On the 9th of June 1865, Charles Dickens was travelling aboard the Folkestone to London Boat Train with his mistress and her mother, when it derailed while crossing a viaduct near Staplehurst in Kent. The train plunged down a bank into a dry river bed, killing ten passengers, and badly wounding forty.
Dickens was profoundly affected by the disaster, and a year later, he published The Signalman, a supremely atmospheric ghost story in which the narrator, while investigating a dank and lonely railway cutting, meets the signalman who works there. His new acquaintance appears to live under the shadow of an unbearable secret, haunted by an apparition whose appearance prefigures terrible rail accidents.
I’ve never read a Dicken’s novel before, I always felt like I would come out of them dumbfounded… his writing seems too intellectual and educational for my little brain. But, this is just a ghost story, so it was easy enough to get on with!
Yes, I enjoyed this, but it wasn’t my favourite short story. A classic old school ghost story, but it could have been so much creepier than it was, so that let me down. There is a slight pang of shock at the tail end of this short, but it’s nothing to write home about.
What’s most interesting, to me, about this book, is the fact that it’s been pulled out of a personal tragedy of Dicken’s.