The Haunted House by Charles Dickens: Summary & Characters

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

It's a haunted story with a Christmas twist written by Charles Dickens...and five other authors! In this lesson, you'll learn more about the mini-stories in ~''The Haunted House,~'' and meet the stories' characters.

It's a Portmanteau

Charles Dickens is well known for his great works, including A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations, but did you know he knew his way around a portmanteau as well? If you don't know what that means, relax. It's a fancy way of saying that two words—or in this case, two (or more) stories—are combined to make one bigger story. And that's the way the ''The Haunted House'' is put together.

Charles Dickens co-authored The Haunted House with five other writers.
charles, dickens, haunted, house, portmanteau

Billed as a short story, the writing is actually a collection of short stories with the same plot, blended together to make one cohesive tale. Not only did Charles Dickens contribute the beginning and end of the tale, which was first published in 1859 in the magazine All the Year Round, but he solicited help from other authors including Hesba Stretton, George Augustus Sala, Adelaide Anne Procter, Wilkie Collins, and Elizabeth Gaskell.

Let's take a closer look at Dickens' portions of the story, which tie together the rest of the writing.

Important Characters

  • John: The narrator of the tale. He's rented the haunted house because his health required a ''temporary residence in the country.''
  • Patty: John's maiden (unmarried) sister. John describes her as ''very handsome, sensible, and engaging.''
  • Bottles: John and Patty's deaf stableman. He is the only servant allowed to stay because he ''talks to nobody and hears nobody.''
  • Ikey: A stableboy of the house's landlord.
  • John Herschel and his wife: Residents of the Clock Room. The pair are newlyweds.
  • Alfred Starling: A young man who draws the lot for the Double Room.
  • Belinda Bates: Described as intelligent and delightful, she spends the night in the Picture Room.
  • Sailor Jack Governor: Patty's former fiancé. He stays in the Corner Room.
  • Nat Beaver: Beaver is a sailor—a captain, in fact—and he resides in the Cupboard Room.
  • Mr. Undery: A friend to Jack and Patty (and a law officer). He draws the lot for the Garden Room.

Summary

Dickens is clearly the primary author in this collection, so we'll look more closely at his contributions to this portmanteau.

''The Mortals in the House'' by Charles Dickens

In the first volume of the story, we're introduced to John, the narrator, and his sister Patty, who go to live in the house that's the subject of the tale. The house is ''a solitary house, standing in a sadly neglected garden,'' described as stiff, cold, and formal. It is known to be haunted; in particular, bells ring without provocation and one of the siblings' servants observes ''Eyes'' at the residence.

The siblings decide to release all their servants (save Bottles, a deaf stableman) and live in the house by themselves. Patty has an idea to invite seven friends to the house to ''form a Society here for three months'' and observe the ghostly happenings around the home. Indeed, in November, friends begin arriving at the house and draw straws to see who gets what room. From these visitors, we get the remaining volumes in ''The Haunted House.''

Each visitor promises to keep any supernatural occurrences to themselves until the Twelfth Night, ''the last night of holy Christmas,'' when they plan to gather and share their stories.

The Middle Stories

The stories that come between Dickens' ''The Mortals in the House'' and the concluding ''The Ghost in the Corner Room,'' explain the encounters that each of Jack and Patty's friends have during their stay. These stories include ''The Ghost in the Clock Room,'' The Ghost in the Double Room,'' ''The Ghost in the Picture Room,'' ''The Ghost in the Cupboard Room,'' and ''The Ghost in the Garden Room.''

Each story is different from the rest, but none of them are truly connected. They function much like vignettes, or individual episodes, that each guest experiences in the room they drew the lot for. Some of the stories are told by the ghosts, while others have out-of-body type experiences.

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