To Be Read at Dusk

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Title: To Be Read at Dusk

Writer: Charles Dickens

Publishing House: Penguin Little Black Classics

Date of Publication: March 3rd 2016 (first published 1852)

Rating: 5 stars

‘’Τhe monstrous thought came into my mind as I perused the fixed eyes and the saturnine face, that this was a spirit, not a man.’’

Charles Dickens. The man who created the kind of Christmas we adore (well, those of us who aren’t boring, obnoxious atheists, that is…), the man who elevated the ghost story into the realm of Literature. The great writer, the great man who generously introduced the readers of his time to the reality of their city, who exposed the inequality and injustice inflicted on the weakest members of his society. But, now, we are here for the scary parts…This slim volume contains three spooky masterpieces created by the Master.

‘’Mistress secretly had great fear of meeting with the likeness of that face –  we all had; but there was no such thing. The Madonna and Bambino, San Francisco, San Sebastiano, Venus, Santa Caterina, Angels, Brigands, Friars, Temples ay Sunset, Battles, White Horses, Forests, Apostles, Doges, all my old acquaintance many times repeated? – yes.’’

To Be Read at Dusk: In a palazzo near Genoa, a young woman is visited by the figure of a handsome, mysterious man. What seems like a momentary haunting becomes a very tangible reality when the young man proves to be an actual, very mortal presence in her life. Where else could the legend of the doppelganger find rich ground than in an Italian palazzo, a place where Art meets Life and Life meets the world beyond? Italy is a unique country full of light, joy and singing and beauty. When dusk falls, however, something changes. Being of Italian descent, I’ve often walked the nightly alleys of Rome and Venice, Bologna, Florence and Naples. Shadows move at your side and the past is everywhere, the feeling powerful and very particular.

‘’What is its warning against?’’, he said, ruminating, with his eyes on the fire, and only by times turning them on me. ‘’What is the danger? Where is the danger? There is danger overhanging somewhere on the Line. Some dreadful calamity will happen. It is not to be doubted this third time, after what has gone before. But surely this is a cruel haunting of me. What can I do?’’

The Signalman: We are all aware of countless legends associated with signalmen who try to warn against terrible accidents and apparitions that mirror impending catastrophe. In this atmospheric story, the narrator meets a distraught signalman, plagued by a figure who warns of danger, struggling to decipher the message and prevent disaster. 

‘’A truthful traveller, who should have seen some extraordinary creature in the likeness of a sea-serpent, would have no fear of mentioning it; but the same traveller, having had some singular presentiment, impulse, vagary of thought, vision (so called), dream or other remarkable mental impressions, would hesitate considerably before he would own to it.’’

The Trial For Murder: A man witnesses a rather unimpressive scene from his window. Two men about to engage in a fight before they walk away as suddenly as they appeared. Yet, it is their faces that turn the incident into a rather off-putting experience. Can a vision, a scene from the past, reveal the perpetrator of a crime? Dickens creates a moving story based on the ages-old conviction that victims return to reveal their murderers.

Doppelgangers, premonitions, visions, omens, messages from a world that is so far and yet so close to our own. Three little treasures by one of the greats.

‘’When you walk along a crowded street- at Frankfurt, Milan, London, Paris – and think that a passing stranger is like your friend Heinrich, and then that another passing stranger is like your friend Heinrich, and so begin to have a strange foreknowledge that presently you’ll meet your friend Heinrich- which you do, though you believed him at Trieste – what do you call that?’’