I first read The Signalman by Charles Dickens in 2010 for my English class at school. I instantly fell in love with the gothic tropes of ghosts and dark tunnels. And now, after reading it for the second time for my degree in English Literature I have remembered why I fell in love with Gothic Fiction.
*SPOILERS* The short story opens with the narrator coming across the signalman is his box, staring down the line after he had called to him. This mystery is soon explained that the signalman had heard his words many times before, by a spectre haunting him and warning him of train accidents. The dark, setting creates this image as the perfect place to infuse the ideas of anxiety towards the railway and its dangers. When the story finally ends the narrator finds out that an accident has happened as the poor signalman was killed, hit by the train with the driver of the train explaining how it happened. The premonition shows that the signalman was in fact seeing himself at the mouth of the tunnel, not a random spectre. This tragedy and turn of events inspired my love of Gothic Fiction.
The way in which Dickens was able to keep suspense, never allowing the reader to guess who the spectre really is. His writing of the train and its railways cast a dark and barbarous ideal as he describes the tunnel as ‘depressing, and forbidding air… as if I had left the natural world’ leaving a trapped effect on the signalman. The Signalman allows readers to enjoy Dickens but within a short story. It was his last fully written story and was one of his best ghost stories. I hope it will not be the last I enjoy.