The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain

Two years in a row probably doesn’t make a tradition, but I’m hoping it’s a start. Last year our library’s Classics Book Club read Charles Dickens’s Christmas novella Cricket on the Hearth for our December selection and followed this year with The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain. Dickens has other Christmas novellas, which gives me hope that a pattern is emerging.

Breaking the modern rule for writers to start with the action, Dickens spends four pages setting the scene before there is a knock at the door. His setting, reminiscent of A Christmas Carol, is intriguing and becomes almost another character in the story. Included in this scene setting is a light-hearted bit of fun-poking at the reliability of what “everybody says.” After he’s had his fun, he moves to his theme of memory. Another similarity to A Christmas Carol is his use of a ghost to make his point. Dickens did love his specters.

Old Mr. Williams, to distinguish him from his son the younger Mr. Williams, sets one side of the theme as he reminds his listeners frequently that he is eighty-seven and remembers every Christmas. He shares his delight that each was merry and that he has kept his memory green.

Mr. Redlaw wrestles with different memories characterized by “sorrow, wrong, and trouble” until he is offered a bargain by the phantom that looks like a shadow of himself. The ensuing plot is fun if a bit predictable. One of our book club members said it reminded her of Midas and how the granting of his wish turned on him.

I recommend the book to those who love Christmas and Dickens. While it is basically a light easy read, one of the quotes has lingered in my mind. “But for some trouble and sorrow, we should never know half the good that there is about us.” I haven’t quite figured out how this works, but I find it intriguing to consider how much our joy comes from the passing of our sorrow.

In another takeaway, I think I’ll adopt the prayer with which he closes the book, “Lord, keep my memory green.”