A new exhibition opening in time for Halloween looks at Charles Dickens’s interest in the supernatural and his desire to spend a night in a haunted house so scary he wouldn’t be able to sleep.
Although a writer who often wrote about ghosts, Dickens was quite the skeptic, and became even more so as he got older. That didn’t stop him once asking his spiritually-minded acquaintance, William Howitt if he knew 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.
That letter, and other items from Dickens’s ghostly recollections will be on display this autumn at the Charles Dickens Museum.
There was a Victorian fascination with spirituality and mediumship, and a lot of quacks who still managed to ensnare leading society figures into believing there really was a way of communing with the dead. After Dickens’s death, Dickens’s friend and biographer, John Forster, wrote that Dickens had a ‘hankering after ghosts’ and was convinced that Dickens would have ‘fallen into the follies of spiritualism,’ had it not been for ‘the strong restraining power of his common sense.’
The passionate campaigner against mediums, Harry Houdini also continued the cause after Dicken’s death.
The exhibition will be bringing 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 toy with the emotions of his audiences.
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 stories of Charles Dickens are rarely short of a ghostly apparition designed to chill the reader.
Opening in time for Halloween, the exhibition, To Be Read At Dusk: Dickens, Ghosts & the Supernatural, runs from 5th October 2022 – 5th March 2023 at the Charles Dickens Museum on Doughty Street, Holborn, the home of Dickens and his family in the late 1830s.