The Dream-Woman by Wilkie Collins (From Queen of Hearts) (1855)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror April 29, 2014
Isaac Scatchard, a man of thirty-eight years, has been walking all day through the countryside and comes upon a small inn. He takes a room. The landlord happily closes and fastens the windows and doors, bids him a good night’s sleep. The unsnuffed candle burns down to issue a dull light as Isaac drifts off.
A strange shivering comes upon him.
“Between the foot of his bed and the closed door there stood a woman with a knife in her hand, looking at him.
He was stricken speechless with terror …”
We have three narrators who tell this story of Isaac Scatchard in The Dream-Woman. We begin with a physician who is traveling with a lame horse and in need of a hostler, so he stops at an inn. We meet the landlord of the inn who tells us about poor old Isaac Scatchard, a hollowed, wrinkled man with grizzled hair—a man who sleeps only by the light of day. The physician wonders if there is something wrong with Isaac’s brain that prevents the man from normal night sleeping. He decides he must investigate. But investigate Isaac or the power of dreams?
The full story is told by Isaac’s mother, Mrs. Scatchard, in Chapter Three. She tells us that Isaac’s apparent nightmare of this dream-woman occurred at the precise time and date of Isaac’s birthday at 2 a.m. Superstitious dread or warning? What happens to Isaac? Does he dream of this woman again who tries to stab him?
Like Isaac, you might believe that dreams have power. And you might believe that the elements of dreams are not so frothy as to disappear upon waking. Is there a reality in dreams? Maybe of prophecy? Or maybe the dream reality is more like destiny?
I adore dream elements in fiction and Wilkie Collins’ The Dream-Woman is a haunting story. You know this author from The Woman in White, The Moonstone; Frozen Deep is his most famous play that he co-wrote with Charles Dickens in 1857. Collins was known for creating female characters that often showed a masculine side. He is certainly revered for his narrative power in this story. If you’ve ever heard the literary term “sensation genre,” this is the man who started it all.
Collins is one of many writers who uses dreams in stories. There is some speculation that Collins may have had such a dream as Isaac had. Robert Louis Stevenson was said to have based Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on a dream; Horace Walpole’s 1764 novel, The Castle of Otranto came from a dream; Stephen King found the story of Salem’s Lot in a dream. Everyone knows that Mary Shelley claimed the idea for Frankenstein happened during a dream. I did the same with my novel Night Sea Journey, A Tale of the Supernatural: I dreamed of a woman alone by the sea and ruled by her nightmares of persistent demon. Was I haunted by a winged creature in my own bedroom? Many nights!
I do believe that dreams contain eerie presences and that they have the power to perform a function in our lives. For Isaac Scatchard, the dream operates on both sides of the shadow.
There are several versions of The Dream-Woman by Wilkie Collins. This version here is Brother Morgan’s Story of the Dream-Woman from Queen of Hearts by Wilkie Collins: Read the text at Ebooks.Adelaide.edu
Another version is subtitled A Mystery in Four Narratives and begins with the narrative (a longer version) told by the character Percy Fairbanks at ReadBooksOnline.net
Or, you can listen to this version in audio, which has four parts on YouTube
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