Charles Dickens and the Night Visitors is based on Dickens’s Italian tour (1844-5). However, the author is kept mainly off-stage, the action being seen through the eyes of various family members, eight bystanders offering differing perspectives on Dickens’s traumatic relationship with Madame de la Rue.
In December 1844 Charles Dickens, on holiday in Italy with his family, undertakes to give treatment to Augusta de la Rue, the wife of his friend Emile. Already an amateur practitioner in the new science of hypnosis, Dickens essays to evict the spectres that nightly haunt Madame de la Rue’s bedchamber. The consequences of these ministrations are dire, for in banishing Augusta’s phantoms Dickens arouses his wife’s fury and unleashes demons of his own.
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The shouting had stopped. Everything was quiet in the attic. It must have been a dream.
She tossed and turned on the hard pallet, holding her breath to listen. Charley was breathing deeply, letting out a cat-like purr. Little Katie, as always, slept like the dead and tiddler Young Skull had at last given over his whining. Chickenstalker would be down the corridor cuddled up to Aunt Georgie, snuffling and bubbling into his shawl. Papa might be in the big bed-room with Mama. She strained to hear any murmuring. She could hear nothing, so he was probably still in the library, bent over his papers. She listened to her own breath, waiting for the chimes of the convent bell next door, but heard only Charley’s rhythmic gargle. Sleep never came easily to her in the Palazzo Peschiere.
Genoa is a very old town, noisier and dirtier than London. Papa loves it, though, even laughing at our first house, the butcher’s crumbling villa with its rats and fleas. But he was happy there, beating a path for us through the rocks to ruined chapels, and staying up gassing all night long with Father Antonio. This place delights him even more - an enchanted palace, surrounded by beautiful gardens, with statues, fountains, orange and lemon trees, and groves of roses and camellias. He’s writing it all down to send back to Mr Forster in London.