A Hankering After Ghosts – Charles Dickens and the Supernatural at the British Library

Not every exhibition has to be a blockbuster and not every exhibition has to be accompanied by new scholarship and a glossy catalogue. In fact, sometimes, all you need is some half-opened books, a few info boards and some reprints of a bearded author lost in thought. It’s fair to say that nobody should make a massive detour to see A Hankering of Ghosts in the Folio Gallery space at the British Library but it’s also fair to say that if you happen to be there and in the mood for a diversion then this is a pleasing and rewarding one.

Taking a broadly chronological approach from debtor’s son to dead halfway through Edwin Drood this fun little show (five display cases basically) offers examples of how the rationalist Dickens frequently used both the obviously supernatural and also the more subtle mind controlling plot twists in his novels and short stories. This is then further placed within a context of the development of Mesmerism, the frequent ‘scientific’ enquiry into spectral activity and, of course, movements such as spiritualism and mediums. It’s all good fun and in addition you get to see Dickens’ own annotated copy of the death of Nancy at the hand of Bill Sykes as well as sundry other books from the collection.

It’s the first exhibition I’ve seen in this space which works well for displays like this and whilst it does feel like you’re in a corridor at least that’s being used for the general betterment of mankind rather than being left dusty. All good fun – and I would recommend popping along after the building has closed to see whether the ghosts of researchers past are trying to have a read.


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