Dickens and the Horrific

  • Juliet McMaster
  • Rowland McMaster


Charles Dickens, “a great reader of good fiction at an unusually early age”,1 was also a reader of uncommonly bad literature at an early age. Most discussions of his early reading, however, dwell on the “good fiction”, young Copperfield’s library, and neglect his taste for grisly sensationalism.2 Dickens said of his reading at Wellington House Academy:

I used, when I was at school, to take in the Terrific Register, making myself unspeakably miserable, and frightening my very wits out of my head, for the small charge of a penny weekly; which considering that there was an illustration to every number, in which there was always a pool of blood, and at least one body, was cheap.3


Spontaneous Combustion Early Reading Fairy Tale Dismal Swamp Terrific Register 
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  1. 3.
    John Forster, The Life of Charles Dickens, ed. J. W. T. Ley, BK. (London, 1928) iii, p. 43 n.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    George Gissing, Charles Dickens: A Critical Study (London, 1898) p. 27.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    See Edgar Johnson, Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph (New York, 1952) p. 12, based on Uncommercial Traveller, xv, “Nurse’s Stories”.Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater, World’s Classics edition (London, 1949) pp. 244–5.Google Scholar
  5. 14.
    Richard D. Altick, The English Common Reader (Chicago, 1957) p. 352 n.Google Scholar
  6. 17.
    F. G. Kitton, Dickensian (London, 1886 ) p. 408.Google Scholar

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© Juliet and Rowland McMaster 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juliet McMaster
  • Rowland McMaster

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