Friday, July 15, 2005

The Ghosts of "Pickwick"

Charles Dickens’ early comic work The Pickwick Papers (1837) contains no fewer than five ghost stories: “The Lawyer and the Ghost,” “The Queer Chair,” “The Ghosts of the Mail,” “A Madman’s Manuscript” and “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton.” The book consists of a series of stories Dickens recently had written for the publishing firm of Chapman and Hall. The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club was the serial title.

The ghost stories, while intrinsically entertaining, created a mystery destined for perpetual debate in literary circles. To wit: Did Dickens originally intend to incorporate them into The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, or were they conceived as stand-alone short stories? They stand alone quite satisfactorily, as Peter Haining demonstrated by including them among The Complete Ghost Stories of Charles Dickens (Franklin Watts, 1983). Haining points out in his introduction to the collection that Dickens wrote the Pickwick serial facing relentless publishing deadlines; he may have resorted to extraneous materials in order to stay on schedule. What actually occurred, Haining concluded, “will probably never be satisfactorily resolved.”


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