Charles Dickens: A Brain on Fire! 🔥

THE LAZY TOUR OF TWO IDLE APPRENTICES 📚: with Dr. Emily Bell

October 20, 2023 Dominic Gerrard
THE LAZY TOUR OF TWO IDLE APPRENTICES 📚: with Dr. Emily Bell
Charles Dickens: A Brain on Fire! 🔥
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Charles Dickens: A Brain on Fire! 🔥
THE LAZY TOUR OF TWO IDLE APPRENTICES 📚: with Dr. Emily Bell
Oct 20, 2023
Dominic Gerrard

Dominic is joined by the inimitable Dr. Emily Bell who guides the listener through the rollercoaster that is Charles Dickens & Wilkie Collins' Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices  - a unique blend of travel writing and ghost stories seen through the eyes of the quintessentially British  characters of Francis Goodchild and Thomas Idle, who amusingly mirror their creators, Dickens and Collins

This eccentric collection contains within its pages two fantastic ghosts stories - The Dead Hand & The Ghost in the Bride’s Chamber - and other dark flights of fancy that crash in on the everyday. It is a work full of both silliness and mystery and (in spite of its title) the action hardly ever gives in to any idleness ...

Reading the excerpts in this episode is the fantastic actor Adam Cunis

Support the Show.

If you like to make a donation to support the costs of producing this series you can buy 'coffees' right here https://www.buymeacoffee.com/dominicgerrard

Host: Dominic Gerrard
Series Artwork: Léna Gibert
Original Music: Dominic Gerrard

Thank you for listening!

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Dominic is joined by the inimitable Dr. Emily Bell who guides the listener through the rollercoaster that is Charles Dickens & Wilkie Collins' Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices  - a unique blend of travel writing and ghost stories seen through the eyes of the quintessentially British  characters of Francis Goodchild and Thomas Idle, who amusingly mirror their creators, Dickens and Collins

This eccentric collection contains within its pages two fantastic ghosts stories - The Dead Hand & The Ghost in the Bride’s Chamber - and other dark flights of fancy that crash in on the everyday. It is a work full of both silliness and mystery and (in spite of its title) the action hardly ever gives in to any idleness ...

Reading the excerpts in this episode is the fantastic actor Adam Cunis

Support the Show.

If you like to make a donation to support the costs of producing this series you can buy 'coffees' right here https://www.buymeacoffee.com/dominicgerrard

Host: Dominic Gerrard
Series Artwork: Léna Gibert
Original Music: Dominic Gerrard

Thank you for listening!

Speaker 1:

Hi everyone. It is now the season of brilliant autumn light, shorter days, angry sunsets with leaves scattering themselves on pavements and pumpkins appearing outside front doors. This feels like the perfect moment to take a deep dive into the lazy tour of two idle apprentices written by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, as they embarked on a journey to the north west of England in the autumn of 1857. The lazy tour is an eccentric collection of travel writing, with two fantastic ghost stories, the Dead Hand and the Ghost in the Brides Chamber, buried in its pages, and there are other dark flights of fancy that crash in on the everyday. It is a work full of both silliness and mystery and, in spite of its title, the action hardly ever gives in to any idleness. Its final chapter is a dizzying merry-go-round of the races at Doncaster, with the angelic appearance of a supposedly unknown woman who catches Dickens' eye and strange sightings of the devilish murderer William Palmer who, despite being 16 months dead, seems reanimated and to wander among the other seemingly respectable top hats.

Speaker 1:

Returning to the podcast, to guide us through this captivating collection is the inimitable Dr Emily Bell, and reading excerpts from it is the brilliant actor Adam Cunis. One last thing In this collection, dickens writes under the pseudonym of Francis Goodchild and Wilkie Collins, becomes Thomas Idol. Emily, welcome back again to Charles Dickens' A Brain on Fire. It's so good to have you here.

Speaker 2:

Thank you very much. It's good to be here, especially talking about some ghost stories for Halloween.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, that's really fun, isn't it? So what's the book that we're looking at today?

Speaker 2:

So today we're looking at the lesser known lazy tour of two idol apprentices, written by Dickens with Wilkie Collins in 1857.

Speaker 1:

When you think of this one and I know that you're working on this for OUP but what are the things that first jumped to mind when you consider this very eccentric book?

Speaker 2:

That's a really good question. I think there's two or three things that mainly stick out. One of them is the fun insight we get into the relationship between Dickens and Collins, where we've got this conceit of them being two apprentices taking names from Hogarth's industry and idol-ness Francis Goodchild and Thomas Idol. The character that Dickens takes on Francis Goodchild is just incapable of being idol. The joke is they're going places to be lazy, and Collins' character, who's suffering from various ailments, is trying to be idol by sitting there and doing nothing. Dickens' character, in keeping with what we know about Dickens himself, is trying to be idol by walking very far and going up a mountain and going to see the races and doing all of this busy work. That's the humour of what we get in some of these chapters.

Speaker 2:

Then we have these really quite striking ghost stories that are interpolated here between this travel narrative, which are Edgar Allen Poe-esque, uncanny and really quite surprising, I think, to find in a story like this. And then there's also the Ellen Ternan element, which is, to be honest, the way that most people talk about this story. Often it doesn't get talked about for itself. It gets talked about because it comes out just when Dickens is starting to fall in love with Ellen Ternan and he wants to go to Doncaster. We end up in the fifth chapter at Doncaster, where he sees a woman with lilac gloves and a bonnet with golden hair that is largely thought to be Ellen Ternan, that he's gone there because she and her family were in a play at the Theatre Royal in Doncaster at that time and that he is travelled there so that he can pursue her right at that beginning of that relationship.

Speaker 1:

Wow, I didn't know that at all. Wow, that's extraordinary. Yes, because Doncaster features quite a lot, doesn't it? It features in a kind of mad fantasy kind of way in one of the first ghost stories, but then, of course, they actually are at Doncaster at the end. But Dickens is at that point in his life falling in love, kind of having a midlife crisis in lots of ways. So it's very dizzying a lot of what he, what he jots down in the story, isn't it, I think? But what I found very interesting I wonder what you thought about this is because Charles Dickens is Francis Goodchild in the story and Wilkie Collins is Thomas Idol. It felt to me that Dickens, he has a mask to hide behind. So when his character is being slightly prodded by Wilkie Collins, Francis Goodchild has a habit of falling in love with lots of people at once, yeah, or he has a fiery dragon kind of personality, where it's kind of extremes, I think was Charles Dickens' name in print in the story.

Speaker 2:

I feel like he wouldn't tolerate it, yeah yeah, absolutely, and I think that's a really good point and it's that fun play between fiction and autobiography. And in the third chapter we have Wilkie Collins giving a kind of account of his life that is sort of autobiographical in that he did, he was, you know, going for the bar. He was, he did have some of these experiences that he talks about but that exaggerated that kind of removal from who they are. It allows them to distance themselves to some extent. Yeah, absolutely. But I love the quote in the beginning of chapter four when Thomas Idol is kind of having a go at Goodchild and he says I mean it To me.

Speaker 3:

You are an absolutely terrible fellow. You do nothing like another man. Where another fellow would fall into a foot bath of action or emotion, you fall into a mine when any other fellow would be a painted butterfly. You are a fiery dragon. Where another man would stake a sixpence, you stake your existence. If you were to go up in a balloon, you would make for heaven, and if you were to dive into the depths of the earth, nothing short of the other place would content you. What a fellow you are, francis.

Speaker 1:

It's so good, isn't it? And is it Wilkie Collins writing that chapter?

Speaker 2:

So this is another really interesting topic of who wrote what. So we don't have the manuscript for this, and there is a suggestion that perhaps we don't have the manuscript for this because it was deliberately destroyed to obscure who wrote what, and we can't know that. But all of the manuscripts were given to in Dickens as well, to his friend John Forster. All of the manuscripts were meant to go to him, except for ones that he'd given away as gifts to other people, and this one we just don't know where it. What's happened to it? So John Forster suggests that Dickens wrote a lot of the first part, a lot of the second part, all of the third part, except for Thomas Idle's reflection on his life, and all of the fourth part, but not the fifth part, the fifth part where he sees the blonde woman at Doncaster. So if we take that, then the bit where Thomas Idle is describing Dickens would actually be written by Dickens himself.

Speaker 1:

Does he wear it as a badge of honour, almost to say, oh yes, I'm an epic kind of person. I do the extremes. I don't know. I've not seen it jotted down anywhere where he seems to really be that honest about who he is. No or that self-awareness of who he is.

Speaker 2:

He doesn't like to talk very autobiographically. Really. There's a letter to Wookie Collins where he gives some details about his life and he says I feel like an animal in a caravan that the keeper has stepped away for a minute. He doesn't like to talk about his life and obviously the things that come out later to do with working in the Blacking Factory as a child that he didn't tell anybody. There's that element. But there's also the fact that since the early 1840s at least, newspapers and periodicals and the press have generally been trying to find out about his life and trying to read things into it. I mean, I think Dickens' character comes across as more fun. But they're both playing up elements of their characters, the kind of extreme with Dickens who sometimes walk 20 miles a day and Wookie Collins who forever had a list of ailments and problems.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, is it Wookie Collins who describes in huge detail cricket and the misery of fielding and being terrible at it?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, absolutely.

Speaker 3:

Whenever the ball came near him, he thought of his shins and got out of the way immediately. Catch it, stop it, pitch it up, were cries that passed by him like the idle wind that he regarded. Not. Never once through the whole innings did he and the ball come together on anything approaching to intimate terms. The unnatural activity of body threw Thomas Idle, for the first time in his life, into a perspiration followed by a fever. Mr Idle found himself confined to his bed for many weeks together, wasted and worn by a long illness of which his own disastrous muscular exertion had been the sole first cause. Huge rush was eşomal physio. There was no physical assistance, the condition in which he was at the hospital, and often he was not sent to a meeting to do exercise along with dialysis.

Speaker 2:

The whole thing is such a rewarding read, yeah, and really funny as well.

Speaker 1:

Just that first chapter where they decided to just cast off and set off, and what was the reason for it From Wilkie's point of view?

Speaker 2:

So he's invited by Dickens to do it. So Dickens is thinking about it from the summer and again we've got this background of the meeting with Ellen Turnin, who was performing in the play that Dickens and Collins had written, the Frozen Deep. So that's how he'd met her and it was a collaborative piece of writing. And Dickens writes to Collins and say do you want to do something? Is there any way? You'd like to go for a bit of travel writing, because they've both done this before. Wilkie Collins has written Rambles Beyond Railways. Dickens has written American Notes and pictures from Italy. They've traveled to France and to Italy together, but the only two things that Dickens had in mind as he wanted to go up Carac Fell, which is what we have in this first chapter.

Speaker 2:

And then he very early, decides that he wants to end up in Doncaster where Ellen Turnin is performing at the same time that the races are happening. So those are the two things that they kind of set on as ideas of things to do is go up Carac Fell and end up at Doncaster with the idea of writing letters that could then be published to appear the next month.

Speaker 1:

That first chapter, when they go up the mountain in Cumbria, isn't it Carac Fell? And the two of them must have been quite famous celebrities. And so the landlord, the local landlord, decides to take them up. Is that right? And he hasn't been up himself for 20 years. And the mist comes down and it gets very precarious and dangerous, and something happens to Wilkie, I believe.

Speaker 2:

Yes, it does. Do we want to spoil or not spoil? This is a really difficult one.

Speaker 1:

I think we're going to have to just unroot some of it, aren't we?

Speaker 2:

So Wilkie twists his ankle and then essentially they've got this panic as the mist has descended and they don't know how they're going to get down again. And this really did happen. And Dickens was concerned that they'd never make it to Doncaster because he thought he would be off his foot for a month, that he really did hurt himself and it was a previous injury as well. So he slips. As they're heading down, they're desperately trying to get off the mountain and as the fog lifts they discover that they've been off it for probably about a mile and they've magically found their way down.

Speaker 1:

I love that. They're walking really carefully for ages in the mist, scared of falling and tripping and slipping, and they've actually been off it for ages, dickens. I love this fantastic line where Dickens so they've got to the top and I think just before they descend they're deciding they've got to locate where the farmhouse is before they start to traipse down and Dickens produces a compass, but then on the way down he smashes his compass. And there's this fantastic quote that was really funny about how the English, whenever something catastrophic happens, they respond in silence.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, absolutely. He just picks up the bits of his compass, puts it back in his pocket and they trudge on. And the wonderful joke that they're making is about travel writing really is. They make this excursion. Everybody tells them, nobody goes up, karak fell, there's no point in doing this. The innkeeper hasn't been up for 20 years. They trudge up. Thomas Idol has that feeling that we all have, I think, looking at a mountain where you think, oh, the only thing that's going to get me up, this is me, and some of us might think I'd rather not. So he's got that feeling. We're told that the innkeeper and Dickens' character are alternating who's in front, but Wilkie Collins' character is always at the back, always at the back.

Speaker 1:

And he's the youngest as well, isn't he? He's only about 33, I think, isn't he? But he does have ailments, doesn't he? He's quite a sickly guy.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, he does suffer with a lot of problems.

Speaker 1:

Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And then they get to the top of this mountain, the mist ascends around them and what do they see? Nothing. Yes, this great kind of act of travel, writing, of getting to this place, choosing to do this, this wonderful journey to find that you cannot see anything. And then, as they're going down, you have the injury, just to add on top of that.

Speaker 1:

Yes, but Dickens has formed with climbing mountains, doesn't he? In an ill-advised way. So Vesuvius in Italy. When it's erupting, he decides it's a good idea to just go in the dark as well. I think he does it, doesn't he?

Speaker 2:

And he sticks his face in it. He sticks his face in Vesuvius and he and the other men who've gone up have kind of ashes and bits of fire on their clothes they have to put out.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, his clothes burned, don't they? Yeah, yeah, craziness. So they've managed to get down from Karakfel. We know this because it's very early in the book, so for anything else to follow, they have to make it out alive. They get back, and then that, I think, leads us into the second chapter, which takes us to our first ghost story, which I think is an excellent one, isn't it? Do you want to set it up? And we're going to. We're probably going to have spoilers. I think that's fine, we'll see how we go.

Speaker 2:

Right. So the first ghost story is largely written by Wilkie Collins. Bits of the chapter are also written by Dickens, but the ghost story itself would later be published as the Dead Hand and it's told to us by the doctor who is treating the twisted ankle of Collins' character. And the doctor, dr Speddy, tells us this story of a friend of his, arthur Holliday, going to stay in an inn During the race. It's essentially it's very busy. There's one room, someone else has already turned it down and the innkeeper says to him you can stay there for five shillings, but there's somebody else in the room. You won't have the room to yourself. This is fairly common for inns, especially at busy times. And he says oh well, I don't know about that. Is he quiet? Yes, he's very quiet. Is he asleep? Yes, he's already asleep.

Speaker 3:

He's a very quiet sleeper, said Arthur. Yes, said the landlord, very quiet, long Holliday advanced with the candle and looked in at the man cautiously. How pale he is, said Arthur. Arthur looked closer at the man. The bed clothes were drawn up to his chin and they lay perfectly still over the region of his chest. Surprised and vaguely startled, arthur stooped down closer over the stranger, looked at his ashy, parted lips, listened breathlessly for an instant, looked again at the strangely still face and the motionless lips and chest and turned round suddenly on the landlord with his own cheeks as pale for the moment as the hollow cheeks of the man on the bed. Come here, he whispered under his breath. Come here, for God's sake, the man's not asleep, he is dead. You have found that out sooner than I thought you would, said the landlord composedly.

Speaker 2:

There is a dead body in this room. Both of the ghost stories in the Lazy Tour of Two Idol Apprentices are really interesting to do with time and I think the descriptions here of the passage of time. He finds some riddles, he tries to pass an hour, passes as he does these riddles and he's survived one hour in the room with this dead body and then he notices that it's moved and this hand is hanging off the edge of the bed, this pale bony hand, and he's looked at the body. A doctor has looked at the body. He was sure that this person was dead.

Speaker 1:

I think it's a really excellent story, isn't it? The suspense is actually genuinely quite frightening this one, because I've read quite a few ghost stories from the 19th century and most of them don't actually make you feel frightened. You can enjoy them and all of that, but this one is really quite atmospheric, isn't it? All the time, as you're saying, arthur Holiday is in the room with the supposed dead body and trying to pass the time with riddles and stuff like that, and the candle's burning down, isn't it? And he fumbles with the candle and the light goes out and all of that.

Speaker 2:

And he's aware that there's still somebody in the inn, but they're about to leave. So if he's going to say anything, if he's going to move, he's got to do it before that happens. So all this sense that time is passing, that he's increasingly isolated, of how much time you have with the candle before it's completely going to go out and it can't be relit yeah, it's really tense.

Speaker 1:

And he's too embarrassed, isn't he? This is so British as well. He's too embarrassed to go down and get another light for himself before it all shuts up downstairs. He doesn't want to be laughed at.

Speaker 2:

No.

Speaker 1:

Which I think is such a nice touch.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. And also that the innkeeper has said you know I'm going to keep your five shillings either way, because you know I have given you a room, I have given you a bed. So there's an element of pride there for this character.

Speaker 3:

He lighted the candle again and on the instant of its burning up, the first object in the room that his eyes sought for was the curtained bed. Just before the light had been put out he had looked in that direction and had seen no change, no disarrangement of any sort in the folds of the closely drawn curtains. When he looked at the bed now, he saw, hanging over the side of it, a long white hand. It lay perfectly motionless midway on the side of the bed. Nothing more was visible. The clinging curtains hid everything but the long white hand.

Speaker 1:

So what I find interesting about this first dead hand story, compared to the Ghost in the Brides Chamber, one later on in Chapter 4, is that Wilkie Collins, he really puts himself at a distance from it, doesn't he? He puts dickens in the room with the doctor telling the story of someone he knew after holiday going to the inn in Doncaster. So it's just interesting that Dickens in his one, he's the one that's experiencing the story. He's right in the middle of the story. I know we haven't quite got there yet, but I just thought that was very interesting, that the reality in the fiction seems more easily overlapping with Dickens. They're brought closer together often, whereas Wilkie is that right. Would he use more of a framing device, or perhaps that's a really interesting point.

Speaker 2:

Is that too much?

Speaker 1:

Yeah.

Speaker 2:

I mean, I wonder if it's partly to do with the conventions of ghost stories, right, they're often reported at quite a level of remove in that, something like the turn of the screw. The framing narrative of that is that there's a Christmas party and someone has this story from the governance and the often stories have that. I heard this from a friend of a friend who was really there and I wonder if that's what he's playing into and that sense of remove from it. But yeah, it's interesting that then Dickens' character is at the center of both stories whereas Collins' character is not. Yeah, interesting.

Speaker 1:

What I can't remember. Emily and I really like this collection, I really love it. But I can't remember what happens in chapter three. I can't. It sort of it falls in between the two big ghost stories, doesn't it a little bit? Yeah, it does, but is it the chapter? Because there's a moment where they both get so frustrated. So Wilkie is having to sort of keep his foot up, isn't he? He's lying on his back through most of the day looking out the window while Dickens goes gallivanting off. And is this the chapter where they get really fed up? Where they are on the equipment, please leave this place. And then they move on again.

Speaker 2:

Yes, essentially a lot of the places they go to end up being a lot busier than they want them to be. So here they're in Wicton. There's a really odd little bit where Francis good child Dickens' character is looking out the window and Thomas Idle is saying brother Francis, brother Francis, what can you see? And he describes again. It sort of goes to a weirdly gothic place. If there's two men, what are they looking at? What do their faces look like? And he can't see them. And that's actually a reference to Bluebeard as part of that. One of the sisters goes to the top of the turret and the other one says what can you see? What can you see, is sister Anne, what can you see? So even in this, this one, that seems a little bit more about what you can eat at a coastal place, the sunsets at Ulland B yeah serious travel writing rather than messing around.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, they're still bringing in those kind of gothic or horror undertones. Then in this chapter we get the reflection on Thomas Idle's life, on his childhood, as you say, that cricket match where he gets a fever from essentially having to perspire more than he thought he would and being called to the bar and not being idle enough, essentially, and how all of these things in his life have gone wrong and he wants to commit himself to idleness. And that is written by Collins and his kind of fictionalized version of his own life. So yeah, those are the main things for this chapter. They talk about the contrasts at the station of lethargy and madness. Everywhere they go they want it to be quiet. At night the station is quiet and then it comes to life and there's all this energy and all this activity and they're not, they're not enjoying it. So Thomas says this place fills me with the dreadful sensation of having something to do. Remove me, francis. So then that's why they decide they want to leave. There's too much going on and they want to go somewhere else.

Speaker 1:

And zipping all the way through this narrative. Are the railways? Are the trains? This comparatively new technology that's making everything fast and furious and noisy?

Speaker 3:

Here was, station after station, swallowed up by the express, without stopping here, stations where it fired itself in like a volley of cannonballs, swooped away four country people with nose gaze and three men of business with portmanteaus, and fired itself off again. Bang, bang, bang. Here again were stations with nothing going but a bell and wonderful. Wooden razors settle off on great posts shaving the air. In these fields, the horses, sheep and cattle were well used to the thundering meteor and didn't mind the pastoral country. Darkened, became coley, became smoky, became infernal, got better, got worse, improved again, grew rugged, turned romantic. Was a wood, a stream, a chain of hills, a gorge, a moor, a cathedral town, a fortified place, a waste, now miserable black dwellings, a black canal and sick black towers of chimneys. Now a trim garden where the flowers were bright and fair, now a wilderness of hideous altars all ablaze. Now the water meadows with their fairy rings.

Speaker 1:

I find that very interesting, isn't there? Because our technological anxieties that we have today with AI and social media and all of those things I suppose the equivalent in the 19th century would be perhaps the railways and all of that disruption and how they're everywhere and springing up everywhere and taking over.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, absolutely.

Speaker 2:

And Dickens wrote so wonderfully about that in something like Donby and Sun, where he talks about the neighborhood being ripped up by the railway like it's a natural disaster.

Speaker 2:

And the interesting thing is that Wilkie Collins' travel book Rambles Beyond Railways is part of what a lot of travel writing is trying to do of now that people can actually travel to places and you don't need to be an aristocrat in order to travel. The real travel is the things that take you beyond the railways. So ostensibly that's what they're doing and that's the kind of going up Carrick Fell. But this is a journey that is very much reliant on the railways. They're mostly getting around by that. So that sense of travelling without purpose and the fact that for the first time essentially in history, people with less money you still need some money, but people with less money can travel and can go to the coast and you get these Victorian seaside towns and you get people travelling for the races and things like that, this busyness and this sense of tourism is new to the 19th century and it's really facilitated by the railway.

Speaker 1:

There we go. That's a good summation of chapter three, well done.

Speaker 2:

Let's get into the more fun ghost stories in chapter four. Yeah, let's do it, let's do it All right.

Speaker 1:

So chapter four, which is enormous fun. I don't know where to start. You go for this one, for us, emily.

Speaker 2:

Oh, okay. So we start actually with this wonderful description from Thomas Idol of Good Child Dickens's character. It's just unable to play that, he's unable to be lazy, he's unable to be idle. And this feeds into the ghost story, because we find out that the ghost would be freed if two living men could stay awake and listen to his story. And Dickens's character is awake and listening to the story, but Wilkie Collins's character has fallen asleep, possibly kind of magically fallen asleep. So there's difference between them of the one who is always on and can't turn off and the other one who is very low energy is part of what's at play in this ghost story. And it's a wonderful story. I find it so fascinating. And those resonances with Dickens and Ellen Ternan as well, because the bride I don't know if you clocked that her name is Ellen.

Speaker 1:

I can't believe I didn't clock that the bride's name is Ellen. I think, because this is such a great story, we should just go for it, shouldn't we? And just don't worry about revealing too much of it, because people listening can switch off if they want to pick up the book first and come back. Do they arrive at this old house, both of them first of all? Good, child and idle, is that right?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So. They arrive at this place that they're staying, and at the time they arrive, about six o'clock, there are six old men dressed the same. And that's what good child notices. It's not saying. It's a bit weird. There's these six men just kind of parading up and down the stairs around the servants and things, but nobody seems to be paying very much attention to them. They're never in the way. So, okay, that's a little bit odd. And then when they're in their room at night the clock strikes one. The door has been banging periodically, but at one o'clock the door opens and there's a man and he comes in and he starts to tell the story. And that there's two parts of the story. There's what's happening to the ghost and there's why it's happening to the ghost. So what's happening to the ghost is, as the clock strikes every hour up to 12, another version of him suddenly is brought to. I say life but suddenly manifests. So by noon there are 12 of these men.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, here you've got a ghost story told by a ghost.

Speaker 3:

The door opened and one old man stood there. He had come in and shut the door and he now sat down. He did not bend himself to sit as other people do, but seemed to sink bolt upright as if in water, until the chair stopped him.

Speaker 1:

And also Dickens is put under a spell, isn't he? These bolts of fire shoot out of the ghost's eyes.

Speaker 3:

Mr Goodchild believed that he saw threads of fire stretch from the old man's eyes to his own and there attached themselves. He had the strongest sensation of being forced to look at the old man along those two fiery films.

Speaker 1:

From that moment, it made me think of Dickens and Mesmerism and his obsession with that, that mind control.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And then when there are two of them he's got the four beams that are keeping him fixed in place. So, yeah, I think you're absolutely right that Mesmerism is part of what's going on here and, as you said, really interesting contrast with the other story of we're getting the story from the ghost himself, versus the levels of distance in Collins's story. So we have this one man at one, we have two men at two and he tells us that every hour up until 12, there's a new version of him, and then they all wait in horror until midnight when they are all hanged against Lancaster Castle wall with their face to the wall so that he can feel 12 times the pain of execution.

Speaker 3:

They hang condemned criminals at the castle? I believe. I believe so said the old man. Are their faces turned towards that noble prospect? Your faces turn, replied the old man, to the castle wall. When you are tied up, you see its stones expanding and contracting violently and a similar expansion and contraction seem to take place in your own head and breast. Then there is a rush of fire and an earthquake and the castle springs into the air and you tumble down a precipice. His cravat appeared to trouble him. He put his hand to his throat and moved his neck from side to side. He was an old man of a swollen character of face and his nose was immovably hitched up on one side, as if by a little hook inserted in that nostril.

Speaker 2:

So really horrific, really horrific idea, I think, the story itself why this is happening to this figure. We find out that he had been in love with a woman and she had married somebody else and then, when that person died, he tried to get her to marry him for the money. He wanted something back for his kind of wasted attentions to her, but she dies before that happens. She has a daughter, however, and this man takes control of her daughter and raises her to be obedient to his will, basically. So she's much younger than him again, interesting in light of Dickens and Alan Ternan. She's much younger than him and he raises her, he pays a governess to educate her in a way that she will just do whatever he wants her to do, and then he marries her so that he can inherit all of her possessions. Take everything from her. And he says I want nothing else from you, I just want you to die. And she says I'll do anything. What do you want me to do? I'll do anything, I'm sorry. And he just says die. And there's a great passage that I will find. So he says, now that she's got her to sign away, all of her possessions. He says now die. He says I'm not going to kill you. I will not endanger my life for yours die.

Speaker 2:

He sat before her in the gloomy brides chamber, day after day, night after night, looking the word at her when he did not utter it as often as her large unmeaning eyes were raised from the hands in which she rocked her head to the stern figure sitting with crossed arms and knitted forehead in the chair. They read in it die. When she dropped to sleep in exhaustion, she was called back to shuddering consciousness by the whisper die. When she fell upon her old entreaty to be pardoned, she was answered die. When she had out watched and out suffered the long night and the rising sun flamed into the somber room. She heard it hailed with another day and not dead die. And it's.

Speaker 2:

It's really awful and it's really interesting because of the relationship between them, because of this older man and a younger woman who he's kind of entrapped into this situation as a reflection of potentially a concern that Dickens has. But critics have also read it potentially as more literally a man wishing his wife would die. So Dickens, who is just pursuing Ellen Ternan, who he himself is married to, catherine, wishing to be free of her. So that's one interpretation of it.

Speaker 2:

But then we have another element to this story, which that's that there is a young man who is in love with this girl and has been climbing into the tree outside of their house for four years and is in love with her and after she has died because she does just give in and die he accuses the man and says you know, I know what you've been doing to her, and even though he has been so careful to get his money from her not to actually kill her but to make sure that he was free he kills this young man and he buries him under a tree outside of the house and therefore he is trapped and he is feeling that the noose is kind of hanging over him, that his fate is sealed, if anybody finds this out. Essentially, the tree gets hit by lightning, scientists want to come and dig it up and this body is found. So, even though he's been really careful to keep his hands clean, he especially complains that he wanted money and the killing of this young man got him nothing, and I think that's a really interesting point as well and they try to try him for both murders. But it's the real murder that he gets tried for and that is the crime for which he is suffering.

Speaker 2:

But there's another element to the haunting, which is that he only has this suffering of the 12 versions of him in the month of September, the month in which it happened, and he's told that the rest of the time he is in the bride's chamber with the young man outside the window, with the young woman in the room and her ghost is creeping towards him, telling him to live. I think that's such an interesting detail as well, of this young woman calling on him to live, and her name is Ellen. And why is Dickens, given this tragic young woman who's essentially been raised to have no personality? She's a blank, she is forced to her death by an older man and she is telling that man to live. And I kind of think of it in that context of Dickens wanting to feel younger than he is, wanting something, to feel that what Ellen is offering him is life in some way.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, rebirth yeah, yeah, absolutely. And do you think Dickens wanting to be the young man in the story or is he the old man wanting to get rid of his feelings for Ellen?

Speaker 2:

That question as to whether the young man is Dickens as well. There is actually an article that suggests that, that the young man might not just be Dickens wanting to be that young man for Ellen, but it might be the killing of the love that he had as a young man for Catherine. That here is the young man that loved the woman that he is presenting as a bit of a blank, and he did say such awful things about Catherine as that she was essentially illiterate, which she obviously wasn't, being the daughter of a leading literary figure in Edinburgh, and she published a cookbook, things like that. She was not illiterate, she was not stupid, she had a lot of children by him and he, as these stories made clear, had a lot of energy in every sense of the word. These are some of the kind of interesting points that people have pulled out in this story in terms of the biographical stuff.

Speaker 1:

It's fascinating, isn't it? I can't believe I missed her name was Ellen. That's amazing, emily.

Speaker 2:

I think it's only mentioned once.

Speaker 1:

But when the ghost telling the story of his own life, when he's murdered the young man and buried him, something I find so brilliant and just creepy is the way that the figure of the young man reappears in leaves, patterns of leaves and things, and during the season. So the man built an arbor, doesn't he? Over the ground where the young man is buried, I think by the tree around the tree, before it's struck by lightning, and he sees images of the young man repeated in various settings, which is amazing. Rather than just seeing a ghost of him, he sees him churned up.

Speaker 3:

As the seasons changed and the tree changed, his mind perceived dangers that were always changing. In the leafy time, he perceived that the upper boughs were growing into the form of the young man, that they made the shape of him, exactly sitting in a forked branch, swinging in the wind. In the time of the falling leaves, he perceived that they came down from the tree, forming tell-tale letters on the path, or that they had a tendency to heap themselves into a churchyard mound above the grave. In the winter, when the tree was bare, he perceived that the boughs swung at him the ghost of the blow the young man had given, and that they threatened him openly. In the spring, when the sap was mounting in the trunk, he asked himself were the dried up particles of blood mounting with it? To make out, more obviously this year than last, the leaf-screened figure of the young man swinging in the wind?

Speaker 1:

Do you think psychologically in this story Dickens is maybe in his subconscious, I don't know thinking of the potential fallout and social death that he will suffer if it gets out in the wrong way, that he's with Ellen Ternan and he's unable to control the narrative of how that's put out to the public.

Speaker 2:

I think that's a really good point, coming as this does about a year before he does end up publishing a personal statement trying to defend himself, as he does separate from Catherine, and he does try to control the narrative. It's interesting to talk about how weird it is to use Ellen's name here. What would be the motivation for that, in the sense that he's as far as we know, nothing's really happened yet. This is pursuing her, having met her earlier that year, To put her name in this story as this figure. Is it a warning to her? Is it just one of those things of loving the name, a kind of joke with yourself, an in-joke, Because he does use her name in other ways.

Speaker 2:

In the mystery of Edwin Drude we have Helena Landless and Ellen's middle name was Lawless. Helena Landless, Ellen Lawless there seems to be some kind of mention there, but that's a much more flattering picture. She's a much more interesting, rounded character for that in-joke, but it's not a flattering picture. I wonder if it's a sort of warning in that very psychological sense, or if it is just for him that in-joke of the pleasure of using her name.

Speaker 1:

Do you think Wilkie Collins was completely innocent of what was potentially brewing there? And he just jots it down, sets it down as a thing?

Speaker 2:

Well. So the suggestion that I've heard is that perhaps Dickens wrote this section and the reason that the manuscript is gone and that Forster claims that Dickens wrote this entire chapter was to obscure the fact that Dickens wrote that section. But all Collins really has to say about it is that a lot of the sections they wrote together in Dickens' Swiss chalet, the kind of little wooden house that he had at the end of his garden, so very private nobody else could say exactly who wrote what and I think their styles do blend together really well here in a lot of different ways. So if we take it as it was written by Collins again, it might be part of that in-joke of nobody's going to know. It's not specific enough because it's very unspecific.

Speaker 2:

So it says um, mr Goodchild would appear to have been by no means free from lunacy himself at traces, though not of the prevalent kind.

Speaker 2:

He is suspected by Mr Idol to have fallen into a dreadful state concerning a pair of little lilac gloves and little bonnet that he saw there.

Speaker 2:

Mr Idol asserts that he did afterwards repeat at the angel, with an appearance of being lunatically seized, some rhapsody to the following effect oh little lilac gloves and oh, winning little bonnet, making, in conjunction with her golden hair, quite a glory in the sunlight round the pretty head. Why anything in the world but you and me? Why may not this day's running of horses to all the rest Of precious sands of life to me be prolonged through an everlasting autumn sunshine without a sunset Slave of the lamp or ring, striped beyond a gallant equestrian clark of the course in the scarlet coat, motionless on the green grass for ages? And it continues and ends with it that I, loving the little lilac gloves, the winning little bonnet and the dear unknown wearer with the golden hair, may wait by her side forever to see a great Saint Leisure that shall never be run. So maybe it's a little in-joke and it specifically says unknown wearer of the bonnet, but it fits with that joke at the beginning.

Speaker 3:

Mr Goodchild, who is always in love with somebody and not unfrequently with several objects at once, heaved a sigh of the kind which is termed by the lower orders a bellows her.

Speaker 1:

But that fifth chapter is a real. It's such an interesting one. I can imagine them both pitching in and it being it's so kind of like a merry-go-round, isn't it? And something that jumped out for me are the references to William Palmer and somebody else's thirdful is it John Thirdall, or two murderers. And it turns out that the waxworks of these two murderers had been on at Madame Tussauds and I wondered how are they put into this chapter as being seen in Doncaster? I wondered whether the waxworks had toured to Doncaster that week or something, because it's so strange. The case of William Palmer was the year before, I think in 1856, and he was a poisoner. It's such a strange, macabre kind of dance of killers.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's really interesting that he mentions Palmer, because Palmer was known for being addicted to racing. So this was a sensational trial the summer before and there was an essay that Dickens wrote on the demeanor of murderers the year before. But I think the connection here is to racing, and Thirdall as well was a gambler. So there's something here that Dickens is saying which he says in his articles about capital punishment as well, about crowds facilitating crime, and I think it's an interesting comment there on the connection between gambling and the love of this kind of thing and more serious crimes like murder that these are two murderers who are known for being gamblers or addicted to racing or in some way interested in horse racing.

Speaker 1:

And, as a case that they witness these murderers, they just see people that remind them of the appearance of these murderers that they've seen.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, and that sense of people all being crammed together. I think that there could be murderers there. There certainly would be pickpockets and other kinds of criminals there, that everybody is kind of descending on this location enjoying the races. There is this element of observing people, but there is also this criminality of you know. What is it actually that we're enjoying? What is it actually that we are or should be getting from this?

Speaker 3:

All degrees of men, from peers to paupers, betting incessantly, keepers, very watchful and taking all good chances. An awful family likeness among the keepers to Mr Palmer and Mr Thirdall. Mr Palmer passes me five times in five minutes and so I go down the street. The back of Mr Thirdall's skull is always going on before me.

Speaker 1:

And then a very, very funny random thing about how horses are ridiculous.

Speaker 3:

I object first to the personal appearance of the horse. I think his nose too long, his forehead too low and his legs ridiculously thin by comparison with the size of his body. Again, considering how big an animal he is, I object to the contemptible delicacy of his constitution. Is he not the sickliest creature in creation? Does any child cat coal as easily as a horse? Does he not spray in his fetlock for all his appearance of superior strength? As easily as I sprained my ankle? What a fool the horse is. What a poor, nervous fool. He will start at a piece of white paper in the road as if it was a lion. His one idea when he hears a noise that he is not accustomed to is to run away from it. What do you mean by laughing and shaking your head at me?

Speaker 1:

The hardly idle at all is nothing like what the title suggests.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's definitely a misleading title and again, the genre is so weird because it is this mix of travel writing and tries to have this gossipy tone of this is what it's like to be in Doncaster at this time. Here is Karak fell. This is where you can get to on the train and have these experiences, and then this sort of autobiographical stuff and this very, very fictional set of ghost stories. So we're on a real spectrum here of observation of people that Dickens was so good at and kind of characteristic comic exaggeration of other people and of themselves, and then these ghost stories. And I think I would probably find it less strange if it was a Christmas story, but coming as it does in October, it seems unusual.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, one little image I like is just before, I think, the ghost story in chapter four. Both Dickens and Wilkie Collins are lounging about, aren't they? And they're smoking, and there are these wreaths of smoke coiling above their heads. It reminds me of that Dickens painting where he's sat and you have the fog around him and all the characters appearing. It's as if these two writers can't quite shut down their fancy. They can't escape the workings of their imagination.

Speaker 2:

Especially at night.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, at night of course, yeah, yeah.

Speaker 2:

And then they talk about dreams at some points as well, of kind of coming back to reality from dreams, I think when Francis Goodchild has taken Thomas Idol downstairs to get away from the ghosts from chapter four. But, as you say, really interesting there, that fancy is making them play with each other as well, in that reference to Bluebeard of Brother Francis. Brother Francis, what can you see? That they are fictionalizing their own lives as they, as they're living it, it seems, and as people doing travel writing. That's kind of part of that process. But both of them as people who do journalism and travel writing and fiction and that growth of sensation, fiction that Wilkie Collins is starting to become known for by this point, because there's still predates his major successes that we might know about the Moonstone and the Woman in White, but he is already getting that reputation that it's an interesting mix of all of those things coming together and I think for their creative and collaborative pieces, one of the most successful.

Speaker 2:

There's a shame about the title and that this framing from Hogarth doesn't really work because Hogarth's apprentices, one of them, ends up being hanged. It's meant to be a kind of again a doubling story. It is interesting for the young man and the old man and the brother and the half brother of one apprentice that succeeds and one apprentice that descends into infamy until he ends up being hanged at Tyburn. But that's not what we have here, we're told at the beginning they're essentially the same. They're not quite the same. But unless they're making a very unflattering comment on Collins, that association of one with Francis Goodchild and Thomas Idol with the other isn't doing very much beyond just kind of animating that beginning of the story.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, do you think, in terms of their writing styles, did they meld their style a little bit to meet each other? Were these chapters have them both writing them? Did Wilkie Collins try and be more like Dickens and Dickens concede to be a bit more like Wilkie Collins maybe, I don't know.

Speaker 2:

I think to some extent. I think a lot of people would find it surprising to think that Dickens ever conceded yeah, as soon as I asked that question, I thought there's no way that this was an even relationship.

Speaker 2:

No, and the major book on Dickens and Collins is called Unequal Partners. Okay, so they're really interesting, though, because Dickens had so many people who were writing for household words, like Collins did, that were eventually called Dickens's young men and were accused of imitating his style. But Wilkie Collins was never one of them. He did have his own style, again, with the writing of this because we don't have the manuscript we do have manuscripts of other things they wrote together, like other perils of certain English prisoners, for example, and you can see who wrote what.

Speaker 2:

But Dickens was a very heavy handed editor and I can imagine Collins not quite capitulating to it the way that some of the other writers did. He never did quite become one of those young men that just imitated Dickens, but I can't imagine Dickens really coming to Collins's level. I was going to say down, I don't think that's fair. But you know there was a mutual influence in that Dickens, in writing something like A Tale of Two Cities, even Edwin Drude was trying to take on more of that sensationalist style that Collins was better known for and arguably better at. So he definitely recognised and respected Collins as a writer of his own, but I imagine if anybody was having to meet in the middle, it would be Collins and that middle would be very much the other way.

Speaker 1:

Sure, thank you so much. It's been so great to talk to you about this one, and really I think everyone should read it, shouldn't they? Everyone listening to this episode should pick this up, especially for Halloween, because the ghost stories inside it are great, and there is that supernatural tension running through it in other places where you don't expect it as well.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, absolutely. I think they're really evocative stories and they're really unusual in how they play with time and how they play with doubling, and they're so well written and they do create tension in such interesting ways, and especially with the ghost being broken into twelve men that experience this pain twelve times. I don't really know any other ghost story like it. So, aside from the biographical resonances, they're just so much fun to read the framing of the whole thing, the kind of travel writing, sort of not the joke of who Collins and Dickens were to each other, but also these fictionalised versions of themselves. It's a really rewarding read, much shorter than most of either Dickens or Collins' novels.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, thank you so much again. Thank you, happy Halloween. Happy Halloween to you too.

Dickens and Collins' "Lazy Tour" Analysis
Mountain Adventure and Ghost Story
Ghost Stories and Literary Conventions
Ghostly Tale of Good Child
Analysis of Dickens' Haunting Tale
Examining Dickens and Collins Collaboration
Ghost Story Fun and Biographical Resonances