Somebody’s Luggage by Charles Dickens

So, as it turns out, all that good stuff about “[w]hat is lost when Dickens abandons his own excess baggage” applies even more to Somebody’s Luggage (which it was, of course, meant to apply to) than it does to The Wreck of the Golden Mary. The frame story here is more traditionally Dickensian, and could certainly stand on its own, but to think of standing it with only Dickens’s other contributions to the story seems so wrong. At least one of those other contributions was my favorite, after all!

But how does the collaboration work in Somebody’s Luggage, anyway? First, the frame: a waiter by the name of Mr Christopher who works in a hotel becomes interested in some luggage that was left behind and never sent for years earlier. Christopher is by any measure “traditionally Dickensian,” anchoring the whole work in London, bringing in some very Dickensian humor, that sort of thing. He’s a bit long-winded, but everyone will like Christopher. But try as he might, he just can’t get that luggage—“Somebody’s luggage”—off his mind:

My speculating it over, not then only but repeatedly, sometimes with the Mistress, sometimes with one, sometimes with another, led up to the Mistress’s saying to me—whether at first in joke or in earnest, or half joke and half earnest, it matters not:

‘Christopher, I am going to make you a handsome offer.’

(If this should meet her eye—a lovely blue—may she not take it ill my mentioning that if I had been eight or ten year younger, I would have done as much by her! That is, I would have made her a offer. It is for others than me to denominate it a handsome one.)

‘Christopher, I am going to make you a handsome offer.’

‘Put a name to it, ma’am.’

‘Come,’ says she, ‘Christopher. Pay me Somebody’s bill, and you shall have Somebody’s luggage.’

So, you see what I mean about the humor too. And the long-windedness—it takes nearly a page to get to her actual proposition.

When Christopher buys himself the luggage, he finds he has made a good deal. All of Somebody’s possessions are crammed full of paper, which is crammed full of writing. Everything else is in good condition and can be sold for more than the “investment.” And the writing can be printed and shared with us.

So the writings stuffed into Somebody’s luggage make up the bulk of Somebody’s Luggage (you see what I did there?), and include contributions from Dickens, John Oxenford, Charles Allston Collins, Arthur Locker, and Julia Cecilia Stretton. Each story is named after the place it was found, e.g., “His Boots” and “His Umbrella.” Collins and Stretton each have two contributions that really go together as a single story; Dickens has two that are truly separate. As in The Wreck of the Golden Mary, the stories have some nice variety: a sad, heartwarming tale about a stiff Englishman finding his heart in France; a ghost story; a match-making tale that ends in tragedy; an extremely silly shipwreck where the passengers and crew are saved by the iceberg that has stove in their hull; a story of artistic jealousy that leads to social ostracism; and a completely lovely one about an enchanted truth-chair and a man in search of a wife.

That last, by Stretton and made up of “His Portmanteau” and “His Hatbox,” is probably my favorite, though competition is fierce—especially against “His Brown Paper Parcel,” Dickens’s story about a street artist. I would say that Stretton is as good as Dickens, at least in the realm of “amusing short stories about drink and indigestion leading to visions of supernatural creatures that help us find our way to a heartwarming end,” except for how he wrote “A Christmas Carol” and stuff. And it’s probably not as good as “His Brown Paper Parcel,” which is better developed psychologically in its darkness. But it’s so snuggly!

Which is where Somebody’s Luggage, while again totally not actually Christmassy, seems much more Christmassy than The Wreck of the Golden Mary. Except for “His Brown Paper Parcel,” it’s a parcel of stories about redemption, with bonuses about family and marriage. That counts for the frame story as well. All in all a much cuter holiday number.

3 comments to Somebody’s Luggage by Charles Dickens

  • Your tweet on this entry made me laugh. I’ve been “celebrating” the holidays this year in less of a Scrooge-ish way and more of a way where I just fail to exert myself to acknowledge them, and look! they’re almost here and gone.

    Nevertheless, this sounds like it would warm the cockles of my heart. :-)

  • Ha, I feel I have been very Scrooge-ish myself, and it was by accident that I read these at an appropriate time, but some of the stories actually brought me some of that “holiday cheer” yesterday. I think it’s a sign of pre-holiday stress–I’m vulnerable!

  • This sounds excellent, and will hopefully help me push back some of the inevitable holiday scroogishness…will take this and The Wreck of the Golden Mary to my mother-in-law’s for the weekend. Thanks!