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A House to Let Charles Dickens and others.

Bayan Al Momani

"A House to Let," compiled by Charles Dickens and counting Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins among its contributors, is a composite tale of mystery and intrigue set amid the dark streets of Victorian London. This story is considered as a remarkable testament to the storytelling powers of some of literature's finest writers. To me as a reader "A House to Let," is an example of a mystery story that was written by Agatha Christie as if her spirit was roaming at the time when Dickens was putting the events of his mystery story, as if they wrote it together. When reading such story written by Dickens you are between escape and interpretative literature, and mature and immature readers. While reading the story, those who read books by Christie are going to feel her artistic presence in "A House to Let." This story has more to tell than just its style, it is another example that Charles Dickens had his unique sense for humanity which is worth noting when looking at todays' legalized deformity. Deformity is the keyword in this story. Stories are built on plot, which is a sequence of incidents or events of which a story is composed. Because plot is the easiest element in fiction to comprehend and put into words, beginning readers tend to equate it with the content of the work. Immature readers read chiefly for plot; mature readers read for whatever revelations of character or life may be presented by means of plot. Because they read chiefly for plot, immature readers may put high valuation on intricacy of plot or on violent physical action. On the one hand, they may want schemes and intrigues, mixed identities, disguises, secret letters, hidden passages and similar paraphernalia. On the other, they may demand fights by land and sea, dangerous missions, hazardous journeys, hair-breadth escapes. In a good story a minimum of physical action may be used to yield a maximum of insight. Every story has some action, but for a worthwhile story it must be significant action. Conceivably a plot might consist merely of a sequence of related actions. Ordinarily, however, both the excitement craved by immature readers and the meaningfulness demanded by mature readers arise out of some sort of


CONFLICT- a clash of actions, ideas, desires, or wills. The conflict may be physical, mental, emotional, or moral. Excellent interpretative fiction has been written utilizing all four of these major kinds of conflict. The cheaper varieties of commercial fiction, however, emphasize the conflict between man and man, depending on the element of physical conflict to supply the main part of their excitement.1 SUSPENSE is the quality in a story that makes readers ask "What's going to happen next?" or "How will this turn out?" and impels them to read on to find answers to these questions. Suspense is greatest when the readers' curiosity is combined with anxiety about the fate of some sympathetic character. Two common devices for achieving suspense are to introduce an element of MYSTERY- an unusual set of circumstances for which the readers crave an explanation, or to place the protagonist in a DILEMMA- a position in which he or she must choose between two courses of action, both undesirable. Suspense is usually the first quality mentioned by immature readers when asked what makes a good story- and, indeed, unless a story makes us eager to keep on reading it, it can have little merit at all. Closely connected with the element of suspense in a short story is the element of SUSPENSE. The surprise is proportional to the unexpectedness of what happens; it becomes pronounced when the story departs radically from our expectation. In the short story such radical departure is most often found in a surprise ending: one that reveals a sudden new turn or twist. As with physical action and suspense, inexperienced readers make a heavier demand for surprise than do experienced readers. The escape story supplies a surprise ending more frequently than does the interpretative. There are two ways by which the legitimacy and value of a surprise ending may be judged: by the fairness with which it is achieved and by the purpose that it serves.2 All this talk about plot is revealing in this story, different styles in writing one book, and yet one can hardly sense that he disconnected from the previous part. One thing is clear from the beginning there is more than one writer, but they seem to follow Charles Dicken's style along with their own style. Sometimes one senses Agatha Christie's style in writing mystery, which suggests escape literature, then the same story about a house that no one wants to live in takes another turn and presents a human aspect. It provides an insight to understand the world, and the story characters take us out into midst of life, how life can be Laurence Perrine. Literature Structure, Sound, and Sense. Fourth edition. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich .11 .Publishers. P. 41-2-3 Laurence Perrine, same source. P. 43-4-5 .22


sometimes cruel. The writer becomes interpretative, taking us behind the scene, but each time one finishes reading, he reaches the same point and that is "we still don’t understand why the house won't let?" one comes to the conclusion that we are still beating round the bush without any fruitful result, but it seems that the reason is the need to understand the characters. Readers should be interested in actions done by characters rather than the other way round. Sometimes you feel that you understand characters, still the characters are not that simple to understand. Plot is emphasized more in some parts, which is escape rather than interpretative, but is worth noting is, whether the characters are consistent in their behavior. Though the story carries formulations of escape, it deals significantly with life that broadens and deepens our awareness of life. Through imagination we go into the real world and understand our troubles. There are twists and turns and surprises that slip easily through the mind requiring little mental effort, which make the story vary between invention and discovery, but there is no fixed norm. The writers are writing about the same house and each one of them is implementing his or her style. A House to Let, from the first page gives you the impression that you are reading a story by Agatha Christie. The atmosphere of her style makes the reader wonder how Charles Dickens managed to make us feel so and at the same time keep his own style. It sounds improper, but I can't help thinking that Dickens is writing like Christie and not the other way round. The reader understands that the narrator is an old lady, who lives alone with her loyal servant although she explains it to the readers few pages later. This is the first difference Agatha Christie doesn't spend lines explaining; instead it is understood within the events and context. Charles Dickens did it differently; he makes Sophonisba or Sophia the narrator talks about herself more than a reader expects in a mystery story. So, when it comes to any similarity between the two writers Miss Marple of Agatha Christie is the most appropriate to match Dickens' character. Miss Marple will not talk about herself; you will get what you need from the story's sequence of events, rather than making her volunteer to provide the needed information. Sherlock Holmes has a habit of making us wonder what he has in mind, he would surprise us with his observations and how every single incident has a value to him. We are always puzzled to the end, not really understanding his moves and reactions, his thoughts are sealed no one gets in. At the end of the mystery he shocks us with the way he figured out everything. Agatha Christie gives us the chance to explore the mind of her story crime solver, what is going in his or her mind, who he or she suspects, and his moves and motives. Christie 3

does not use a language that requires artistic description of what is happening; she just presents the events, the emotions, and the reactions as a professional detective. Charles Dickens in a way is into Agatha Christie's style, but at the same time it is more like him: "Well, to be sure I could not get rid of the impression of this eye, and it troubled me and troubled me, until it was almost a torment. I don't think I was previously inclined to concern my head much about the opposite house; but, after this eye, my head was full of the house and I thought of little else than the house, and I watched the house, and I talked about the house, and I dreamt of the house. In all this, I fully believe now, there was a good providence. But, you will judge for yourself about that, by and by."3

Charles Dickens is in a conflict between providing escape or interpretative literature, between presenting the element of suspense demanded by immature readers and going behind the scene for mature readers. Though I don’t think he was worrying himself about all these things other than writing a meaningful story. Agatha Christie would just suggest the idea of the eye haunting the narrator without explaining how heavily the impact was. The first part is entitled "OVER THE WAY," by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins and from the first page you are transferred to Agatha Christie's style. The old lady sitting alone in her house, when her medical man Dr. Towers tells her that she needs a little change of air and scene, so she sends her loyal servant Trottle to London to find some sort of place to lay her troublesome head in. Trottle came back after few days with accounts of a charming place that could be taken for six months. He said that the place is perfect but there is one fault outside the rooms of the place, they are opposite a house to let, "Nobody knows, ma'am. All I have to mention is, ma'am that the house won't let!" The suspense starts from here, as readers we are motivated to know why the house won't let. In fact Trottle is the one, in Christie's style, who gives the impression that there is a mystery behind the scene. Another character is mentioned throughout the story, Jarber a friend of the story teller and who is always on edge with Trottle, she said, "I had my misgivings as to the difficulty of keeping two powers from open warfare, and indeed I was more uneasy than I quite like to confess."4

Charles Dickens, A House to Let. P. 7 .33 .Charles Dickens, A House to Let. P. 12 .44


Sophia, the story teller saw the eye again now she is more confessed that she saw it. "Whenever I closed my own eyes, it was to see eyes," Jarber presented a discovery as he said, "The first of a series of discoveries, account of a former tenant, compiled from the water rate, and medical man."5 Jarber asked her, "Would you be much surprised if this house to let should turn out to be the property of a relation of your own?" "It belongs to your first cousin, George Forley." She said that the house being George Forley's is almost enough to account for there being a fate upon it, if fate there is. George Forley has been a hard, bitter, stony father to a child now dead. He was most implacable and relenting to one of his two daughters who made a poor marriage. Jarber started reading, he read as follows THE MANCHESTER MARRIAGE by Elizabeth Gaskell, and it is about Mr. and Mrs. Openshaw who came from Manchester to London and took the house to let. Mrs. Openshaw was married before; her first husband had been her own cousin. Her name was Alice and she was an orphan niece of a sea captain in Liverpool, "she was very shy, and believed herself to be very stupid and awkward; and was frequently scolded by her aunt, her own uncle's second wife. So when her cousin, frank Wilson, came home from a long absence at sea, and first was kind and protective to her; secondly, attentive; and thirdly, desperately in love with her." 6 They got married, when Captain Wilson returned from his voyage he was very cordial with the young couple, but he told them that, for quietness' sake, he could not ask them to his own house, for his wife was bitter against them. The Story went on showing Frank how he was tormenting himself, and Alice too, in a slighter degree, by apprehensions and imaginations of what might befall her during his approaching absence at sea. Before Frank went to sea, he had the comfort of seeing his wife installed in her old little garret in his father's house. After a while Frank's father died, and it became time for Alice to hear less from her husband, in reply to her enquiry at the shipping-office, they told her that the owners had given up hope of ever hearing more from the Betsy-Jane, and had sent in their claim upon the underwriters. The story in my opinion revolves round children or to be accurate children like Alice's baby girl, and people alike. Her child suffered from a mysterious illness that turned out to be some affection of the spine likely to affect health; but not to shorten life. So this child when she is going to grow up she will be more like a dwarf, so no surprise at all to find out that the next part of the story is about a dwarf. Back to this part of the story, Mrs. Wilson, the step mother, and Alice decided .same source. P. 13 .55 .same source, p. 16 .66


to take a house in Manchester, Alice undertook the active superintendence and superior work of the household along with Norah Alice's faithful servant. Everything was going well except the little girl's increasing deformity. The word deformity has a peculiar importance in this story, because it stands for everything alike which can be sometimes tangible, and at others abstract. Then Mr. Openshaw came to lodge with them, he was a capital accountant, a good French and German scholar, a keen, far-seeing tradesman; he was attracted to the punctuality with which his wishes were attended to and her work was done. They got married and he brought a pack of doctors that could no good to the little girl Ailsie, she was beyond their power. That resembles many aspects of the human nature deformed and out of control, sometimes an eye can easily detect such deformity and some other times it is veiled and fits the term of deceiving appearances. Afterwards Mr. Openshaw took the house, the house to let, for his family and one night a stranger came to the house who turned out to be Frank Wilson, when Norah told him about Alice's marriage he went away and took his life. The sequence of events in this part is filled with suspense that intimidates readers to read more about this presumed mystery. But at the same time the humanitarian aspect is revealing itself and leaves the reader wandering about the type of story he is reading. Still this story of the Openshaw family doesn’t provide an answer for this mystery, "A most interesting story, all through," "a story that goes straight to the heart-especially at the end," Sarah said. "Well, sir," answered Trottle, "I want to know why the house over the way doesn’t let, and I don’t exactly see how your story answers the question. That's all I have to say, sir." I should have liked to contradict my opinionated servant at that moment, but, excellent as the story was in itself, I felt that he had hit on the weak point, so far as Jarber's particular purpose in reading it was concerned, thought Sarah."7 So, a new chapter begins hoping to shed light on the reason why the house won't let, it is the way detectives work gathering clues to find answers to the mystery. GOING INTO SOCIETY, by Charles Dickens, or in other words Ailsie going into society, obviously the two parts of the story are connected and not written in vain. Charles Dickens had the sense of caring for humanity, he tried to show how one with certain deformity can suffer when he or she faces the real world. Mr. Chops is a dwarf, or to be more related he was just like Ailsie 'deformed,' and his friend Toby Magsman, who once rented the house to let and had the occupation of a show. "Mr. Chops was a uncommon small man, with a most uncommon large ed; and what he had inside that ed, nobody ever knowed but himself: same source, p. 42-3 .77


even supposing himself to have ever took stock of it, which it would have been a stiff job for even him to do."8 The narrator Toby Magsman, is not educated which can be seen from the words he is using unlike "Mr. Chops who had a fine mind- a poetic mind; he had a kind of an everlasting grudge agin the public, he was continiwally saying, "Toby, my ambition is , to go into society." Mr. Chops made a confession to Magsman, "I ain't 'appy, Magsman. They don’t use me well. They an't grateful to me, they puts me on the mantelpiece when I won't have in more champagne wine, and they locks me in the sideboard when I won't give up my property." "Get rid of 'em, Mr. Chops." "I can't. We're in society together, and what would society say?" "Come out of society!" says I. "I can't. When you have once gone into society, you mustn't come out of it." "Then if you'll excuse the freedom, Mr. Chops, I think it's a pity you ever went in."9 Charles Dickens neatly presents the society as it is when it comes to deformity, society mistreats its members even when they are normal creatures, but deformity is another story, they are treated as part of a show and people pay to see them and at the same time they despise them. Mr. Chops said the truth when he said he can't stay isolated from others, still humiliation can never justify accepting it just for being part of something, freedom is the right choice. Mr. Chops summarized his situation perfectly, "The most material difference between the two states of existence is, when I was out of society, I was paid light for being seen. When I went into society, I paid heavy for being seen. I prefer the former, even if I wasn't forced upon it." 10 He tried to find a place for him and couldn’t or wasn't allowed to do so, people don't welcome deformity they find it absurd and the deformed are punished by either neglecting them or forcing them to make a show out of themselves. Whatever happens to them is irrelevant, no one really cares, Mr. Chops says, "Toby, the little man will now walk three times round the cairawan, and retire behind the curtain." Behind the curtain, the curtain stands for his end he just can't tolerate what he is dealing with, "when we called him in the morning, we found him gone into a much better society than mine. I giv Mr. Chops as comfortable a funeral as lay in my power." 11 A mystery that reveals a dark side of humanity, a perpetual way of treating those we find them don't fit our standards, and the same time it is child abuse, abusing and subjugating .same source, p. 46 .88 .same source, p. 48, 50 .99 .same source, p. 53 .1010 .same source, p. 54 .1111


the helpless. Ailsie the deformed child who lived in a family that cared for her went out one day to face society, Mr. Chops the dwarf or deformed Ailsie couldn't handle it because the price was high when it comes to stripping him from his humanity. Sarah thought that her questioned was answered, who is going to rent a house after it had been turned into a caravan. Jarber was happy to find the answer, but said, "I don’t triumph over this worthy creature." Throttle asked, "If you could kindly oblige me with a date or two in connection with that last story?" Jarber had evidently forgotten to enquire about dates; he looked sadly discomposed because the mystery still goes on. He left and began another series of discoveries, he said, "Accept the last two as stories laid on your shrine; and wait to blame me for leaving your curiosity unappeased, until you have heard number three." In the course of his investigations he had stepped into the circulating library to seek for information on the one important subject. A female relative of the last tenant had just after that tenant left, sent a little manuscript poem to the library which she described as referring to events that had actually passed in the house. Before Jarber began, Sophia rang the bell for Trottle; she wanted him to be present at the new reading as a wholesome check on his obstinacy. THREE EVENINGS IN THE HOUSE, by Adelaide Anne Procter it is a poem divided into three parts or three evenings. Jarber started reading number one, which was clearly lamenting her life from her childhood till the day she wrote the poem; which don’t serve the purpose of finding an answer for the mystery. Poem number two has the same melancholy tone when he says: "so Bertha feels it; listening with breathless, stony fear, waiting the dreadful summons each minute brings more near‌" was she mourning Mr. Chops or Ailsie, people with deformity, mourning humanity itself wondering all the time about death. Poem number three, "The house is all deserted in the dim evening gloom, only one figure passes slowly from room to room; and, passing at each doorway, seems gathering up again within her heart the relics of bygone joy and pain." The same theme of life and pain and questions about the point of everything to show in this part that the house is deserted, meaning that the house won't let. The house has its secret of hidden misery and Jarber just can't figure it out, he is in a maze each door leads to another and so far there is no exist. Sophia thought that she could warmly and sincerely praise the little poem when Jarber had done reading it; but she could not say that it tended in any degree towards clearing up the misery of the empty house. Jarber was determined to make more discoveries, Trottle was absent for few days when he came back he asserted that he had been employed in Sophia's service. Trottle promised


explanation with the reading of a written paper; the only difference was that Trottle introduced his manuscript under the name of a report. TROTTLE'S REPORT by Wilkie Collins, unlike Jarber, Trottle was thinking for himself, he didn't gather stories he decided to knock on the door and walk into the house to let. "Feeling no sort of objection to set a success of his own, Trottle made up his mind one Monday evening, to try what he could do, on his own account, towards clearing up the mystery of the empty house."12 It was getting towards dark, on Monday evening, the thirteenth of the month, when Trottle first set foot on the steps of the house. The time and date are important as Trottle found out later. Trottle went to the house and knocked on the door; a figure of a woman appeared and opened the door, Trottle stood face to face with two persons: a woman and a man behind her. Trottle couldn't stop thinking that the woman looked like a witch without a broomstick; she asked him if he came from Mr. Forley. Trottle boldly ran all the risk, whatever it might be, of saying yes. "Good Mr. Forley's letter told us his particular friend would be here to represent him, at dusk, on Monday the thirteenth or Monday the twentieth."13 Throttle came to into four conclusions, first that Mr. Forley was in habit of visiting the house regularly. Second, being prevented by illness from seeing the people put in charge as usual, had appointed a friend to represent him. Third, the friend had a choice of two Mondays, at a particular time in the evening, fourth, the similarity between Trottle's black dress and the dress of the messenger. "Assisted by signs and warnings, Trottle found no difficulty in understanding that the business referred to, was the giving and taking of money, and that he was expected to be the giver. The silence was suddenly interrupted by a sound in the upper part of the house."14 The witch without broomstick asked if Trottle would like to see him; Trottle wondered whether 'him' meant a man, a boy, or a domestic animal. Throttle agreed and followed her; and, for once in his life, was struck dumb with amazement at the sight which the inside of the room revealed. "Close under the window, kneeling on the bare boards with his face to the door, there appeared, of all the creatures in the world to see alone at such a place and at such a time, a mere mite of a child- a little, lonely, wizen, strangely clad boy who

.same source, p. 71 .1212 .same source, p. 72 .1313 .same source, p. 77 .1414


could not at the most have been more than five years old." 15 "Trottle, though not a family man, nevertheless felt the sight before him to be, in its way, one of the saddest and the most pitiable that he had ever witnessed."16 Trottle made out two points, the house is kept empty on purpose, and the way it's done is to ask a rent that nobody will pay. The face of Benjamin, the witch's son reminded Trottle of the face of another man whom he had seen at a past time in very different circumstances. LET AT LAST, by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, Trottle explained to Sophia that Mr. Forley's favorite daughter ran away with a man of low origin named Kirkland, and Mr. Forley never forgave that marriage. Throttle cleared up the matter of Benjamin's face, his name is Barsham and he was a first-rate surgeon, but he was both drunk and gambler. He also found out that Mrs. Kirkland was confined, while her husband was at sea, in lodgings at a village called Flatfield, and that she died and was buried there. The doctor who attended on Mrs. Kirkland was Barsham; and the nurse who took care of her was Barsham's mother; and that the person who called them both in was Mr. Forley. Mrs. Kirkland child was registered dead at Pendlebury, on Barsham's certificate, under the head of "male infant, stillborn." The child himself is living and breathing now- a castaway and a prisoner in that villainous house. Now the two villains Barsham and his mother are taking care of him, the witch without broomstick and her son Benjamin. Here the child was to have been trained to believe himself Barsham's child, till he should be old enough to be provided for in some situation, as low and as poor as Mr. Forley's uneasy conscience would let him pick. Mr. Forley's unexpected death made things possible to help the poor little orphan boy; Sophia took the child to her house. Sophia decided to buy the house to let, and turn it into a hospital for sick children. "Many an eye I see in that house now, but it is never in solitude, never in neglect. Many an eye I see in that house now, that is more and more radiant every day with the light of returning health."17 A mystery that leads to a humanitarian aspect which is about abduction of rights, mostly when the involved are helpless and ignorant of their rights; deformity was the main reason for starting such cruelty but again deformity was thinking about intimidating others and making them subject for any twisted thoughts or actions. Charles Dickens along with the other writers participating in A HOUSE TO LET were on the same track in preparing readers .same source, p. 77 .1515 .same source, p. 81 .1616 .same source, p. 94 .1717


to see the human nature how it can be deformed spiritually and many will accept it as natural way of behavior. Dickens is an envoy of human rights and children rights in particular; Oliver Twist is an example of how children suffered in orphanages, and how they were wrongly used when they leave to live in the real world. I still say that Agatha Christie shared in writing this mystery, Sophia or Miss Marple was there but she did nothing except for showing us her thoughts and observations. Everything was done by her friend Jarber and her loyal servant Trottle, who was more professional and rational observant of events. No doubt each writer has his or her own style, but in this book they skilled in leading readers from one part to another. Suspense was there for there was a mystery, a crime is committed without bloodshed and twisted people took it for granted. Deformity in shape, words, or even actions is a crime that was clearly presented throughout the story, sometimes it mattered and many times it didn’t. If Miss Marple or Sophia didn’t notice that eye in that house and her thoughtful nature wasn’t on alert, a secret of enslaving the helpless and depriving them from their rights will be hidden for a long time and an innocent child will pay a heavy price. Stories are sometimes like real life nothing stays hidden forever, there is a time for things to float on surface and deep oceans turn out to be so shallow. Is it escape literature or interpretative, to me why not both. Escape with a theme could do injustice to the story since it is humanitarian by all means, but it carries a mystery and that kind of secret letters and hidden history not to mention the happy ending. That is why I keep saying defining some books can lead to a kind of a conflict between the two kinds of literature.


References: 

Perrine, Laurence. Literature Structure, Sound, and Sense. Fourth edition. Harcourt


Brace Jovanovich Publishers. Dickens, Charles. A House to Let.


A house to let and human deformity, Charles Dickens,  

It is a story of mystery and intrigue, but there is more to it. It is about deformity of humanity, not just physical but also deformity of e...

A house to let and human deformity, Charles Dickens,  

It is a story of mystery and intrigue, but there is more to it. It is about deformity of humanity, not just physical but also deformity of e...