With A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens practically invented the modern notion of the Christmas season for Britain and much of the English-speaking world (along with Queen Victoria’s consort Albert, who brought German Christmas traditions like the Christmas tree to the UK). I shared Dickens’ “A Christmas Tree” for one of my early series of winter tales, but mostly I try to avoid the more obvious Christmas classics in favor of tales that you might not have read before.
That said, Dickens wrote some fun ghost stories, and ’tis the season…. So today I’ll share a lesser-known Dickens Christmas tale, “The Trial for Murder,” originally titled “To be Taken with a Grain of Salt.” This story first appeared in the 1865 Extra Christmas number of All the Year Round. This issue is collectively known as Dr. Marigold’s Prescriptions — hence, each of the stories had a title with some variation of “To be taken with…”.
Though “The Trial for Murder” is generally credited to Dickens alone, Philip Allingham at The Victorian Web says the story is likely a collaboration with Charles Allston Collins, Dickens’ son-in-law and Wilkie Collins’ brother.
A banker recalls some experiences he had relating to a sensational murder, the memory of which he doesn’t which to revive (quite properly, in my opinion).
It does not signify how many years ago, or how few, a certain murder was committed in England, which attracted great attention. We hear more than enough of murderers as they rise in succession to their atrocious eminence, and I would bury the memory of this particular brute, if I could, as his body was buried, in Newgate Jail. I purposely abstain from giving any direct clue to the criminal’s individuality.
Bored and burnt out, the banker experiences some visits and visitations relating to the case. When the killer is caught, our protagonist tries to avoid all the hullaballo — and then gets summoned to jury duty on the accused murderer’s trial.
You can read this story as a companion piece to a winter tale I shared two years ago, Algernon Blackwood’s “The Kit-Bag.”, another story about the aftermath of an intense murder case.
I’ve been on a bit of a crime fiction kick lately, and while it’s not particularly scary, this story suits my present reading mood well. Towards the end, the ghost shows that he knows how to make a dramatic exit. I do wonder if he might be guilty of jury-tampering, though.
A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.
Image: Edward G. Dalziel, Illustration for “Trial for Murder,” Christmas Stories (1877). Source: Philip V. Allingham, Victorian Web