books for his public readings, adding stage directions and, in this edition, uses different coloured inks to indicate deletions, express emotions and emphasise emotive words.
While Dickens was undeniably fascinated by the notion of ghosts and hauntings, he was certainly sceptical, becoming more so as he grew older.
The power of Dickens’s ‘in person’ performances of his tales was legendary, and he enjoyed evoking emotions in his live audiences, as well as his readers, with ghostly stories. He performed his ghost-laden A Christmas Carol reading 127 times.
Dickens was a lifelong admirer of ghostly fiction and influenced many who followed him, including Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell. As a boy, Charles Dickens read the weekly horror magazine, The Terrific Register, later admitting that it had “frightened my very wits out of my head.”
This fascinating exhibition illustrates that Dickens, although a sceptic understood the value of using the supernatural in his stories. The ghosts in A Christmas Carol are a wonderful example of using spirits to highlight less than good human attributes. The exhibition makes full use of the museum and with its creaking stairs and small rooms is a perfect setting for tales of the supernatural.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
Exhibition and Museum Information
To Be Read At Dusk: Dickens, Ghosts & the Supernatural
The Charles Dickens Museum, 48-49 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LX
Dates: 5 October 2022 – 19 February 2023.
Opening hours: 10am to 5pm, Wednesday – Sunday (closed Mondays and Tuesdays)
For more information or to book tickets, visit the Charles Dickens Museum website here
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