A House to Let, Paperback Book
3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


This unique single-volume edition of an unjustly neglected collection of tales compiled by Charles Dickens is a perfect companion to Hesperus' best-selling edition of The Haunted House.

Compiled by Charles Dickens and including chapters by Elizabeth Gaskell and Wilkie Collins, A House to Let is a composite tale of mystery and intrigue set amid the dark streets of Victorian London.

Advised by her doctor to have a change of scene, the elderly Sophonisba takes up lodgings in London.

Immediately intrigued by the vacant 'house to let' opposite, she charges her two warring servants, Trottle and Jarber, to unearth the secret behind its seeming desertedness.

Rivals to the end, they each seek to outdo the other to satisfy their mistress' curiosity, but it is only after repeated false starts - and by way of elaborate tales of lost men at sea, circus performers, and forged death certificates - that they happen upon the truth. 'This is a welcome addition to the excellent Hesperus list.' - TLS


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 97 pages
  • Publisher: Hesperus Press Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Crime & mystery
  • ISBN: 9781843910855

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Review by

A House to Let is a collaboration between four 19th century authors, which originally appeared as the Christmas edition of Charles Dickens' weekly magazine, Household Words, in 1858. The book is divided into six sections; the first, Over the Way, and the sixth, Let at Last, are joint efforts by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, and provide the framework for the story. The other four sections are individual contributions from Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, Adelaide Anne Procter and Wilkie Collins, in that order.Over the Way introduces us to Sophonisba, an elderly woman who has never married but has two men vying for her attentions - one is her old admirer Jabez Jarber; the other is her servant, Trottle. When Sophonisba's doctor advises a change of air and scene, she leaves her home in Tunbridge Wells and moves into new lodgings in London, where she immediately becomes obsessed with the house opposite - a house which has been vacant for many years and is permanently 'to let'. Determined to discover why the house has remained empty for so long - and convinced she has seen an eye staring out from one of the windows - she asks Jarber and Trottle to investigate.Over the Way and Let at Last are credited to both Dickens and Collins, but there's no way to tell exactly which parts were contributed by which writer. The other four chapters, though, are each written in the distinctive style of their respective authors and each tell the story of a previous occupant of the house to let. The chapter I liked the least was actually the one written solely by Dickens, Going Into Society. The story of a showman and a circus dwarf called Mr Chops, it was just too weird for me and was also quite difficult to read as it was written in dialect. It's probably significant that I found the two Dickens/Collins collaborations much easier to read than this solo effort, as I've always thought Collins was a lot more readable than Dickens.Three Evenings in the House, the contribution by Adelaide Anne Procter, whose work I was previously unfamiliar with, is in the form of a narrative poem. I'm not a big lover of poetry but luckily for me this was only thirteen pages long and quite easy to understand. Other than providing some variety though, I don't think this chapter really added much to the story.The Manchester Marriage by Elizabeth Gaskell stands out as an excellent piece of writing: a tragic story of Alice Wilson, who is widowed when her husband is lost at sea. After marrying again, she and her new husband move into the house to let where further tragedy awaits them. This is good enough to work as a stand-alone short story (and according to the Biographical Notes, it was actually published separately in its own right). This and the Wilkie Collins contribution, Trottle's Report, were my favourite chapters. Trottle's Report is a typical Collins story, with unusual, quirky characters, a mysterious secret, and a slightly dark and gothic feel.If you like any of these four authors or Victorian fiction in general, then A House to Let is definitely worth reading. It also provides a good introduction to Dickens, Collins, Procter and Gaskell without having to commit yourself to one of their longer works.

Review by
A House To Let is an odd little book that doesn't quite know what it is, being the brainchild of four different authors. It is actually one story throughout all these variations in style and focus, but each chapter is only loosely tied to the preceding chapters and feels like the beginning of its own story. In some places it's gothicky, ominous melodrama to suit Wilkie Collins, in others it's mawkishly comical (*cough*Charles Dickens!*cough*), and in others it's Victorian poetry of the most lugubrious and sentimental sort (Adelaide Anne Procter). Elizabeth Gaskell also had a hand in the tale and her chapter is the calmest and sanest amidst the others' excesses. Sophonisba, an elderly spinster lady, has taken new lodgings in London on the advice of her doctor. She becomes fascinated with the house across the way that is always to let but never taken. When she sees an Eye in one of the windows, this casual interest is intensified into an experience of being haunted by the house's secrets. Sophonisba quickly sets her servant Trottle and friend Jabez Jarber to track down the mystery of the house and its sinister occupants. Though a fun experiment, this story is certainly a disjointed experience for the reader. Just when I would settle into one style, the chapter would end and the next author would step up to the plate, determined (I am sure) to show up the last guy (or gal). So it's hard to review this little novella. As a literary novelty it's fun, but it doesn't have the staying power of consistent artistry and substance, and I doubt I'll ever be tempted to reread.

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