To Be Read At Dusk By Charles Dickens

To Be Read At Dusk

To Be Read At Dusk by Charles Dickens is a complex and unique ghost novel. This supernatural tale was published in Heath’s Keepsake in 1852. The spooky story starts with the meeting of five couriers on the summit of the Great St Bernard in Switzerland. Indeed, five couriers from different countries meet on the panel of the Great St Bernard in Switzerland. While four couriers are Genoese, German, Neapolitan, and Swiss, the fifth courier’s nationality is unrevealed. This book includes four mysterious ghost stories narrated by two couriers: one from Genoa and the other from Germany. The Genoese courier tells a spooky long story about an English bride’s disappearance, and the German courier tells three ghostly stories: two short at the beginning and the final one about two English twin brothers.

The First Two Stories Of The German Courier In To Be Read At Dusk

The first story to be told in To Be Read At Dusk is a short anecdote the German courier told when he recalled the strange encounter with a friend Heinrich at different times unexpectedly. He met people in the street, reminding him of his friend. Ultimately, the German courier met his friend, Heinrich, although he believed him at Trieste. Hence, the Swiss and the other couriers agreed that it was uncommon. The second story is about a Marchesa from Neaples, who was attending a card party and cried out that her sister in Spain was dead. The Marchesa felt her sister’s cold touch on her back. The two short anecdotes could have occurred without ghosts but were typical of supernatural events. In both of them, the mysterious premonition of events going to happen cannot be explained rationally.

The English Bride’s Story

The German courier exclaimed, “Very strange things do happen without ghosts“, and he invited the Italian courier from Genoa, Giovanni Baptista, to tell them the odd and mysterious story of the English bride—apparently without ghosts but inexplicable. Hence, Baptista starts his narration, which begins when he takes his credentials to an English gentleman in London. The gentleman was “young, handsome, very happy” and fell in love with a “fair young English lady“. After the wedding, they went to the Riviera, close to Genoa, to spend three months wedding trip in an old gloomy and dark palace surrounded by trees and a great garden near the seashore.

The Haunting Nightmare

With time, Clara, the English lady, became unhappy and showed terrified manners. Her cloudy and strange mood was due to a nightmare where she dreamt of “a remarkable-looking man in black, with black hair and a grey moustache – a handsome man except for a reserved and secret air.” The same nightmare occurred for three nights before her marriage. In the dream, the mysterious man stared at Clara fixedly out of the darkness. The palace was an old and grim residence whose interior smelled like a tomb with an earthly scent. It was close to Genoa, and an aged smell languished in every room, cupboard, and drawer. None of the ancient palace paintings portrayed the dark, handsome man in black. This fact reassured Clara, and life continued with her being beautiful and her husband happy.

The Sinister Signor Dellombra

The unnamed husband of Clara became acquainted with the odd and mysterious Signor Dellombra, which means from the shadow. The first invitation became the manifestation of the sinister omen in Clara’s dream, who did not expect that Signor Dellombra was identical to the dark, handsome man hunting her in the old nightmare. The ominous man became a close friend of Clara’s husband and often visited the couple as their constant guest. At every encounter, the dark man looked fixedly upon her out of darkness, and Clara looked terrified as in the presence of some evil force. The end of this story is a real mystery and leaves every reader puzzled. And, in this tale, there are no ghosts even though some of the characters vanished into “infamous oblivion”.

Light And Darkness

In To Be Read At Dusk, Dellombra and Clara represent the dual elements of light and darkness. The real oddity is the behaviour of Clara’s husband, who “reasoned with her that to encourage such fancies was to invite melancholy, if not madness. That it rested with herself to be herself”. Hence Clara cannot be herself, and she must hide her true character, keeping it hidden in the shadow, in the darkness. Clara has to dismiss her shadow, which haunts her like an inner demon. The ghost tale could be a symbolic reference between a male monster and a woman. Clara is the only person who sees a minacious evil presence, like in the case of the governess in The Aspern Paper by Henry James. Dellombra could be compared to the monster of Frankenstein and Mary Shelley.

The Vanishment Of Clara

Clara vanished into “infamous oblivion” with her dark side; indeed, it might be plausible that Clara led herself to her disappearance. After all, her unnamed husband was not so sensible with her needs and did not love her true personality. Indeed, Charles Dickens repeated in the text that Clara was beautiful and her husband was happy. Clara’s husband set his mind on curing her of her fanciful terrorThe darkness is the peculiar element connected to the title of this novel, which has to be read at dusk exclusively. After moving into the grim and decadent palace, Clara pursued her passions, such as playing the harp, singing, copying old pictures and strolling under the green trees and vines.

Nevertheless, she was unhappy, although beautiful. Her husband was happy, pretending that all was going well. Suddenly she encountered the man of her dreams when “she would cast down her eyes and droop her head, before the Signor Dellombra, or would look at him with a terrified and fascinated glance as if his presence had some evil influence or power upon her“. This ghost story cannot be explained logically and rationally. The dusk of the mind is an essential element to capture the essence of this tale. The supernatural is inexplicable and unrevealable in the daylight. Some secrets and mysteries have to be protected and kept in the darkness.

The Final Story In To Be Read At Dusk

In the second part of the ghost story To Be Read At Dusk by Charles Dickens, the German courier tells a mysterious story about two twin English brothers. The anecdote might be connected to the previous English bride tale. In the past, the German courier met an English merchant, James, who had a twin brother, John. Both were bachelor and working in business together, but living in different residences. After being affected by a strange disease, he appeared to James as a ghost before dying. Even in this story, the vision of the person who will die occurs as a premonitory vision. Such events happen, but the mystery of their essence must be accepted rather than explained.

Some Ghosts Are Not Ghosts

In To Be Read After Dusk, the narrator is unnamed and silently hears the odd stories of the Italian and German couriers. At the end of the narration, a still silence fell steadily, and the five couriers disappeared. Years before publishing this ghost story, Charles Dickens travelled to Italy and Switzerland. Dickens expresses a subtle double regarding the paranormal veridicality of the English bride story. Indeed, the German courier exclaims: “What do you call that? Ghosts! There are no ghosts there! What do you call this, that I am going to tell you? Ghosts! There are no ghosts here!.” It is like Dickens was questioning himself regarding the credibility of the supernatural. Mystery, instability, affirmation and rejection are elements emerging in the novel since the beginning, where the five couriers appear one by one with the sequence: “ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR, FIVE. There were five of them.” 

Oddities And Mystery Of To Be Read At Dusk

To Be Read At Dusk is a tale of odd tales with common features of mystery and concealed. The grim old palace represents the Gothic side of this polyhedric novel. Even though it is short, nevertheless, it is a complex tale full of oddities and contradictions. What appears does not usually correspond to reality, and the interpretation of abnormal circumstances cannot rely on logical rationality. Each person envisions an event differently, especially when its manifestation comprises many unrevealed and intangible attributes. This book by Charles Dickens is a unique story that deserves to be read, especially at dusk.

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