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Thumbnail of Household Words, Volume XVIII, magazine No. 450.

No. 450

6/11/1858

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DJO acknowledges with huge gratitude the expertise and support of the following who were involved in the online proofing of this magazine, as online text correctors, and moderators:
Amenah Qureshi, Ben Winyard, Chris Pritchard, David Nuttall and Thomas G.H. Spoors

Thumbnail of Household Words, Volume XVIII, magazine No. 451.

No. 451

13/11/1858

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DJO acknowledges with huge gratitude the expertise and support of the following who were involved in the online proofing of this magazine, as online text correctors, and moderators:
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Thumbnail of Household Words, Volume XVIII, magazine No. 452.

No. 452

20/11/1858

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DJO acknowledges with huge gratitude the expertise and support of the following who were involved in the online proofing of this magazine, as online text correctors, and moderators:
Ben Winyard and Scott N. Stone

Thumbnail of Household Words, Volume XVIII, magazine No. 453.

No. 453

27/11/1858

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DJO acknowledges with huge gratitude the expertise and support of the following who were involved in the online proofing of this magazine, as online text correctors, and moderators:
Kathy White, Marion Wright and Thomas G.H. Spoors

Thumbnail of Household Words, Volume XVIII, magazine 1858 Christmas.

1858 Christmas

7/12/1858

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For general remarks on the extra Christmas numbers, see note to The Seven Poor Travellers.
A House to Let tells the following story. An old unmarried woman living in Tunbridge Wells has been advised by her doctor to seek a change of scene. With the aid of an old suitor, Jabez Jarber, and a trusted servant, Trottle, she rents a London residence across from a strange old house that is always to let but never rented. The old lady discovers that the supposedly empty house is oddly active, and she enlists the aid of Jarber and Trottle to investigate the mystery. Jarber's researches lead him to discover the histories of three of the former occupants of the house - and at this point stories by Mrs. Gaskell, Dickens, and Adelaide Anne Procter are introduced. Trottle's researches lead him to discover the history of the current occupants of the 'unoccupied' house - a history that Trottle delivers in his 'Report' and that centers on the old lady's relatives. The mystery of the house is further elaborated and resolved in the final section, 'Let at Last.'
A House to Let consists of six parts as follows: 'Over the Way' by Dickens and Wilkie Collins (see next paragraph); 'The Manchester Marriage' by Mrs. Gaskell; 'Going into Society' by Dickens; 'Three Evenings in the House' by Adelaide Anne Procter; 'Trottle's Report' by Wilkie Collins; and 'Let at Last' by Dickens and Wilkie Collins.
The Contributors' Book lists 'Over the Way' as solely by Collins, and 'Let at Last' as by Dickens and Collins. It seems clear, however, that Dickens wrote substantial portions of 'Over the Way' and that it, as well as 'Let at Last,' is a collaborative piece. This attribution is made not merely on internal stylistic grounds (which seem very strong), but because certain portions of 'Over the Way' introduce characteristically Dickensian themes, images, tags, and techniques - almost all connected with the female narrator (Dickens' chief responsibility elsewhere in A House to Let) - and all taken up and developed by Dickens again in what appear to be his portions of 'Let at Last.' It seems likely, therefore, that Dickens went back and interpolated certain integrative motifs and touches into the opening segment.
The case for claiming parts of 'Over the Way' for Dickens is strengthened when one takes into account the genesis of A House to Let and the circumstances of its composition. On 6 September 1858, Dickens wrote to Collins and made the following suggestion:

About the Christmas number. I have arranged so to stop my readings [Dickens was in the midst of a reading tour], as to be available for it [the Christmas number] on Fifteenth of November, which will leave me time to write a good article, if I clear my way to one. Do you see your way to our making a Christmas number of this idea that I am going very briefly to hint? Some disappointed person, man or woman, prematurely disgusted with the world, for some reason or no reason (the person should be young, I think) retires to an old lonely house, or an old lonely mill, or anything you like, with one attendant, resolved to shut out the world, and hold no communion with it. The one attendant sees the absurdity of the idea, pretends to humour it, but really tries to slaughter it. Everything that happens, everybody that comes near, every breath of human interest that floats into the old place from the village, or the heath, or the four cross-roads near which it stands, and from which belated travellers stray into it, shows beyond mistake that you can't shut out the world; that you are in it, to be of it; that you get into a false position the moment you try to sever yourself from it; and that you must mingle with it, and make the best of it, and make the best of yourself into the bargain.
If we could plot out a way of doing this together, I would not be afraid to take my part. If we could not, could we plot out a way of doing it, and taking in stories by other hands? If we could not do either (but I think we could), shall we fall back upon a round of stories again? That I would rather not do, if possible. Will you think about it?

Dickens' idea was put aside. Perhaps Collins demurred; perhaps the notion required more time than was available; or perhaps Dickens realized that he had already developed similar themes in two Christmas works: The Haunted Man, the Christmas book for 1848; and The Holly-Tree Inn, the extra Christmas number of Household Words for 1855. In any case, though the central idea was abandoned, two features of the proposal were included in the new Christmas number: the story was focused on a lonely old house, and the framework was made more extensive and unifying than usual - only three interpolated stories were required to fill out the number.
A House to Let took its final form slowly. On 2 October 1858, Dickens was complaining that Wills had misinformed prospective contributors about the ground rules; even Collins, who had received his instructions from Dickens, seemed confused. A month later (9 November) basic matters were still unresolved. Dickens, who was winding up his reading tour, had not yet gone through the pile of stories that had poured into Household Words. He now suggested that Collins meet him at Brighton on the 13th (the last day of his tour), accompany him home to Gad's Hill Place on the 14th, remain as a guest, and write through the week: 'I would go to work too, and we might do Heaven knows how much.' Collins came and stayed overnight at Brighton, apparently went down as planned to Gad's Hill the next day, and there wrote his share of A House to Let in close consultation with Dickens. By 20 November, only the finishing touches remained. 'Wilkie and I,' Dickens wrote to Wills, 'have arranged to pass the whole day here [at the office of Household Words], on Monday Week, the 29th, to connect the various portions of the Xmas No. and get it finally together. If you arrange to have them ready at the Printers, for such cuts and such short bits of copy as we shall send them from time to time in the course of that day, we can finally correct it before we leave here that night, and you can send your last revise for Press next day.'
Dickens' letters show that all the chief decisions in A House to Let were his. He formulated the plan, articulated the stories, manipulated the framework, and retouched the finished number (see his analogous treatment of the other Christmas numbers). Most of the minor decisions were his too. On 2 October, in answer to a query by Collins concerning the framework, Dickens wrote: 'I think I had best write the framework in the first person - unless I should think of any new and odd way of doing it. I will certainly avoid the plain third person in which the stories will be narrated.' Here, as elsewhere, Dickens' editorial decision was supreme, his right to add or modify virtually unquestioned. In 'Over the Way,' essentially a framework section of A House to Let, this normal pattern of modifying and rewriting was combined with intimate daily consultation and collaboration. Under the circumstances it would be strange to find Dickens withholding his hand, and the text indicates that he exercised no such restraint. This conclusion is strengthened by more general testimony. According to one contemporary account, Dickens rarely exercised restraint with Collins' writings. In My Literary Life, speaking of Collins' work, Mrs. Lynn Linton wrote: 'I was told by one who knew, that [Dickens] took unheard-of pains with his younger friend's first productions, and went over them line by line, correcting, deleting, adding to, as carefully as a conscientious schoolmaster dealing with the first essay of a promising scholar. In his 'Rambles beyond Railways,' the hand of the master was ubiquitous and omnipotent, and so in the stories published in Household Words and All the Year Round.' This is no doubt an exaggeration, but 'Over the Way' appears to be a thoroughly composite production.

Dickens probably wrote the following hitherto unidentified and uncollected portions of A House to Let:
A. 'Over the Way': from 'very clever' to 'ever lived' (p. 573) ; from 'It was the fifth' (p. 574) to 'Charley of long ago' (p. 575); from '(for truly the Eye' to 'ashamed of it)' (p. 576) ; from 'It was a very wet Sunday' to 'it was to see eyes' (p. 577). Dickens seems also to have added touches to other portions of 'Over the Way,' especially from the beginning to 'Charley of long ago' (p. 575).
B. 'The Manchester Marriage': portions of the framework segment at the conclusion.
C. 'Three Evenings in the House': the framework segment at the condusion.
D. 'Let at Last': from 'The only words' (p. 613) to 'about George Forley' (p. 614) ; from 'We could do no less' (p. 616) to the conclusion. Dickens seems also to have added touches to passages primarily by Collins

Harry Stone; © Bloomington and Indiana University Press, 1968. DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.


 

 

Text correction by Andy Bull; moderated by JD.

DJO acknowledges with huge gratitude the expertise and support of the following who were involved in the online proofing of this magazine, as online text correctors, and moderators:
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