Dickens + supernatural = much more than A Christmas Carol. As the British Library's new exhibition shows, the master author regularly dipped into the strange and phantasmagoric, despite holding strong sceptical views.
Charles Dickens and the Supernatural is the BL's contribution to the copulent cultural conglobulation marking the 200th anniversary of the novelist's birth. It is a modest affair: a Cratchit's repast compared to the forthcoming Fezziwig's ball of an exhibition at the Museum of London. Yet there are plenty of tasty morsels. A series of cabinets show, though books, journals and letters, the Dickensian eye for the paranormal – from dabbles in spirituality and mesmerism to short stories of a mystical bent.
The show also explores how Dickens peppered his major novels with characters and scenes of an otherworldly persuasion. Early novels like The Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby are interspersed with ghostly tales. Uriah Heep harbours a mesmeric personality. And Great Expectations features the marshy opening scenes and the ruined Miss Havisham, neither of which would look out of place in a Hammer Horror. A Christmas Carol gets just one mention.
A Hankering After Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural runs at the British Library until 4 March 2012. Entrance is free.