Charles Dickens’ short story ‘The Signal-Man‘ is hauntingly terrifying and intellectually complex. Claire Ashworth explains how Dickens’ vision of time predicts the psychology of Freud, in the fourth Late Summer Lecture. Free and open to all, from students and schools to members of the public.
Where: Alington House Community Association
Reserve your free ticket via Eventbrite or Facebook.
The concept of ‘Time’ in many of Dickens’ novels is a fluid, circular concept that was ahead of its era in many respects. In A Christmas Carol (1843), for example, the narrative begins in the present but then follows a strange linear-defying structure as Scrooge visits places in the past, alternate present, alternate future and back to the present. This strange temporality is augmented by the fact that, once Scrooge is restored to his ‘own time and place’, his terrifying visions of the future become memories of a future that did not and will not happen since he becomes a reformed man. By changing his ways and becoming a better person, Scrooge does not die in the way he foresaw and is thus able to avoid his fate.
The idea of ‘future memory’, as exemplified by Scrooge, is a concept which fascinated Dickens and many of his contemporaries including George Eliot, The Lifted Veil (1859) and Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White (1860). In The Lifted Veil, for instance, the protagonist also foresees his own death but, unlike Scrooge, he is powerless to prevent it. Dickens takes this concept to another level in his most intellectually complex ghost story, ‘The Signal-Man’ (1866) in which he explores the effects of shock on the mind and the ability of the past to encroach on the present; an exploration which anticipated Freud in many respects.