The Holly-Tree Inn by Charles Dickens

The Holly-Tree Inn by Charles Dickens and others is a lovely little book, both to hold and to read. It’s a Hesperus Press publication, smooth paper and a softback cover with flaps you can use as bookmarks. I received my copy via Library Thing Early Reviewers Programme. I enjoyed reading it.

This was originally published in 1855, being the Christmas number of Dickens’s periodical Household Words. It was so popular that it was then adapted for the stage. It’s a collection of short stories by Dickens, Wilkie Collins, William Howitt, Adelaide Anne Procter and Harriet Parr, around the theme of travellers and  inns. I liked Collins’s and Howlitt’s stories the most.

It begins with a story by Dickens, The Guest in which a gentleman on his way to Liverpool is snowed in at the Holly-Tree Inn in Yorkshire. To keep himself entertained he reminisces about inns he has visited, giving glimpses into travel and inns in the 19th century. Having exhausted his own memories, this story ends with the idea of asking the inmates of the inn for their own stories.

So, the next stories are from:

The Ostler by Wilkie Collins. In this the landlord tell’s the ostler’s tale of his dread of his wife after dreaming that she is about to murder him, a tale of impending doom:

His eyes opened owards the left hand side of the bed, and there stood – The woman of the dream again? – No! His wife; the living reality, with the dream spectre’s face – in the dream-spectre’s attitude; the fair arm up – the knife clasped in the delicate, white hand. (page 53)

The Boots by Charles Dickens – according to Melisa Klimaszewski’s Introduction this tale was such a favourite that Dickens included it in his later public readings. It’s not quite to my taste, a sentimental tale about two young children determined to elope, staying at the Holly- Tree inn:

Boots could assure me that it was better than a picter (sic) and equal to a play, to see them babies with their long bright curling hair, their sparkling eyes, and their beautiful light tread, a rambling in the garden, deep in love.

The Landlord by William Howitt. An entertaining tale of the landlord’s brother who emigrated to Australia in order to better himself. But when they get there they wished they’d stayed in England. It seems they arrived just at the wrong time. Howitt, himself had travelled to Australia in search of gold and his experience is reflected in his tale. 

The Barmaid by Adelaide Anne Procter – a sad story told in verse by the landlord’s niece of Maurice and his love for ‘the loveliest little damsel his eyes had ever seen.’  Not the most challenging of tales.

The Poor Pensioner by Harriet Parr. Hester lives at the inn on ‘broken victuals’, now a poor demented creature refusing to believe that her son was guilty of murder. She waits in vain for his sentence to be reversed. This tale reveals how her wild and wilful ways as a young woman led her to seek for change and excitement with disastrous results. 

The Bill by Charles Dickens. This story completes the cycle. A week has gone by, the Guest’s route is now clear of snow and he can leave.He then discovers that his enforced stay at the inn has changed his life!

Reading this book has made a welcome break in reading modern fiction and has made me keen to read more of Dickens’s and Collins’s books.  I knew nothing about the other authors but fortunately there is a short section at the end with biographical notes about the contributors.