The writer Charles Dickens created some of the most memorable fictional stories and is generally regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian period. He managed to represent features that were characteristic of this period. A clear example of this is ‘The Signalman” which was written by the author in 1865 and was based on a signalman who worked with the steam trains. There are two aspects of this work that portray the Victorian period. One distinctive aspect is the use of the supernatural device and the other is the use of the prejudices which were typical from this time.
One important aspect in the story that gives a picture of the Victorianism is the use of the supernatural device. As the Victorian era progressed, the supernatural interest began to grow; consequently the Gothic genre began to gain in popularity. During this period literature reflected this interest through the prevalence of ghosts, mysterious apparitions, and unexplainable sounds in the literary works. (Craig, 2012)
Dickens attempts to capture the superstitious beliefs that predominated during the Victorian period, using the supernatural theme in the story.
It is shown through the signalman who is convinced that he is haunted or that there is a “ghost”. Meanwhile the narrator believes that these premonitions are merely coincidences, and that there is not any spectre but the wind. To sum up, Dickens tries to explore altered states of mind by which he was fascinated in the last part of his life and which will lead to the development of the imminent modern psychology afterward.
Another important aspect is the use of the “prejudices” in order to depict an important quality of the Victorian world. The story illustrates how the Victorian society was judged by class. In this case, the narrator is surprised that the signalman is an educated man that has a low rank job which would be suitable for a lower classed person. It is shown when the narrator affirms ‘[…]he had been well educated, and (I hoped I might say without offence) perhaps educated above that station…’.(Dickens,1907, p.14 ).
By analyzing this extract it can be inferred that Victorian society had their social classes clearly defined and that each class had its own standards. Thus, an educated person was expected to belong to middle or upper class consequently that person was supposed to have a job appropriate to that class. All in all, indirectly, it could be said that the author is concerned about the prejudices and standards assumed to each social class. Nothing can detract from the fact that Charles Dickens was an outstanding writer who drew the attention of the reading public exploring social themes that took place during those times. Indirectly, the author illustrated the era he lived in, describing aspects such as the beliefs as well as the attitudes society had during the Victorian Era. On balance, there is not a shadow of doubt that Dickens challenges and is concerned on the popular Victorian beliefs that some people were more prone to vice than others.
Craig, S. (2012). Ghosts of the Mind: The Supernatural and Madness in Victorian Gothic Literature. Retrieved from: http://aquila.usm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1098&context=honors_theses
Dickens, C. (1907). The Signalman. Pickwick Papers. London. Everyman’s Library.