To Be Read At Dusk by Charles Dickens (1852)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror April 8, 2014
Dusk: darkness rises, light fades. What hides in the approaching subtle shadows? If you’re a reader of ghost stories, this is certainly a Dickens’ story to explore — being haunted and not just by a ghost, but by the conjuring of words that triple play on your imagination. If you’re a writer of ghost stories, this is certainly a Dickens’ story to examine — for art and craft. To Be Read At Dusk is not one of Dickens’ more popular stories, and I seemed to have dug it up as if the story itself were a ghost unwilling to come forward. I read the story once, then listened to the audio version, then read it again along with the audio. And there is something in that power of three encounters with this ghost story that it kept growing for me, redelivering itself.
Charles Dickens uses simile (likeness, comparing one thing with another: she is as brave as a lion) throughout this story in supernatural and symbolic ways. The story is literally constructed with likenesses all over the place—which is the key to the mystery.
Our story opens on top of a mountain in Switzerland with five (5, make no mistake) couriers (German, Swiss, Neapolitan, and Genoese) chatting as they sit on a bench … “looking at the remote heights, stained by the setting sun as if a mighty quantity of red wine had been broached upon the mountain top, and had not yet had time to sink into the snow.”
Our narrator is sitting on another bench nearby listening to the couriers chat. He makes a point “… also like them, looking at the reddened snow, and at the lonely shed hard by, where the bodies of belated travellers, dug out of it, slowly wither away, knowing no corruption in that cold region.
Bodies? Buried under the snow? Might that red wine be like blood images by the light of the setting sun? What happens when the sun sets?
Two of the couriers each tell a ghost story. One of an English bride who dreams of a dark threatening face. The other story is of twin brothers and death. As the story unfolds, you’ll hear the ongoing debate among the couriers of what is a ghost, what is like a ghost, and what is not a ghost. Phantoms, premonitions, and doppelgangers abound, but something else announces itself. The ending is so subtle you might well miss what it’s like to be a ghost.
Read Dickens’ To Be Read At Dusk at Online-Literature.
Listen to the audio at Librivox Recording
And if you are still up for more of Dickens, his essay, Night Walks (1861) is a spooky stroll through the London streets at midnight. We forget that Dickens didn’t just write fiction. Sleepless nights, what he calls “houselessness” reflects his observations that I found vivid and chilling, and oh do I ever wish I might have walked the streets of London in the 1860s.
Read Night Walks at ReadBookOnline.net
Other Reading Web Sites to Visit
For Authors/Writers: The Writer Unboxed
Winter Night in the Mountains, by Harald Oskar Sohlberg
Snowy Hut, by Caspar David Friedrich