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Charles Dickens, Ghostwriter

Renowned author Charles Dickens passed away on June 9, 1870. He had been working on The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and the work was not complete at the time of his death.

Dickens had written and published six chapters or installments of the serialized murder mystery novel before his death. He had intended to write six more chapters so the novel was only half finished at the time of his passing, which left the reader wondering who the murderer was intended to be.

A couple of years after the author’s demise, in 1872, a young printer from Vermont by the name of Thomas Power James announced that the ghost of Mr. Dickens had contacted him during a séance in November.

Those present at the séance reported that Thomas James went into a trance-like state and began writing automatic messages from the spirit world.

One of the messages included the phrase “private interview with James,” and it was signed “Charles Dickens.” The notes continued and James was reportedly urged by Dickens to be used “as the vessel for finishing his final novel.”

Mr. James moved into the boarding house in Brattleboro, Vermont where he had initially been contacted by Dickens. He was allowed to live there rent free by the owner, a woman very much into Spiritualism, while he completed Dickens’ novel.

Beginning on Christmas Eve night, and each night for many weeks, James would fall into a trance and write for hours. Although the handwriting was said not to be that of James, reports also indicate that it was not Dickens’ handwriting either.

The novel was completed and published in October of 1873 as The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens as continued by Thomas Power James. Although critics were in disbelief about James’ claim that Dickens completed the book through him, it became a bestseller in America.

James declined several offers from publishers to write additional books. He said that Dickens had used him to complete his final book, and that “no further books would be forthcoming.”

One famous author who did believe James’s story was Arthur Conan Doyle. He believed that James didn’t “have a literary bone in his body.”

References and additional information:

Violini, Juanita Rose. The Almanac of the Infamous, the Incredible, and the Ignored. SF: Weiser Books, 2009.

Vitelli, Dr. Romeo. Ghostwriting Dickens at http://randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/1448-ghostwriting-dickens.html

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