Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

Supernatural Proximity: Fantasy and Fiction in Charles Dickens' the Bagman's Story

Academic journal article IUP Journal of English Studies

Supernatural Proximity: Fantasy and Fiction in Charles Dickens' the Bagman's Story

Article excerpt

The power of Dickens is so amazing that the reader at once becomes his captive and must follow him whithersoever he leads.

- William Makepeace Thackeray

Admired and internationally acclaimed, Charles John Huffam Dickens was born at Portsmouth, England on February 7, 1812. His childhood is said to be miserable, in the sense that he was subjected to abject poverty. His father went to prison and he had to leave school. In spite of being a boy of keen sensibility he had to work with low companions in factories. However, born to achieve big in life, he struggled his way through it. At the age of 15, he learned shorthand and turned to journalism. He then worked as a freelance reporter in the Morning Chronicle. His first book Sketches of Boz (1836) was a collection of stories and descriptive pieces written for various papers which was later followed by other short story collections such as The Mudfog Papers^(1837) in^Bentley's Miscellany^magazine, Reprinted Pieces^(1861), and The Uncommercial Traveller^(1860-1869).

Generally, the term 'supernatural' is used for experience of events and beings that are above the prevailing order of nature. They are not only difficult to believe but also stand out for being beyond the realm of the ordinary laws of cause and effect which are basics in the human world. Cuddon considers supernatural as

A very comprehensive term which may be applied to any sort of story which in some way makes use of ghosts, ghouls, specters, apparitions, poltergeists, good and evil spirits and things that go bump in the night; not to mention magic, witchcraft, marvels, talismans, the eerie atmosphere and presence of the uncanny; anything supranormal, and beyond sensory perception; what makes the flesh creep and the hair stand on the end; the 'spooky', the numinous; that which conveys the sense of preternatural (to use Coleridge's word) powers. (1998, p. 880)

The primitive and the medieval people had a lot of faith in the supernatural existence of nature and they were therefore the strong believers in it. They looked at the phenomena of nature with awe and wonder. The Catholic legends and the mystic experiences of Christian saints sought to present the supernatural as holy truths. The literature of the middle ages-the romances and the ballads-freely explored the supernatural or the mysterious ghosts, witches, demons. They appeared frequently in their literature; however, one is also bound to note while reading this kind of literature that it is slightly crude and often sensational.

With the advent of the Renaissance, the supernatural presented itself many a time wrapped up in the garb of allegory and symbolism. Efforts were made to make it appear natural and convincing with a few exceptions; for example, in the works of Shakespeare one comes across many supernatural incidents that can be hair-raising for the reader.

During the 18th century, Horace Walpole, Mrs Radcliffe, Monk Lewis and Beckford handled the supernatural elements in their works. They presented these elements in gruesome manner by creating an atmosphere of horror and mystery by artificial methods such as the use of noise and thunder, different shapes and sizes. They depicted ghosts and witches playing with the lives of innocent persons. Their aim was to cause horror by means of supernatural machinery. Hence, devils were portrayed in a bad light. Their supernaturalism is dull and quite unconvincing.

Many critics consider Defoe to be the first modern ghost short story writer. His short story A Relation of the Apparition of Mrs. Veal (1970) and one of his earliest studies of ghostly phenomena and impact of ghosts on the imagination in The Secrets of the Invisible World Disclosed written under the pseudonym Andrew Moreton made a phenomenal change in the comprehension of the ghosts as supernatural and how they shall be perceived by readers. While defining 'ghost' in The Secrets of the Invisible World Disclosed, Defoe attempts to persuade readers about the positive attributes of ghosts. …

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