The Holly Tree Inn, Paperback Book

The Holly Tree Inn Paperback

Edited by Melisa Klimaszewski

Part of the Hesperus Classics series

4 out of 5 (5 ratings)


A journeying gentleman finds himself snowed in at The Holly Tree Inn, and resolves to entertain himself by recording the stories he hears from his fellow tenants.

Trapped for a week, he is regaled with tales from all around him, including the barmaid and the landlord.

The fictional delights he feasts upon include an intriguing mystery by a master innovator of the genre, Wilkie Collins, as well as classically Dickensian sparks of humour and romance.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Hesperus Press Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
  • ISBN: 9781843911968

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Showing 1 - 5 of 5 reviews.

Review by

This collection of short stories was the 1855 Christmas edition of Dickens' Household Words. The seven stories by five different authors (Dickens contributed three) are presented as stories recounted to a snowbound traveller, whose own tale bookends the selection. As you would expect, the collection encompasses a variety of themes and styles - there is a typically Gothic tale from Wilkie Collins and a piece in verse by Adelaide Anne Proctor - yet all are quintessentially Victorian stories. Some are better than others (I thought the contributions by Wilkie Collins and William Howitt were the strongest, and found Dickens' introductory tale a little tedious) but all are pleasant to read and they sit well together. The 2009 Hesperus Press edition helpfully includes a short introduction, notes, and brief biographies of the contributors. It's also an attractive, high-quality edition, making a nice winter read for fans of Victorian writing.

Review by

NOTE: This review contains mild spoilersShort story collections written as a series of related tales with a frame to connect them is not a new concept. Nor was it new in 1855 when <i>The Holly-Tree Inn</i> was written and published, in the Christmas issue of Charles Dickens' perodical <i>Household Words</i>. Even if the concept is not new, it is effective: a series of otherwise fairly disparate tales are woven together through being told to the same person.The collection is short, and it is a fairly quick read - this does not mean that the stories are light-weight or fluffy, however. There is both passion and tragedy here, as well as humour and romance.The two stories that bookend the collection, and which are the framework for it, are written by Charles Dickens. In the first story, "The Guest", the main character of the book arrives at the Holly-Tree Inn in Yorkshire in the middle of a blizzard, and has to remain there for a few days until the roads are cleared. He spends his time remembering inns he has stayed in before, people he has known and stories he has heard, but eventually decides that he needs some other pastime, and decides to ask the people at the Holly-Tree Inn to tell him some story from their lives. Dickens' writing is a pleasure to read, his imagery and style are so effortless and clear, and there is a lot of subtle humour there, even when the reminiscenses are rather dark."The Ostler", which follows after "The Guest", is a story by Wilkie Collins. The ostler does not tell his own story, it is told by the landlord to the guest, and it is a Gothic romance, something of a ghost story, with tragic undertones. Gothic romances are often a bit too exaggerated in style for my taste, but that wasn't a problem with this one. The plot is not that remarkable, but the writing is excellent. The next tale, "The Boots" (that is, the boot black's story) is one of my favourite stories in the collection. It is told in the third person, which sounds a little strange for a first-person narrative, but it works really well. On the surface the story is a romance of two young lovers who run off to Gretna Green to get married - but the "lovers" are small children, seven and eight years old respectively. Even though they really are determined to marry, and talk about their future home together, they are still very much children, who miss their parents and can be comforted with a pudding. This is particularly interesting because at this time, children were usually not depicted in books, not as credible children anyway; one of the earliest English-language authors to write about believable children was Charles Dickens, who was also the author of this story. The tale is somewhat bittersweet but told in a very cheerful voice, which again works very well and makes it much more interesting than the mere plot would have been otherwise. Dickens' humour really shines through and makes it a delightful - but not shallow - read.In "The Landlord", the proprietor of the inn tells a tale, not of his own life but that of his brother who emigrated to Australia. It is a story about adversity that turns into good fortune, and both the black despair of the innkeeper's brother as everything seems to work against him, and his serene happiness when things start to go well again, are beautifully described by the author, William Howitt. It is not exactly a morality tale, because even though the brother doesn't give up it isn't his hard work as much as his luck, and his wife's shrewdness, that work for him. "The Barmaid" is a poem, a tale told in verse, about a man who works at an inn and who sees a rich woman ride past. She passes by the inn several times during the man's lifetime, and the changing fortunes of her life is mirrored in a Judas-tree that grows near the inn. The verse, written by Adelaide Anne Procter, is perhaps a little bland, but the imagery is moving and the story is rather touching in all its simplicity.The final tale told to the guest at the inn is that of "The Poor Pensioner", authored by Harriet Parr. This is a deeply sad story that doesn't leave the reader unmoved. It is the shortest one of the prose stories, and as with the ostler's story it is not the subject herself who tells it, but a waiter at the inn who relates the story of the poor pensioner and her son to the guest. The tale is also an unsolved mystery - the reader does not find out the truth of what happened any more than the characters in the story do, and it is very elegantly written.The book closes with the second part of the Guest's tale, and for fear of spoiling it I won't say too much about it here. It is a very worthy final to the book.Many collections frame tale genre contain stories purportedly told by different people, but written by the same author. This collection gets an extra advantage by being written (mostly) by different people - even though Dickens probably edited all the stories fairly extensively, the different voices can be very clearly seen. The informative and interesting foreword by Melisa Klimaszewski, who edited this edition of the collection, tells about how the collection was born and Dickens' woes in collecting and compiling it in time for the Christmas edition of his periodical. One minor quibble I had with the book was the footnotes. I don't mind footnotes as such, when there is good reason to have them there; in this book I was never quite sure whom the footnotes addressed. Some of them explained fairly common words and concepts, while others mentioned rather obscure details such as words that had been misprinted in the original edition but later corrected. Of course those details are interesting to researchers, but then there would be a lot of other details I'd have expected to see footnotes for as well. And the number of footnotes decreased abruptly after the first story. For myself, I don't want to miss any important information so I check all footnotes, which means that the flow of my reading gets interrupted. I may just have to re-read the collection without reading the footnotes - I won't mind doing that, even a little bit.

Review by

I was given The Holly-Tree Inn by the Hesperus Press in an Early Reviewers program and I think they have done themselves proud with this delightful little book. It is a collection of stories, written by Charles Dickens and some of his contemporaries for a Christmas edition of his periodical Household Words. The stories are very evocative of the Victorian times in which they were written and the publishers have included footnotes to explain some historical terms and places which will be helpful to modern readers. There are seven stories in all, each one thoroughly enjoyable. This is a lovely, little book with which to curl up in front of the fire, on a cold, wintry evening with a cup of hot tea

Review by

This charming compendium is, we are told in the informative introduction of this Hesperus Classic’s edition of <i> The Holly-Tree Inn</i>, the sixth special Christmas issue of Charles Dickens' <i>Household Words</i> - the first of these I have ever read. And a classic it can truly be said.Comprised simply of seven short stories, the collection is placed at an inn, The Holly-Tree Inn, where the collaborator, on a miserable journey from a galling personal situation finds he is severely snowed in for an unknown time on Christmas Eve. What to do? For, as he laments: <i>…when I travel, I never arrive at a place but I immediately want to go away from it.</i> (p.10) After exhausting a private meandering through past accommodations at various inns throughout the world, our intrepid but bashful traveller summons enough courage to approach his fellow inn-dwellers to divert this period of forced confinement by cajoling a story, from each, about their past travels. Hence we are entertained royally with a mixture of unusual tales from the road – holding forth from the preternatural to the briefest glimpse, in the case of one long poem, of snippets of life in 1855. With this edition it is possible to delve as deeply, or as superficially, as your tastes prefer into the underpinning of the work; the foreword and footnotes offering supportive but succinct explanations as required. Regardless, I can’t help thinking what it would have been like 155 years ago to have these entertaining anecdotes to hand, for a distinctive Christmas read, written as they were exactly 100 years before I was born; how Dickens’s Public must have eagerly anticipated another special. Whereas quite dense, and somewhat dated in their expression, these stories still remain amusing and intriguing today, and supply an emotional punch which is rather endearing. I can just imagine how well they would have been received in that era!Although slender in frame there is no doubting the quality of the words contained within this chronicle, or the considerable artistry of the various authors involved in the creation; nor the final Dickensian touch. Whilst diminutive in size, what is regaled is all quite delightful!(Early Reviewer’s copy: May 23, 2010)

Review by

The Hesperus Classics edition of this set of short stories had a very helpful forward and end notes plus some added information on the authors. I knew nothing of the Dickens Christmas periodicals so this information was invaluable. The subjects of the stories vary greatly, but they have been tied together well to form a cohesive whole. Unfortunately my copy was missing a number of pages from 'The Poor Pensioner' so I was unable to read this story.

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