"The Black Veil" by Charles Dickens (Short Stories from the Nineteenth Century Selected by David Stuart Davies). Read 7 January 2014
As part of my 45 goals for 2014, I set myself the task of reading 45 novels and 45 short stories. Each of the 45 novels I read shall be either reviewed or rated on Goodreads, but I thought I might record here a short review of the stories as I read them.
My first outing for the year is Dickens' "The Black Veil". Now, this is where I must confess to a gap in my knowledge. Familiar as I am with such novels (and plays) as Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol, I have to admit, I had no idea Dickens wrote short fiction. As a result, I entered into this story with certain (pardon the pun) expectations. Dickens was one of the greatest novel writers of the English language so I just knew that he would be a master of the short form, too.
I was not disappointed. The story starts as many English stories of the time do, with the protagonist (a new doctor) sitting by himself on a wet English night, contemplating his future and hoping for a change to the status quo to bring it about. His musings are brought to a halt by the arrival of a stranger, a woman wearing a deep black veil. She enlists the help of the doctor in helping her friend, a man who is dying but who cannot be helped, either now or in the future. She asks him to call upon her friend at 9am the following morning to see if our doctor can give assistance.
This simple short story would seem quiet and subdued to our modern eye (and possibly somewhat flowery), but the simplicity of the work is belied by the strength of prose, setting and characterisation. The final denouement found me with my hand resting across my chest as I contemplated over and over those last few sentences.
A beautiful work, breathtakingly tragic in its tone and conceit. This dear reader's hat goes off to Mr Dickens for his ability to craft such dark depths within the uncomplicated framework of "The Black Veil."
4 stars out of 5.