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A House to Let
By Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Ann Procter
This free book – free because its copyright has expired, and it can be acquired at no cost from amazon and similar sources – is a collaborative writing by four Victorian writers (I read novels by three of them and liked them, but never heard of Ann Procter) and, as a result of it being a collaboration, the novel has several styles: a part is humorous, while others are gothic, suspenseful, or melodramatic.
The frame of the story, in which four tales are told, focuses on an elderly woman who was advised by her doctor to rent an apartment in London. She finds a very suitable place, but opposite her flat is a dilapidated house with a sign “To Let.” But the house is never rented; some people tell her it hasn’t been rented for as long as five or ten years. Twice when she looked at the house she saw an eye looking at her. She becomes very curious. She wants to know why the house hasn’t been rented, why it is run down, what is the eye – in short: what is its history and what is going on now. Two people, each antagonistic to the other, but both fond of her, investigate for her and come back with four stories.
The first is a drama of rather wealthy people who lived in the house sometime in the past. They do something that causes some of them enormous unresolved feelings of grief.
The second is about lower class people told in a humorous fashion, about a dwarf who wins an enormous sum of money in a lottery, who leaves his job to enter wealthy society, but returns to the house sorely disappointed.
The third report is a poem that one of the two men finds. It tells of a woman who devoted her life to her brother, giving up her own possibility for happiness, including a chance marry, and finds she made a mistake.
None of these past incidences in the house explains the house’s current situation. So one of the two men visits it. What he finds is startling and quite melodramatic!
While the novel as a whole is interesting, it does not pull the four tales together other than to tell us that the house has a tragic history of sorrow. I had the feeling that Dickens, who was not only an extremely gifted writer, but a good hand at securing money, gathered his friend together for a financial writing enterprise, but didn’t do an adequate job at editing to pull the stories together and to give them a twist that does not appear in the writings of others. But, this is only a minor problem, and I think readers will enjoy the tale.