Book Review: The Chimes by Charles Dickens

The Chimes, or A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In is a short story / novella by Charles Dickens published in the 1840’s.  It is the second of the five Christmas stories that he wrote, the most popular and well-known being the first, A Christmas Carol.

Toby Veck, called Trotty due to the strange way he walks, is a hard-working, honest but poor man, who has a deep obsession with the bells in the church tower, the porch of which is where he waits for work as a ticket porter.  The strange thing about Trotty is that when the bells chime, it’s as if he hears them ringing out messages.  He lives with his daughter, Meg, who is planning on marrying her sweetheart on New Year’s Day.

On New Year’s Eve, Toby hears the tolling of the bells, and thinking they are calling to him, he goes to the church, where he finds the door to the bell tower unlocked and open.  Climbing the stairs, when he reaches the bells, he is greeted with the vision of a multitude of goblins dancing.  But what message does the spirits of the bells have for Toby this particular New Year’s Eve?

As you make your way through The Crimes, it would be hard to miss the strong social and moral theme that is the backbone of the story.  This is no surprise as Dickens is well-known for depicting the plight of the poor and downtrodden of Victorian Britain.  One of the main things to strike me as I read the story was the terrible and cruel personality of the rich characters, the worst part being that they actually believed that they were kind and generous, compassionate and helpful to those less fortunate to them.

There are also a number of strange character names, which, when I read Dickens, I must say I look out for and make a note of 🙂  My favourite strange-sounding name in this story would have to be Mrs Chickenstalker.

The story is a fairly gloomy one, one that brought tears to my eyes at one point, but it clearly brings home the message of how hard life was for the poor of Victorian towns and cities.  And yet, the message in the story might be one of hope or overcoming the despair of the circumstances you find yourself in.  Still, it is quite a dark, gloomy read.

In my opinion, if you enjoy the classics, this is a great story to read over the Christmas and New Year period but if you are looking for a more light-hearted festive read, you probably won’t enjoy this so much.

Short Story Review: The Black Veil by Charles Dickens

It is the year 1800, or thereabouts, and a young doctor has recently opened his own surgery.  All he is waiting for is his first patient.  However, none seem to be forthcoming.  Days pass and still no patients arrive.  That is, until late one night, a woman, dressed in mourning attire and a black veil, is admitted to see the doctor.  Her identity is completely hidden beneath the fabric, and although the doctor cannot make out any of her features, except that she is a singularly tall lady, he can feel her eyes on him, watching him, but she doesn’t speak.

Eventually the doctor breaks the silence and asks whether there is anything he can do for her.  By this time he has come to the conclusion that she might be a local madwoman. Finally she declares that she is very ill, but that she is there on behalf of another, one who’s condition is grave.

In reply the doctor the announces that a moment cannot be lost if this person is as ill as she claims and he will attend them at once.  But rather bizarrely, the woman says no, it would be useless.  Instead, she instructs him to come at nine o’clock tomorrow morning.

The doctor protests, saying that it makes no sense to put it off, it surely will only make matters worse, but the woman won’t be moved.  Before she leaves she gives vague directions as to where the doctor can find them tomorrow and then makes her exit.

But what awaits the doctor the following morning?  And is he really too late to be of any use?

I can honestly say that I didn’t expect the one big surprise in the story.  In true Dickensian style, the plight of the poor is vividly recounted, and his sympathy for them through his words is clearly evident.

I came across this short story in Short Stories from the Nineteenth Century, selected by David Stuart Davies.