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A House to Let by Charles Dickens

A House to Let

by Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins

Other authors: Elizabeth Gaskell (Contributor), Adelaide Anne Procter (Contributor)

Series: Christmas Number (1858)

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Charles Dickens is one of my favorite authors. As the book, A House to Let, is edited and (at least partially) written by him I’ve been meaning to read it for sometime. Besides, another author whose work I've enjoyed, Wilkie Collins, has also written some parts of this book.

A House to Let was originally published in 1858 in the Christmas edition of Dickens' Household Words magazine. Written by not one but four different authors, Elizabeth Gaskell and Adelaide Anne Procter besides Dickens and Collins, this book was innovative for its time to say the least. Each author wrote one chapter each, with Dickens and Collins writing the introduction and conclusion.

The book, for me had a definite ‘Dickensian’ feel to it. That is probably because the idea of the story was his to begin with and that he was the editor of the story. It has a Oliver Twist feel to it with elements of The Woman in White thrown in. I enjoyed the book in parts. I enjoyed the beginning and the ending chapters and Collins' chapter called 'Trottle's Report' the most. The chapter written by Gaskell was satisfactory. But I didn't like Dickens' and Procter's chapters that much. The writings of the four authors are so distinct that you could tell that it has been written by four different persons instead of one. The writing is not seamless. That is a drawback of this book. But what I really enjoyed was the atmosphere of the story. In the end, A House to Let did bring a smile to my face. On the whole, an enjoyable book. ( )
  Porua | Apr 25, 2018 |
I especially liked Elizabeth Gaskell's contribution, The Manchester Marriage. ( )
  cait815 | Apr 1, 2013 |
I actually have the volume with John Taylor and James K. Polk, but I'm too lazy to make a new entry.
  JeremyPreacher | Mar 30, 2013 |
A House To Let is an odd little book that doesn't quite know what it is, being the brainchild of four different authors. It is actually one story throughout all these variations in style and focus, but each chapter is only loosely tied to the preceding chapters and feels like the beginning of its own story. In some places it's gothicky, ominous melodrama to suit Wilkie Collins, in others it's mawkishly comical (*cough*Charles Dickens!*cough*), and in others it's Victorian poetry of the most lugubrious and sentimental sort (Adelaide Anne Procter). Elizabeth Gaskell also had a hand in the tale and her chapter is the calmest and sanest amidst the others' excesses.

Sophonisba, an elderly spinster lady, has taken new lodgings in London on the advice of her doctor. She becomes fascinated with the house across the way that is always to let but never taken. When she sees an Eye in one of the windows, this casual interest is intensified into an experience of being haunted by the house's secrets. Sophonisba quickly sets her servant Trottle and friend Jabez Jarber to track down the mystery of the house and its sinister occupants.

Though a fun experiment, this story is certainly a disjointed experience for the reader. Just when I would settle into one style, the chapter would end and the next author would step up to the plate, determined (I am sure) to show up the last guy (or gal). So it's hard to review this little novella. As a literary novelty it's fun, but it doesn't have the staying power of consistent artistry and substance, and I doubt I'll ever be tempted to reread. ( )
6 vote atimco | Nov 25, 2012 |
A House to Let is a collaboration between four 19th century authors, which originally appeared as the Christmas edition of Charles Dickens' weekly magazine, Household Words, in 1858. The book is divided into six sections; the first, Over the Way, and the sixth, Let at Last, are joint efforts by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, and provide the framework for the story. The other four sections are individual contributions from Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, Adelaide Anne Procter and Wilkie Collins, in that order.

Over the Way introduces us to Sophonisba, an elderly woman who has never married but has two men vying for her attentions - one is her old admirer Jabez Jarber; the other is her servant, Trottle. When Sophonisba's doctor advises a change of air and scene, she leaves her home in Tunbridge Wells and moves into new lodgings in London, where she immediately becomes obsessed with the house opposite - a house which has been vacant for many years and is permanently 'to let'. Determined to discover why the house has remained empty for so long - and convinced she has seen an eye staring out from one of the windows - she asks Jarber and Trottle to investigate.

Over the Way and Let at Last are credited to both Dickens and Collins, but there's no way to tell exactly which parts were contributed by which writer. The other four chapters, though, are each written in the distinctive style of their respective authors and each tell the story of a previous occupant of the house to let. The chapter I liked the least was actually the one written solely by Dickens, Going Into Society. The story of a showman and a circus dwarf called Mr Chops, it was just too weird for me and was also quite difficult to read as it was written in dialect. It's probably significant that I found the two Dickens/Collins collaborations much easier to read than this solo effort, as I've always thought Collins was a lot more readable than Dickens.

Three Evenings in the House, the contribution by Adelaide Anne Procter, whose work I was previously unfamiliar with, is in the form of a narrative poem. I'm not a big lover of poetry but luckily for me this was only thirteen pages long and quite easy to understand. Other than providing some variety though, I don't think this chapter really added much to the story.

The Manchester Marriage by Elizabeth Gaskell stands out as an excellent piece of writing: a tragic story of Alice Wilson, who is widowed when her husband is lost at sea. After marrying again, she and her new husband move into the house to let where further tragedy awaits them. This is good enough to work as a stand-alone short story (and according to the Biographical Notes, it was actually published separately in its own right). This and the Wilkie Collins contribution, Trottle's Report, were my favourite chapters. Trottle's Report is a typical Collins story, with unusual, quirky characters, a mysterious secret, and a slightly dark and gothic feel.

If you like any of these four authors or Victorian fiction in general, then A House to Let is definitely worth reading. It also provides a good introduction to Dickens, Collins, Procter and Gaskell without having to commit yourself to one of their longer works. ( )
2 vote SheReadsNovels | Jul 9, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dickens, Charlesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Collins, Wilkiemain authorall editionsconfirmed
Gaskell, ElizabethContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Procter, Adelaide AnneContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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I had been living at Tunbridge Wells and nowhere else, going on for ten years, when my medical man--very clever in his profession, and the prettiest player I ever saw in my life of a hand at Long Whist, which was a noble and a princely game before Short was heard of--said to me, one day, as he sat feeling my pulse on the actual sofa which my poor dear sister Jane worked before her spine came on, and laid her on a board for fifteen months at a stretch--the most upright woman that ever lived--said to me, "What we want, ma'am, is a fillip."
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Over the Way

The Manchester Marriage

Going into Society

Three Evenings in the House

Trottle's Report

Let at Last
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This collaborative short story brings together the creative talents of four of the Victorian era's most popular fiction writers - Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Adelaide Anne Procter each contributed a section to the work. When an elderly woman notices signs of activity at a supposedly abandoned home in her neighborhood, she devises a scheme to get to the bottom of the mysterious goings-on.… (more)

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