Somebody’s Luggage is a collection of short stories brought together by Charles Dickens for the 1862 Christmas issue of his magazine ‘All Year Round’. Three of the stories were written by Dickens himself, the other four by lower profile Victorian authors Charles (brother of the celebrated Wilkie) Collins, Arthur Locker, John Oxenford and Julia Cecilia Stretton. As a confirmed Dickens enthusiast, I was concerned that the others wouldn’t live up to his verve and style, but I needn’t have worried, each of the very different stories is thoroughly entertaining.
The stories are united by the umbrella arc of an elderly waiter who works in an establishment that is ‘a bed business, and a coffee room business’ in the West End of London who becomes preoccupied with the unclaimed luggage left behind in room 24b. On unpacking and itemising the bags, he discovers a number of documents stashed in the unknown somebody’s boots, umbrella, black bag, writing desk, dressing case, brown paper parcel, portmanteau and hat box. The ensuing stories are named after the items in which they were found.
And what stories they are. The first (by Dickens himself), concerns an Englishman who befriends a young orphan girl while living in France. In true Dickens form, the end of the story bring a tear to the eye. John Oxenford’s ‘His Umbrella’ is a ghost story; Collin’s effort (made up of ‘His Black Bag’ and ‘His Writing Case’) tells the romantic tale of a soldier who is unable to marry his true love; ‘His Dressing Case’ by Arthur Locker is a salty yarn of seafarers shipwrecked on an iceberg. Dickens returns for ‘His Brown Paper Parcel’, which is a strange tale of a man who is paid to let others pass his pavement art off as their own. The final story (by Julia Stretton) is told in ‘His Portmanteau’ and ‘His Hat Box’, and is a supernatural fantasy where a put-upon man is given a magic chair that forces all who sit in it to tell the truth. I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I reveal that the conclusion of the book sees the ‘Somebody’ return to claim ownership his manuscripts, it all ends very happily.
I suppose some could be disappointed by the lack of stark social commentary that is woven through Dickens’ novels, but this collection is funny, chilling, heart-warming and wry by turns. A most diverting read.