Dickens and Lewes on Spontaneous Combustion

  • Gordon S. Haight


At the end of Part X of Bleak House, published in December 1852, Dickens described the death of Krook by spontaneous combustion (ch. 32). He had been preparing for the scene from Krook’s first appearance with his fierce cat Lady Jane in the rag and bottle warehouse by the wall of Lincoln’s Inn. ‘He was short, cadaverous, and withered; with his head sunk sideways between his shoulders, and the breath issuing in visible smoke from his mouth, as if he were on fire within. His throat, chin, and eyebrows were so frosted with white hairs, and so gnarled with veins and puckered skin, that he looked from his breast upward, like some old root in a fall of snow’ (ch. 5). The discovery of his ‘remains’ like ‘the cinder of a small charred and broken log of wood sprinkled with white ashes, or is it coal?’ provides one of the most gruesome effects in this remarkable novel.


Spontaneous Combustion White Hair Scientific Authority Good Humour Private Note 
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  1. 4.
    The Letters of Charles Dickens, ed. Walter Dexter, 3 vols (London, 1938) vol. ii, pp. 446–7.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    George Gissing, Charles Dickens (London, 1898) pp. 83.Google Scholar

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© Mary N. Haight 1992

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  • Gordon S. Haight

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