Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Haunted Man & The Haunted House: Review

The Haunted House is a strange little tale. John, our narrator, is told that he needs to take a house in the country to help his health improve. A friend spots a house that seems perfect when he's out driving and off John goes to see about it. As soon as he sees it up close, he realizes it must be haunted and the inhabitants of the nearby village confirm his impressions. So--what does he do? Decides it's just the house for him and moves in with his sister, a deaf stable man, two women servants, an Odd Girl (a tweeny, maybe?), and his bloodhound. Why on earth he thinks living in a haunted house is going to improve his health is beyond me. Naturally, the ghost--or rather ghosts because there's Master B, a disturbed young male ghost, and a hooded woman with an owl, starts right in with bell-ringing and appearances and whatnot. So to dispel the ghost, John comes up with the bright idea to send all the servants away except the deaf stable man (who hasn't seen hide nor hair of a ghost) and have a jolly house party--because if they're all happy and not looking for ghosts in every corner then they probably won't have any. Well...I don't know if John drank a little too much or maybe smoked something he shouldn't have but he lays down in Master B's room and has the most bizarre experience. It reads more like an opium dream than a ghostly experience and when he wakes up/sobers up/what-have-you then the story ends and we have no idea if there really was a ghost who took possession of him or he just got hold of some really bad weed. Seriously. Not one of Dickens best.

The Haunted Man is a tale of transformation not unlike A Christmas Carol. Redlaw, the central character, is a chemistry teacher who broods on the evil which has been done to him and grief he has experienced in his past. One night, near Christmas, he listens to his servants talking of their good memories despite their circumstances (particularly of Philip…who has seen “87 years!” and had many things to overcome) and he falls into a particularly deep brooding state. A shadowy phantom of himself appears and offers him the chance to forget all the wrongs from his past. With this “gift” comes the power that will pass the “gift” on to those Redlaw comes in contact with. The result? Peace and happiness as Redlaw expects? Not so. Redlaw and those he comes in contact with fall into a wrathful state of universal anger. All but Milly, one of Dickens’s purely good female characters and a young boy that Milly has taken in who has known nothing but evil treatment until now. Finally, Redlaw—seeing the damage his “gift” has wrought—begs the phantom return and remove the gift. It is done…but only Milly’s goodness can counteract the anger and bring everyone back themselves. And it is Milly who presents Redlaw with the moral of the tale: ""It is important to remember past sorrows and wrongs so that you can then forgive those responsible and, in doing so, unburden your soul and mature as a human being."" Redlaw takes this to heart, and like Scrooge, becomes a more loving and whole person.

★★  for the two novellas.

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