The Haunting of Charles Dickens

The Victorians were very fond of ghost stories and the most popular authors of the period relished competing with one another to see who could make their reader’s flesh creep the most. One of the era’s best loved storytellers was Charles Dickens, though surprisingly the author of ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘Oliver Twist’ and other classics was not a believer in the supernatural. In fact, Dickens was a hardened skeptic until he had a disquieting paranormal experience of his own…

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

In 1861 Dickens contributed a ghost story to the popular magazine ‘All The Year Round’ which centred on an encounter between a portrait painter and a young lady in a railway carriage. During the journey, the pale looking lady inquires as to whether the artist could paint a portrait from memory, to which he replies that he probably could. When asked the reason for her question she responds, ‘Look at me again. You may have to take a likeness of me.’ Shortly afterwards they part and the painter travels on to his destination. Two years later an older gentleman by the name of Wylde calls on the artist and asks if he would accept a commission to paint a portrait of his daughter from a description as she is not available to sit for the portrait in person for she died some time ago. Puzzled but intrigued the artist agrees and begins to sketch a young lady in accordance with Mr Wylde’s description. After several failed attempts to capture her likeness, he is on the verge of giving up when in desperation he recalls the young woman whom he met on the train and uses her as his inspiration. ‘Instantly, a bright look of recognition and pleasure lighted up the father’s face,’ Dickens wrote, ‘and he exclaimed, ‘That is she!’

The Blue Veil (1899) by Edmund Tarbell

The Blue Veil (1899)

In the course of conversation the artist asks when the young lady had died and is told it was two years ago on the 13th September – the very date the painter had met the pale young woman on the train.

Such twists were almost a cliché, even in Victorian fiction, but what makes this particular story

significant is that it was to have a resonance in real life. Shortly after publication Dickens received an irate letter from a painter who claimed that the story was not fiction, but fact. It had been his own personal experience, which he had written down with the intention of submitting it for publication, but had delayed and was now convinced that Dickens had heard his story somehow and copied it, even down to the date chosen for the girl’s death. The painter had told the story to his friends but had never mentioned the date until the day he wrote it all down.

This is what unnerved Dickens, who later wrote, ‘Now my story had NO DATE; but seeing when I looked over the proofs the great importance of having a date, I wrote in, unconsciously, the exact date on the margin of the proof!’

From ‘The Complete Book of Ghosts’ (2007, Capella/USA) by Paul Roland

About RealPaulRoland

PAUL ROLAND is a prolific recording artist, producer and author of more than 30 books. He has been spinning his musical tales against a backdrop of gothic rock, psych pop and, occasionally, baroque strings. He has been called 'Edgar Allen Poe of psych pop' and the 'Godfather of Steampunk'.

Posted on October 19, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I bought a copy of The Werewolf Of London when it came out on vinyl back in 1980, and have managed to obtain a few of the singles. (Hot George, the one as Beau Brummel which I believe had a version of Oscar Automobile simply titled Oscar?) and perhaps a few others. I recently bought a CD copy of this classic and awesome album (especially love Blades Of Battenberg, Oscar Automobile, Public Enemy & Werewolves Of London). When I first listened to the album I was very impressed with the gothic sounds of it (this was ages before GOTH was a thing) and the way it had heavy Marc Bolan influences weaved into it’s own magical entity. A funny aside. When I lived in London England for a bit in 1983 I spoke with another musician I met on someone’s lawn where a party was being held in memory of Marc Bolan. (party was inside but we were all out standing on the lawn) I didn’t know it at the time, as when he asked what sort of music I was interested in playing I mentioned how I loved this album and how it was Bolan influenced and yet it’s own unique thing and I said I’d like to do something along these lines. I also mentioned Jed Dmochowski’s Stallions Of My Heart album. Little did I know that the musician I was talking to (who had changed his name by then) was the guy who played guitar on the Werewolf… album. Anyway, I recently bought and received a copy of this album on CD. Something didn’t seem right to me with the track listing. And I was right. 3 songs are “missing” (replaced more accurately) and several others have been added. I’m quite curious as to why. I searched for other Paul Roland CDs and was shocked to find there were about another 20 or so out there, some with much the same content. First the additional tracks: The Ghoul, The Puppet Master, Dr. Strange (which I have the original single of), Sword & Sorcery. The Bonus tracks which are said to be all previously unreleased versions… The Old Dark House, Angel, Cavalier, & Jack Daniels. The missing tracks – Oscar Automobile, Angel (original version) & Jack Daniels (original version). Could you tell me why the original songs and track listing was altered and if any version of the original album is available on CD. This version might be better, but I had hoped to outright replace the album with the CD. Can’t do that when it’s different. I imagine I have all of this stuff transferred from vinyl to CD to a backup hard drive, but I am curious as to why the changes.

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