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The ghost of injuries present in
Dickens's The Signalman
David Ellison
Griffith University
Published online: 03 Aug 2012.

To cite this article: David Ellison (2012) The ghost of injuries present in Dickens's The
Signalman , Textual Practice, 26:4, 649-665, DOI: 10.1080/0950236X.2012.696488

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argu- ably less intense. Ghost story Textual Practice ISSN 0950-236X print/ISSN 1470-1308 online # 2012 Taylor & Francis http://www.tandfonline. 649– 665 David Ellison The ghost of injuries present in Dickens’s The Signalman Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 Written in the aftermath of the Staplehurst rail disaster. Elizabeth Gaskell. For example. The ‘Signalman’ anachronisti- cally unites two distinct events – Staplehurst and Gaskell’s wounding characterisation – within a frame that is recursively haunted by material common to both: rail http://dx.1080/0950236X. Hallucination. 2012. and fraught miscommunication. ‘Cranford’. Keywords Charles Dickens. Dickens’s fraught editorial relationship with Elizabeth Gaskell.2012. mortal threats to the public and private self. Ana- chronism. This paper revisits that text – in its focus on retrospection.696488 . Trauma theory. but still traumatising Rail Disaster. belatedness. Dickens’s ghost story ‘The Signalman’ is often read for its uncanny insights into what would later come to be known as trauma theory.doi. Textual Practice 26(4). repetition and the disarti- culation of event from consciousness – to consider the role of other. ‘The Signalman’. specifically his decision to remove a reference to himself from Cranford that suggested his readers might suffer injury from writing that found its origins in an industrial process of steam and gear train.

But there are salient differences here. whereas the images of Dickens with his characters were produced in his total absence. proleptically announces the experience the reader will undergo. his literal currency consist- ent with his iconicity and capacity to expressively embody a version of eccentric waistcoated English liberality.2 Individual characters or vignettes mass around him. by developing the anxiety whose omission was the cause of the traumatic neurosis’. Textual Practice There is something profoundly anachronistic about Dickens. it is a breach in the mind’s experience of time. Secondly. This essay is not about those images per se. a dream-state that. The effect is summative and. is ‘endeavour- ing to master the stimulus retrospectively. the frontispieces were the result of collaboration between author and illustrator. drawings. or the fact that he was once on the Ten-Pound note – collectively these speak to his cultural and. in recurrent dreams. anachronistically uniting and combining decades of intellectual labour into a single pictorial plane. as Freud has it. for the most part. abroad. Cathy Caruth shows how consciousness protects the organism by placing the stimulus within ‘an ordered experience of time’. Among the many paintings. in that regard. and often unconscious. rather I am inter- ested in the model of composition they articulate and how the spontaneous expression of anachronistically unified material might relate to the experi- ence of traumatic wounding. The absence of direct experience triggers the rep- etition of the nightmare. resembles the familiar frontispieces that appeared in some of his published works that similarly compress and temporally flatten the linear narrative they announced. in his private family moments and feted public readings. Possessed by a past event. it relates to the reading to come (much like a tableau or an overture). they are posthumous rep- resentations. rather than as an account of authorial production. at least until recently. but is restlessly trapped within its temporality. allowing us to prepare for the blow to come. but rather in his. but also in embodied behaviours recognised as traumatic symptoms: tremor. and photographs depicting Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 Dickens at home. it is not yet fully known. Because it is not experienced in time.1 The specific instance of anachron- ism I am thinking of does not originate in our present. In her lucid gloss on Freud’s account of trauma. distrac- tion. there is a particular subset that dwells on a reiterated scene of the author seated.4 The traumatised subject lives not just in the shadow of the ungrasped experience. or the dwindling fortunes of the Dickens World theme park in Kent. the traumatised consciousness is entombed 650 . I am not thinking here of his recent appearance in an episode of Doctor Who.3 Trauma occurs in the absence of such preparedness. aversion. or the collectible epoxy resin miniaturised streetscapes that bear his name. where he is wreathed by the fruits of his literary imagination. The frontispiece.

The event is the Staplehurst train derailment of 1865. This is a temporality beyond the immediate source of stimulus that reveals a sur- prisingly creative space for the reshaping of authorial identity. its hold upon a traumatised imagination.6 As networks spread from centre to periphery. Paradoxically. the imagination is Dickens’s and the time periods are variously those of the accident. disturbing and displacing local and variable forms of chron- ology that had previously been measured in cycles of depleting and replenishing organic energy. In this way it creates the possibility of pro- Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 foundly subjectivised and creative forms of history. the skyward glance of estimation. Railways and accident time From its inception. the railway’s various impositions on the landscape. the urban fabric. or even as a more complex and nuanced meditation on an unassimilable experience.5 The train delivered modern time as an anachronistic incursion into the landscape. that is. an inherently anachronistic affec- tive experience that depends on the holding together of a previous event with a present feeling. first published as part of the ‘Mugby Junction’ collection in the 1866 Christmas edition of All The Year Round. As such trauma offers an alternate (pathological) explanatory model of eventfulness that does not so much register the claims the past may make upon the present. the subsequent publication of a telling short story. It is an event that remains insistently active in the present. a scene given specific shape in literary accounts of field labourers – among others – who. David Ellison The ghost of injuries in an amber that colours everything seen in the present. and a much longer stretch of the author’s life. The railway demanded a dedicated and centralised time system. fearing obsolescence. have been fertile ground for thinking about time. In this discussion I consider a specific historical event. the mind and the senses. offers a challenge to the way we think about literature written in the apparent shadow of a traumatic event. I propose that Dickens’s short story The Signalman. Rather than understanding the story as pro- voked symptomatically. and the anachronistic unification of disparate periods. as its subject. trauma ana- chronistically unites periods that should be recognised as separate in time. or the idio- syncratic claims of the town clock. the eventfulness of trauma is without the relative closure that nominally gives discrete shape to ‘events’. I read the anachronism of trauma’s persist- ent hold upon the present as an opening to a time of continuous injury. the arrival of the train from beyond the horizon joined villages and surround- ing agriculture to metropolitan modernity. violently resisted the construction and extension of train lines into new areas. as fuse them into the same dis- continuous temporal plane. as well as displacing local 651 .

It is a ghost story. Meanwhile. The first gathers accounts of rail accidents (such as technical reports. of a lethal gap opening in the smoothly predictable running of the machine. and territorialising – except when it was not. The second com- prises fiction that dwells. To avoid inconveniencing line closures. Benge’s team removed two of the rails. ‘Narrative of Accident and Disaster’. the representation of acute psychological states anticipating modern trauma theory. and engines skipped the tracks. signals confused. Textual Practice time. the works were carried out in the intervals between the scheduled train services. a monthly digest published as an adjunct to Dickens’s Household Words could follow the course of railway-line expan- sion (in miles of newly laid track as well as aggregate passenger numbers) and the fatal accidents that followed. Benge had misread the line timetable. medical opinion. This story is rather beautifully adapted to any number of pre- occupations in Victorian studies: the aesthetic experience of the unwieldy human–technology interface. on the same thing. in contravention of company policy. Also. derailment and explosion – were recorded in great detail under the regular heading.8 As early as 1850. more or less. was mathematical.10 The accident occurred during repairs to the Beult viaduct on the main line of the South Eastern Railway between Staplehurst and Headcorn. one of Dickens’s last and arguably his finest: The Signalman. One text stands out. Sometimes timetables disagreed. In terms of the last. Working swiftly. The phenomenon of sudden accident. an event that Norris Pope pronounces the most traumatic experience of the final decade of his life. and. John Benge who. the rails could be removed. precise. the newly modern time. The latter – deaths resulting from collision.7 Railway time. has a history as long as technology itself – in many ways it is that history – but the origins of modern trauma lie in the rupture of linear time as experienced in the mangled after- Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 math of the train carriage. a 652 . supernaturalism. repaired and re-attached in sufficient time for the train to pass securely. Long-distance train travel depended upon standardised time – initially called ‘railway time’ and later by the name we know it now: Greenwich Mean Time. neglected to lay fog detonators that would have warned oncoming trains of danger on the line ahead. the readers of the Household Narrative of Current Events. legal moves towards recognising a right to compensation) and traces the rise of a new class of injury that mysteriously left no physical sign. the story is enriched by its apparent symptomatic proximity to a dreadful event in Dickens’s life: the Staple- hurst rail accident of June 9. The safety of the works was compromised by the foreman. as suggested above.9 For writers with an interest in this emergence of modern trauma two obvious sources of material present themselves. wheels juddered. mixing up the 9th and 10th of June. 1865. Assuming the tracks to be clear of traffic. and more devastatingly.

Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 Dickens’s effort on behalf of the injured and the dying was illustrated in a woodcut that appeared in the Penny Illustrated Paper of June 24. The flagman stationed 500 yards up the line was able to warn the driver. remained attached at one end while the opposite end pitched into the stream. David Ellison The ghost of injuries 13-car train travelled towards the viaduct at a speed of 50 miles per hour.12 This may account for some of his reticence to testify at the inquest. a first- class carriage where Dickens was seated. remained on the viaduct. What does not appear here. prepared to acknowledge the centrality of traumatic experience as a formative influence on his life and work. Surprisingly.]’13 And critics from Edmund Wilson onwards have been reluctant to disagree. Staplehurst. It could do no good either way. In this light. . and mud and water. Dickens closes his (posthumously published) autobio- graphical fragment that detailed the torment of his childhood experiences in Warren’s Blacking House with the words: ‘For I know how all these things have worked together to make me what I am[. the engine. I don’t want to be examined at the Inquests and I don’t want to write about it. under certain circumstances. mingled brute shock with the prospect of sexual shame stirred by the possi- bility of public exposure. Amidst a scene of utter chaos. nor in any of the other press accounts of the accident. Dickens is seen offering water to a gravely injured woman. Four days after the crash Dickens wrote to Thomas Mitton describing the scene as he left the carriage: No imagination can conceive the ruin of the carriages. The first carriage. The Signalman offers a rich opportunity to think about the relationship between the text and an avowedly traumatic experience. together with houses rented under assumed names. but the intervening span of track was simply too short to halt a train of that length. was part of an elaborate system of misdirection that concealed his private activities with Ternan. whilst preserving his public reputation. finding in trauma a skeleton key to unlock Dickens. Claire Tomalin has revealed how Dickens’s knowledge of train timetables. tender and leading brake actually jumped the gap before swerving off the track. or the compli- cations into which they were twisted up among iron and wood. The Staplehurst accident was an undeniably shocking event that occurred to an author who was. carrying second-class passengers. while the next. All of the remaining seven cars left the tracks and tumbled into the muddy water below. or the extra- ordinary weights under which the people were lying. and her mother. is any reference to his travelling companions – his mistress. then. and I 653 . 1865.11 Ten passengers were killed and a further 40 injured. . as well as being a salient reminder of the necessarily over- determined nature of this particular traumatic event. Ellen Ternan.

she suggests. which. an attempt to master a stimulus that resists mastery. relative to other moments (including the countless low-level irruptions that deform every- day life). I have a – I don’t know what to call it – constitutional (I suppose) presence of mind. I instantly remembered that I had the MS of a Novel with me. ‘Trauma. then. [Our Mutual Friend] and clambered back into the carriage for it. dis- sociation. The text is read with an eye for latency. In her essay. as opposed to. and on a sense of powerlessness at impending disaster’. the period of years after the anguish provoked 654 . Jill Matus suggests that Dickens’s experience of this accident provoked some of the symptoms we now associate with trauma – tremor. Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 and trauma time – the time of permanent injury that obliges him to stop. That any connection can be drawn between Dickens’s ghost story and the abrupt derailment rests on the particular claims of that moment of experiential intensity. and Railway Disaster’. Memory. Textual Practice could only seem to speak about myself. of course.15 While she is understandably reluctant to claim that The Signalman was ‘provoked’ by the accident. I feel the shake and am obliged to stop. for signs that the story cannot move past an experience glimpsed obliquely and fitfully. for example – allowed him to give shape to that which contemporary medical theory was not yet in a position to describe. loss of voice. and his sympathetic attitude towards unconscious knowl- edges – mesmerism.17 Matus’s reading reveals The Signalman as a haunted and haunting meditation on the dislocating effects of shock that emerge in the restive aftermath of a terrible accident – but I pause over the apparent self-evidence of the Staplehurst accident as the telling blow. It is a means of articulating the experience of railway shock. and the proximate duration of time elapsed. reflection. The Signalman. she argues instead for the existence of ‘an integral connection’ between Dickens’s experience and The Signalman. is not pos- sessed. Matus notices the way that both the ghost story and trauma narrative share a sense of being recur- sively haunted or possessed by an image or event that. say. permits a return of sorts to the gap opened in the tracks. repetitive and intrusive return. which. ‘uncannily apprehends the heart of traumatic experience in its focus on the uncoupling of event and cogni- tion. I would rather not do. Dickens’s experience on the train. part of the unstated argument for considering Staplehurst in relation to The Signalman is that the latter shadowed the brute shock of the former by a period of months. narrative time (which permits memory. and terrors. in turn. and mediation). But in writing these scanty words of recollection. on belatedness.16 For Matus. Thus. coupled with his sensitivity to the possibilities presented by the ghost tale.14 Dickens’s letter already acknowledges two distinct but coincident tempor- alities. I am keeping very quiet here. and was not in the least flustered at the time.

experience. must be the common pool of thematic content. nor because of any special claims that might be made in the face of the sudden termination of what was a long and very complex relationship marked by both collaboration and dispute. a middling market town presided 655 . Cranford and trauma The accident occurs in the opening chapters of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cran- ford. then. I argue that Gaskell should be acknowledged among the list of passenger fatalities. not simply as another entry into the log of shocks of variable intensity that mark life. anachronistically anchor the victim to a specific moment of time from which they cannot advance. and temporally flatten out. David Ellison The ghost of injuries by Dickens’s first disastrous tour of America of 1842. Elizabeth Gaskell suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 55. separate in time. But what if another. but as a constituent component of the persecuting and recursive material of traumatic perception. let me note that five months after Dickens’s car- riage tipped off the aqueduct. Her presence. both the historic derailment and the short story present a man haunted by the experience of witnessing accidental death that occurred within a network of obscure and devastatingly incomplete communication. By isolating the single and singular experience of the Staplehurst acci- dent. another earlier death by train from 1851. or at least of a ghost story. even as the moment of injury grows ever more distant. we effectively foreclose on the significance of earlier wounds. though. a novel written between her two great industrial fictions. mortal threats to the public and private self. The Signalman anachro- nistically unites these two separate periods within the one frame that is recursively haunted by material common to both experiences: rail cata- strophe. Mary Barton and North and South. and fraught miscommunication. however. through night- Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 mare and hallucination. related. shadows the presumed source of shock? Can the permanent present of trauma draw in. but consistent in other ways. the stuff of nightmare. allows us to trace the time of injury’s perpetual present that col- lapses the temporal distinction between the rail accident 1865 and. Cranford. as registered in The Signalman. The vivid incursions of trauma into the flow of lived time. properly recognise and encompass Gas- kell’s death. The passage of time between the accident and the publication of The Signalman story must also. not as a figure to be grieved over. or the decades following his intense humiliation in the window of Warren’s Blacking House. other related materials? By way of speculating about other earlier sources of injury. The most persuasive argument. as I will argue.

which he had just received’. and gave its sister the slip. In reply. infatuated man!’ (C 57) Cranford began its run in Household Words under Dickens’s editorship in 1851. Hood was intermittently popular. and the train came over him in no time. it’s quite true. Lord! Mum. and his work did not circulate through comparable channels. and there was a little lass as wanted to come to its mammy. one of the ruling ‘Amazons’. This debate. and seed the child. Miss Jenkyns shook her head long and solemnly. wouldn’t he? God bless him! (C 48) The following day an account of the accident appears in the local paper where the narrator – Mary Smith – reads it to Miss Jenkyns: When I came to the ‘gallant gentleman was deeply engaged in the perusal of a number of “Pickwick”. in favour of older and more conventional forms of book trade. Textual Practice over by a clique of impoverished but genteel older women. This substitution affects many changes. dear. and they’ve come over to tell his daughters. of sorts. and his foot slipped. And he looked up sudden.18 The former is unswervingly faithful to Dr Johnson. Dickens intervened in the passage detailing the Captain’s death. a- waiting for the down train. with only a bang on its shoulder as he threw it to its mammy. For one. An eyewitness recounts the scene: The Captain was a-reading some new book as he was deep in. she moved to withdraw her story from Household Words. prefers Dickens’s Pickwick. a retired military man associated with ‘the obnoxious railroad’. and he darted on the line and cotched it up. On receiving the manuscript of the first number. a man of suspiciously reformist attitudes. at the sound of the train coming. mum. Poor Captain would be glad of that. but he commanded nothing like Dickens’s audience. while the latter. a dead author replaces a living one – Hood having finally succumbed to a protracted illness in 1845. and then sighed out. The child’s safe. More broadly. Early in the novel the narrator relates the terms of a literary debate. when the Captain is killed in a terrible accident. and Captain Brown. though. replacing the number of Pick- wick with a volume of Hood’s poems.19 Gaskell’s response to Dickens’s actions was uncompromising. O Lord. and came toddling across the line. 656 . which allows Gaskell to satirise both conservative nostalgia and Dickens’s modern populism – including his innovative publishing methods – is Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 brought to a startling conclusion in Chapter 2. between Miss Matty Jenkyns. the switch marks a retrenchment from the explicit modernity of serialised pub- lication. ‘Poor. is situated on the verges of modernity – it lies within the ambit of a fictionalised Man- chester translated into an industrial acoustic trace: Drumble.

(Letter from Dickens to Gaskell. by the unfortunate but innocent. The Captain. Instead. He also offered something of a conciliatory defence: I am truly concerned for this. I would rather not do. this refusal is echoed in variant form in his 1865 letter to Mitton following the Staplehurst derailment: I could only seem to speak about myself. it presents a hollowed-out version of Carker’s death in Dombey and Son. Any recollection of me from your pen. to make it Hood’s Poems in the most important place – I mean where Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 the captain is killed – and I hope and trust that the substitution will not be any serious drawback to the paper in any eyes but yours. by con- trast. identified in Dombey as ‘the triumphant monster. it is a peculiarly weightless plot development that occurs outside of conventional narrative sequence that would other- wise frame the death in pathos or revelatory possibility. Death’. there would be – or at least I should feel – an impropriety in so mentioning myself. while arresting. and I sincerely beseech you to think better of it. in changing the author. in this context where his writing contributes directly to the death of a reader. I would do anything rather than cause you a minute’s vexation arising out of what has given me so much pleasure. it is only in the former case that the engine is in the service of the novel’s judicial mechanism. The Captain’s death. fails to disturb the novel’s wry and genial tone. While the train. cannot (as I think you know) be otherwise than truly grat- ifying to me.21 657 . Tellingly. but with my name on every page of ‘Household Words’. not least of which is the evidence of a lifetime devoted to gra- tuitous self-promotion. and not to fancy that any shade has been thrown on your charming writing. Dombey was praised for its novel approach to the problem of purging vil- lains from the text. December 5. In fact. 1851)20 This explanation – that the change was made to avoid what might appear as gratuitous self-promotion – does not ring true for a number of reasons. If anything. his work). I was particular. When Carker’s ‘mutilated fragments’ are thrown in the air. is not punished for his moral actions – he is killed because he happens to read Dickens dangerously. of course. but I hope you will not blame me for what I have done in perfect good faith. Charles Dickens. David Ellison The ghost of injuries Dickens explained that it was too late – the story was already with the prin- ters. he is destroyed because he is beyond redemption. Dickens self-hooding and worry about the draw- back ‘in any eyes but yours’ suggests that Dickens (the unfortunate but innocent). which. mows down both Carker and Brown. cannot tolerate looking at his own name (and by extension.

written and sold. This development is registered in the violent destruction of the Pickwick readers’ body. By Hood-ing Pickwick. and huge subterranean. as here. but is in not limited to. and so on at some length). so that books are not only printed. Brown never properly suspends his immersion in Dickens’s text. As he. Dickens 658 . in turn. pitiless dictates of rail time (affording the Captain’s access to Pickwick). Little Nell. even emphatically Dickensian. he actually dies in the protective service of a child. Pip. Little Dorrit. albeit revealed in an unwonted. that rescue bid and his subsequent fall under the wheels occur in a moment of dis- torted temporality – a literal collision between the subjective experience of time as unfolding narrative action (the Captain’s experience of reading Pickwick) and the objective. sold and read. puffing bellows. the narrative description of Brown’s activities exists in an anterior and obscure relation to the event described. its Editorial conclaves. the number of Pickwick.22 Or. Within this distortion. self-sacrificing action on behalf of an imperilled child is recognisa- bly the subject of continual fictive re-enactment in the Dickens canon (a list that must include. In other words. Although roused from his number of Pickwick. the gruff and idiomatic Captain. Cranford forces the discursive and nostalgic Pickwick to avow its industrial underpinnings. Is it unfair to suggest that Pickwick directly occasions Brown’s death? After all. As he dies. marketing and distri- bution of the literary commodity text – the industrialisation of writing. Dickens attempts to neutralise and dismiss the terms of Gaskell’s misreading. its Trade-dinners. a Dickensian field of pro- duction. in a great measure. the death-threatened innocent child. but. In other words. and others devoted to celebrating his virtues never ceased to remind. Brown is wholly and mortally implicated in a machine process. machine-like. David Copperfield. succumbs to the industrialisation of reading itself. too. and ruthlessly destructive light. chewed up by the very machine ensemble Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 (the steam press that printed the number. But. Smike. written. Death. Captain Brown engages in an activity that links contemporary readers to a network of systemic change in terms of the form. and the steam train combine in an activated field that is thoroughly. Jo. the steam train that delivered it across a vast and rapid distribution network) that is the hallmark of Dick- ens’s vigorous literary modernity. his heroic. his death is literally occasioned by those industrial changes to literary production that can no longer be adequately shielded from the reader who. This is something of a hyperbolic rendering of Thomas Carlyle’s familiar objection to the commercialisation of the literary marketplace from ‘Signs of the Times’ (1829): ‘Literature. recast as the triumphant monster. has its Paternoster-row mechanism. by machinery’. Textual Practice When he collects the latest number of Pickwick from the station. Oliver. although here it is utterly devoid of context.

In conversation the following night. this is time that is a discontinuous opening to history. and a threat to identity) recalled an intensified version of Gaskell’s contested section of Cranford. When. If. misreading. and the Signalman is tormented by overwhelming anxiety and a sense of helpless- ness. Gaskell worked much less methodically and could not mechanically subdivide her writing this way’. and the time of The Signalman itself. Now the messenger has returned. the Staplehurst derailment (an experience linking Dickens with the train. resulting in many deaths. Their disagreements emerged from essentially different methods of composition and production. as I suggest. but hopelessly vague warning. as Gaskell appears mischievously to suggest. the disputed references to Dickens and Pickwick were reinstated. he discovers that the Signalman has been struck by a locomotive. blatantly industrial. but also distinct times within one anachronistic frame: Cranford. injurious. an open wound. the narrator plans to convey him to a doctor the following evening. The Signal- man draws together distinct narratives. Signalman time For all its complexity. Fearful that the Signalman’s fixation on these spectral messages may endanger public safety. Out on an evening stroll. the narrator looks down into a deep cutting where he sees a signal box standing at the mouth of a tunnel. Dickens wanted ‘the regularity of episodic struc- ture in order to fit into his pattern of serialisation. The Signalman should. Staplehurst. the Signalman reveals that he has been haunted by a spectre and had initially mistaken the narrator for the apparition that had previously delivered urgent. David Ellison The ghost of injuries was fantastically industrious not. a young woman dies at the very moment her carriage passes by the Signalman. following its successful run in House- Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 hold Words. The Signal- man in attendance appears to react strangely to the narrator’s appearance at the top of the ridge. Some months later. Gaskell finally published Cranford in volume form in 1853. death. On his return to the cutting. be understood as a corrective intervention of the original. According to Shirley Foster. Shortly after the first of these appearances. a crash occurs within the tunnel. as well as the inaccessible. though. 659 . warnings. but non-specific. It is reasonable to say that this conflict was something of a representative crux in Dickens and Gaskell’s professional relationship. the messenger reappears with another imperative. the plot of The Signalman is reasonably straightfor- ward. haunted present of the trau- matic experience. Later. above all. Dombey. the serialised literary commodity text.23 Gaskell continued to collaborate with Dickens and also to provide writing that was serialised for the journal.

tries to convince the Signalman that what he has seen and heard is baseless.26 In this case. unlike the book. that he could not have doubted from what quarter the voice came.28 Lewes seizes on this claim to make a larger point about the vivid power of Dick- ens’s imagination as compensation for his manifest weaknesses as a novelist: 660 . however. . To that end. Edmund Gurney counters the argument for the role of peripheral excitation – where the diseased condition of the eye or ear is causative – with the view that the excitation originates in the mind. One would have thought. for example. declared ‘every word said by his characters was distinctly heard by him’. the narrator. of necessity. whose metier is exactitude. has already heard the narrator’s words from the apparition where they form the content of the unspecified warning. and looked down the Line. who. the story begins with a decoupling of speech from its conventional temporal (and directional) moorings. argues from the well-established position that the senses are deceived due to some disease of the nerves that minister to the eye. with a flag in his hand . . unsurprisingly. it is subsequently revealed. the senses follow a set of instructions imposed upon them executively by the creative mind. It should also admit Dickens. according to G. the narrator observes the Signal- man at work making entries into a book that record the past by way of securing a non-eventful future. he turned himself about. he was standing at the door of his box. who moves between prosecutorial and pastoral modes.27 a group that. ‘from the seats of ideation and memory’. drawing on contempor- ary theory around the problem of ‘perception without object’. the bell possesses two distinct tones that separately denote mortal communication from the station. particularly distressing for the Signalman. On his second visit. Gurney finds strong evidence for this particular model among people who can summon hallucinatory experience at will. the Signalman describes observing the spectre by the red light of the tunnel. Textual Practice The story begins in confusion where the time of speech and the direc- tion it issues from are strangely out of joint: Halloa! Below there! When he heard the voice thus calling to him. and the arrival of the spectre.25 In his 1885 survey of theor- etical models of hallucinatory perception. When. The narrator. considering the nature of the ground. includes visual artists. but instead of looking up to where I stood on the top of the steep cutting nearly over his head. Lewes.H. he also monitors the warning bell.24 Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 The Signalman. In other words. a gap opened in time that is.

Brown enters the disjunctive time of the Dickensian field.] His peculiarity is not the incorrectness of the drawing. Dickens thus overcomes the habitual crisis of the hallucinatory – the harrowing isolation of the unshared percept. . none of which is sufficient to authorise some new course. and are vividly perceived elsewhere. in addition to the phrase he unwittingly quotes – ‘Halloa! Below 661 . and not be aware of its preposterousness.29 Under conditions of vis- itation. a waving arm. . brings us back to The Signalman. where narrative sits in an obscure relation to the event it describes. the bell and the tunnel fall out of sonic and visual synchronisation. wet. not just to the production of his Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 written work. and stained. spill their boundaries. but the vividness of the imagin- ation which while rendering their incorrectness insensible to him. but temporally disconnected from. but crucially. the industrial death of which it warns. This. yet similarly subject to supernatural visitation. and then oddly. The same is not true of the narrator’s mouth that is sought out by the Signalman. is markedly abject. David Ellison The ghost of injuries I was at first a little puzzled to account for the fact that he could hear language so utterly unlike the language of real feeling. if not supernaturally. a cry of alarm. Thus. (See Note 28) Lewes’s rather sour assessment of Dickens’s powers is useful here because it identifies the centrality of hallucination. they cease to signify directly. Each catastrophe is preceded by scraps of incomplete communication: he is held in thrall by a ringing bell. or otherwise. also to its distinctive reception as form of sus- tained. the box. Those fruitless warnings – from the ringing bell and the spectre who slips in and out of visibility at the tunnel mouth – may originate from an unknown source. but they are perceived within the real frames of the cutting. also renders it potent with multitudes of his fellowmen. He employs Binet’s term – point de repe`re – to signify a ‘nucleus of sen- sation to which the hallucination accretes itself’. The orality of the tunnel. described by the Signalman as abhorrent. His tragedy is that he is the recipient of information that is not actionable. The Signalman cannot recognise himself as subject to hallucinations because the spectral warnings he receives belatedly assume proleptic shape in relation to disastrous events. a story that turns on the reality. Gurney suggests that the external space at or near ‘the seat of the imagined object plays a real part in the phenomena’. collaborative hallucination. of the hallucinations that seem to orig- inate in a single consciousness. The form of the Signalman’s haunting is striking – those maddening fragments of narrative – the way it rehearses Gaskell’s galling account of Brown’s violent death by bits of deracinated Dickens. the house. but the surprise vanished when I thought of the phenomena of hallucination. of course. [. The Signalman suffers the anguish of urgent language tied to. in particular.

More importantly. spoken by another person in the context of the Signalman’s death: Without prolonging the narrative to dwell on any one of its curious circumstances more than on any other. ‘For God’s sake. thus. point out the coincidence that the warning of the Engine-Driver included. though. chopped dialogue lays the foundations for the story’s uncanny conclusion in which the narrator will hear that hitherto unspoken phrase. I never saw the face. into temporal alignment. Textual Practice There!’ – the narrator also mentally gives voice to the spectre’s silent ges- ticulation as mimed by the Signalman: I took you for someone else yesterday evening. bringing them. the narrator ceases to be a conduit or interlocutor. That mistake? No. (SS 159) The driver who has killed the Signalman gathers up. This story of haunted possession emerging from a context of the per- manent eventfulness of traumatic injury is a space both to measure that experience and to correct or recast a misreading. clear the way!’ (SS 150–51) This curt. the conclusion of The Sig- nalman reverses the sequence in Cranford. That troubles me. significantly revealed as ‘coincidence’ rather than necessary. Read in the context of Dickens’s efforts to censor Captain Brown’s reading experience. with the utmost passion and vehemence. I may. to make an alternate claim on behalf of the authorial imagination. not only the words which the unfortunate Signalman had repeated to me as haunting him. and proxi- mity to the scene of the rail line accident is. Like me? I don’t know. clear the way!’. in closing it. This way. decoupling the narrator/writer from the ruined train. and localises. momentarily. The narrator’s location in the cutting. and becomes instead a type of author possessed of a hallucinatory (and not an industrial) method of composition. I followed his action with my eyes. ‘For God’s sake. and Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 the right arm is waved. Who is it? I don’t know. the various temporally disjunctive phrases used in the story. to the gesticulation he had intimated. That some one else. The moment in which the 662 . The left arm is across the face. and that only in my own mind. and it was the action of an arm gesticulating. but also the words which I myself – not he – had attached.

Collec- tively. the chair is a point de repe`re. and the legacy they promote. glimpses a process of writing (and hearing/reading) that pointedly defies representation in terms of the temporality of the orderly machine. is of the hallucinator. the dreamy. something heard in conversation. not in a scene of abandoned indus- try. expectant nature of Dickens’s writing process. In this account. recursive and belated transcription. The curiously impacted nature of this process. and simultaneously mourn. David Ellison The ghost of injuries haunting voices in the Signalman discover. In some he dreams. Griffith University 663 . In Fildes’s work the chair sits pulled back from the desk. It suggests. instead. rather that they register the success of Dickens’s capacity to supernaturalise his industry. His is a radically passive imagination. as if in retrospect. a seated Dickens dozes while scenes from his novels paper the walls. anachronistically and creatively gathering all narrative time around him. In his watercolour. a story written towards the end of his life. All of the dis- continuous times of the story are made present in the narrator’s final reflec- tions. and the anachronistic unification of periods in time that should otherwise Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 be kept distinct. whilst permitting others similarly to experience that form of posses- sion. and made out of sequence – in both senses. Produced following Dickens’s death in 1870. where the story emerges around him. the lasting impression they leave. The narrator of The Signalman becomes an author through myster- ious eventfulness. these images share a common origin in two works: Luke Fildes’s ‘The Empty Chair’ and Robert Buss’s unfinished watercolour ‘Dickens’s Dream’. A number of subsequent images cleave to this template. acknowledged in the fractured narrative temporality of The Signalman. in others he surveys. This particular construction is recovered and given visual form in the depictions of Dickens in his dream state with which this paper began. not through machine-like production. an anachronistic flattening out of time around an unconsciously creative figure. or rather return. I am not suggesting that those posthumous images reflect specifically on The Signalman. a fixed. altering the terms slightly when it comes to the mechanism by which Dickens encounters his creations. physical object party to a now silenced hallucinatory ensem- ble – something grasped and elaborated on by Buss. not the deadly machine churning out numbers. impinges on Dickens’s hallucinatory and con- tinuous process of composition and reception – hearing voices that come to you. but rather to evoke. to a point of single origin in the narrator.

Assemblage. 436– 461. 2000). pp. pp. 5 Schivelbush. 13 Quoted in Richard J. Technology and Culture. for example. and Paul Sheehan for their advice and assistance in preparing this article. 1850). 2004). local time is displaced by industrial time: ‘If we try to replace socio-cultural time by a purely quantitative time. George Eliot’s Middlemarch. Micale and Paul Lerner (eds). pp. p. 334– 342. 1870 – 1930 (New York: Cambridge University 14 Graham Storey. pp. Psychiatry. Dunn. in Mark S. 8 Ralph Harrington. 228 ff. 10 Norris Pope. 436– 461. 33– 37. Landow has collected some of these images online: http://www. Grossman’s chapter on Transport in Sally Ledger and Holly Furneaux (eds). Helen Groth. 56– 57. Trau- matic Pasts: History. Textual Practice Acknowledgements I wish to thank Holly Furneaux. 2010). discusses the process whereby organic. Notes 1 Juliet Johns discusses Dickens’s diverse afterlives in her Dickens and Mass Culture (New York: Oxford University Press. 1997. 21. and Kathleen Tillotson (eds). ‘Signalman and Information Problems’. p. 2011). 2001). 4 Quoted in Caruth. to find out “where we are” and where are the other social phenomena on “the bridge of time”’. Chapter LVI London : Every- man. 664 . pp. 3 Cathy Caruth. 6 See.) Being a Monthly Supplement to Household Words. 7 See Jonathon H. A Routledge Literary Sourcebook on Charles Dick- ens’s David Copperfield (New York: Routledge. and we find ourselves in an exceedingly difficult position in our efforts to orient ourselves in the time process. Margaret Brown. p. (London. The Letters of Charles Dickens: Volume 11: 1865 – 1867 (New York: Oxford University Press. ‘Violence and Time: Traumatic Survivals’. 24– 25. ‘The Signalman and Information Problems in the Railway Age’. 42. 24. 31– 56. It loses its reality. 12 Claire Tomalin. 11 I rely here on Pope. Trauma. quoting Pitrim Sorokin. 20 (1993). The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 1995). 1986).html. Dickens in Context (New York: Cambridge University Press. ‘The Railway Accident: Trains. Wolfgang Schivelbusch. pp.3 (2001). 9 Household Narrative of Current Events (for the Year 1850. and Trauma in the Modern Age. and Technological Crisis in Nineteenth-Century’. time becomes devitalised. Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 2 George P. 141 –149. victorianweb. pp. Conducted by Charles Dickens. The Invisible Woman: The Story of Charles Dickens & Nelly Ternan (New York: Knopf.

E. p. Memory. quoted in P. 192. p. ‘Hood and Dickens: Some New Letters’. 172 –173. A Carlyle Reader. Collins. ‘No. 2006). 9. Berrios surveys nineteenth-century approaches to hallucination in ‘Tactile Hallucinations: Conceptual and Historical Aspects’. 1986). Mind. The Letters of Charles Dickens. 28 G. Hopkins. and Railway Disaster: The Dickensian Connec- tion’. and Mr Dickens made a very tolerable use of it. 149.. wrote that duels are ‘very vulgar in novels. p. and Nina Burgis (eds). 413– 436. 87 – 111. 202. Huntington Library Quarterly. Cranford (London: Penguin. pp. 19 See Malcolm Andrews on the transformative modernity of Dickens’s method of serial publication. all things considered’. p. 66. pp. Kathleen Tillotson. 549. 23 Shirley Foster. Victorian Studies. Huntington Library Quarterly. 446. For a survey of Hood’s relationship with Dickens. 108. 1988). G. 10. 38. 26 Edmund Gurney. 20 Graham Storey. Elizabeth Gaskell: A Literary Life (New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 185.). hereafter referred to as ‘C’. Lewes. 1 Branch Line: The Signalman’. 443. 18 Elizabeth Gaskell. Fortnightly Review. see David Ellison. For a broader discussion of Dombey and Son and mobility. 20.. ed. and the Dickens Cure’.4 (1946). 357– 385. p. 11. 17 Ibid. 43.38 (1885). 385 – 413. Sharpe’s London Magazine (May 1848).1 (2009). 29 Gurney. pp. 1984). pp. 11 – 12.H. South Atlantic Quarterly. Charles Dickens and His Performing Selves: Dickens and the Public Readings (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 24 Charles Dickens. ‘Hallucinations’. Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. ‘Hallucinations’. ‘Dickens in Relation to Criticism’. 22 Thomas Carlyle. pp. Gaskell’. 25 G. Fallen Furniture. ‘Mobile Homes. ‘Dickens and Industrialism’. A reviewer in Sharpe’s London Magazine. Volume Six: 1850 – 1852 (New York: Oxford University Press.3 (2001). Hereafter referred to as ‘SS’. Cited in Annette B. see Alvin Whitley and Thomas Hood. p. collected in Michael Hayes (ed. 1978). p. 144. The Supernatural Stories of Charles Dickens (London: John Calder. ‘Trauma. Journal of Neurol- ogy. pp. 414. 1500 –1900. 16 Ibid. 36. and happily very much out of fashion in society – the railway is new and handy. 285– 293. pp. 2002). 21 Such a timely accident was hailed by reviewers as a novel and topical solution to the perennial problem of how to dispose of villains. Tennyson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 27 Ibid.4 (1980). pp.. 45 (1982). ‘Dickens and Mrs. 651– 673. p. pp. Studies in English Literature. Downloaded by [University of California Santa Cruz] at 06:40 02 October 2013 14.B. 665 . David Ellison The ghost of injuries 15 Jill Matus.4 (1951). pp.62 (1872).