So this contains a lot of Dickens’ not-so-well-known shorter works, published in the Christmas numbers of his publications, All The Year Round (which he amusingly refers to in “Somebody’s Luggage”) and Household Words. The first four are kind of weird (see individual notes below). Just when the stories start getting longer and better, there are many that Dickens wrote with other authors, mainly Wilkie Collins, and the editor of this volume, or publisher or somebody, decides we only need the bits of stories that were written exclusively by Dickens. Which leaves a lot of stories with holes in them. This book would have gotten a higher rating from me if all the stories had been complete. This would have made for an even longer book, but it could have been published in two volumes. Instead, we have stories with a beginning and end but the 30 pages or so in the middle is summarized in one sentence, or we have a single chapter plucked out of a longer work. Thankfully “No Thoroughfare” is intact, since Dickens and Collins worked together on most of it, rather than just taking turns on the acts. Why anyone would think people would only want to read partial stories is beyond me. Maybe if you are studying Dickens’ writing, but if you just want to read, you’re SOL. Luckily, all the collaborative stories have been published as standalone books, and most of them can be found online for free through Project Gutenberg or Open Library.
A Christmas Tree - not really a story but a bazaar list of what seems to be every toy the narrator has ever seen.
What Christmas Is As We Grow Older – not much of a story either, and I read it only two weeks ago, but don’t remember it at all.
The Poor Relation's Story - has an unreliable narrator who tells one story, then starts over telling the opposite, so we can’t be completely sure what to believe, but it’s probably the version where he is poor and lonely.
The Child's Story – reads like some sort of parable of the stages of a man’s life, from childhood to old age. Not really sure what the point is, though.
The Schoolboy's Story – a nice story with a happy ending, which implies that good people will always be rewarded. Shades of Nicholas Nickleby in the description of how poorly treated boys could be in private schools.
Nobody's Story - this story gave readers a jolt, and according to the introduction, left them disgusted with Dickens for trying to open the eyes of comfortable middle and upper class people to the realities of life being poor, and how unfair it is for those who are well off to actually blame the poor for being poor, uneducated and unhealthy, when it is often so hard to break the cycle of poverty without outside help.
The Seven Poor Travellers – this is the first of several stories in this volume that use the story-within-a-story structure, and in this case, the characters in the inner story are better characterized than those in the outer story.
The Holly-Tree – another story-within-a-story that is really more interesting than the outer story. The inner story, “Boots at the Holly-Tree Inn” was published by itself as well, and it is worth a few minutes of your time to check the adorable color illustrations in this online edition.
The Wreck of the Golden Mary – only contains the first part, which I didn’t know until I finished the excerpt, and exclaimed “this can’t possibly be the ending!” and it wasn’t. I have downloaded the whole story, but not read it yet. The ending, as presented here, is a big cliffhanger, and while many modern stories and novels end that abruptly, that wasn’t how Dickens worked. My download of the complete story does not say who the second writer was, but it may have been Wilkie Collins.
The Perils of Certain English Prisoners - another collaboration between Dickens and Wilkie Collins, and only chapters 1 and 3 are printed here. Chapter 2, by Collins, is summarized in 1 sentence by the editor, which does it nothing resembling justice. I found the whole story and went back and read chapter 2, and despite the narrator’s racism against the “Sambos” and Indians, this was one of my favorite stories in the volume, second to “No Thoroughfare,” and the ending just about broke my heart.
Going Into Society (from A House to Let) – there was no indication that this was part of a longer work, and I didn’t see this note in the description until just now, when I copied the story list for my review. There is a house which two men are looking at buying, which must have some superstition tied to it, or for some reason people must be warned away from it, since these men are looking into the previous occupants of the house to find out what is wrong with it. In this excerpt, we get the story of the owner of a freak circus (you know, giant man, bearded lady, etc.) and the dwarf from the circus who wins money in a lottery, quits the circus and “goes into society,” only to find that people are mercenary, and everyone who befriends him does so because of his money, so he comes back to the circus, as poor as he was before winning the lottery.
The Haunted House – I completely skipped this one, since the editor bothered to put a footnote saying that only two of eight chapters are included in this volume, the others having not been written by Dickens.
A Message From the Sea - I skipped this one too. This was written in collaboration with Wilkie Collins and is also not complete here, missing chapters 3 and 4, which the editor doesn’t bother to note until the beginning of chapter 5.
Tom Tiddler's Ground – Another one I skipped. The original has seven chapters, but only the three written by Dickens are included, and at least the editor mentions this on page one, rather than in the middle.
Somebody's Luggage – This one is also incomplete, but I read it and you can too without being lost, since the outer story is complete, but there are missing I don’t know how many stories-within-the-story which are all written by the Somebody who left the Luggage to be called for, but disappeared into the ether. Again, the editor doesn’t bother to mention that it’s not all there.
Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings – an amusing story, narrated by the rambling Mrs. Lirriper, who rents rooms to a young married couple who turn out not to be married, and Mr. Edson abandons his pregnant “wife” (and if there is any indication that she is pregnant before the baby pops out, I missed it), she dies in childbirth, and Mrs. Lirriper raises him as her grandson, not telling him anything of his parentage.
Mrs. Lirriper's Legacy - a sequel to the above, when the “grandson,” young Jemmy Jackman Lirriper is about 12-14 years old. Mrs. Lirriper receives a mysterious visit from a Frenchman saying that someone in France is dying and is leaving her all his money, but they don’t know his name. Mrs. Lirriper, Jemmy, and the Major (a longtime boarder), take a trip to France to find out who the man is, and it turns out to be Mr. Edson, Jemmy’s father. Mrs. Lirriper and the Major still manage to keep his identity a secret from Jemmy, Edson dies, and Mrs. Lirriper gets his money.
Doctor Marigold – this was a very sweet story with a happy ending.
Mugby Junction - also incomplete, so I didn’t read this one either.
No Thoroughfare – my favorite one. The ending was pretty easy to predict early on, but not the roundabout way in which we got to it. A lovely, classic Dickensian happy ending.
The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices – this one started off well enough, but it’s like Dickens and Collins couldn’t figure out what to do with it. This could alternately be called “Thomas Idle’s Series of Unfortunate Events.” The inner stories get in the way, reminding me of The Pickwick Papers, the only one of Dickens’ novels that was a struggle to read, and then there’s several pages listing what Francis Goodchild sees out the window of the hotel for a few days, and then it just ends. I did like Goodchild’s character, but the story was mostly a disappointment. I would have been far happier if “No Thoroughfare” had been the last story in the volume, ending it on a high note for me.