Dark Origins – The Chimes, A Goblin Story: a novella by Charles Dickens

I have been participating in a Dickens Readathon which is being hosted by by Marsha Ingrao from Always Write blog (this is her latest post for the challenge: https://alwayswrite.blog/2023/02/13/dickenschallenge-novella-4-the-battle-of-life/); Trent McDonald from Trent’s world (https://trentsworld.blog/2023/02/07/the-third-annual-dickens-challenge-a-triple-threat/) and Yvette Prior (https://priorhouse.wordpress.com/2023/02/09/five-novella-descriptions-2023-dickenschallenge-read-one-novella-by-june-9th-post-2/).

I have recently read The Chimes, a Dickens novella which was first published in 1844, one year after the well known A Christmas Carol. It’s social critisism perfectly suited my criteria for Dark Origins posts and I decided to share my thoughts and research on this novella for my March Dark Origins post.

The story involves the disillusionment of Toby “Trotty” Veck, a poor working-class man who works as a casual messenger or ‘ticket-porter’. Dickens goes to great lengths at the beginning of the story to detail Trotty’s poverty as per the following description:

Making, with his leaky shoes, a crooked line of slushy footprints in the mire; and blowing on his chilly hands and rubbing them against each other, poorly defended from the searching cold by threadbare mufflers of grey worsted, with a private apartment only for the thumb, and a common room or tap for the rest of the fingers; Toby, with his knees bent and his cane beneath his arm, still trotted.

Picture credit: Public domain picture: Trotty Veck 1889 Dickens The Chimes character by Kyd (Joseph Clayton Clarke)

The story commences on the afternoon before New Year’s Day. Trotty is waiting for work outside the church. Work has been slow for a few weeks despite his willingness to work hard. He is depicted as being a cheerful man despite his lot in life, but on that cold winter’s afternoon he reads a newspaper which includes a number of scathing reports about the poor. He embarks on a train of thought that the working classes are unworthy and their poverty is a result of this unworthiness. Trotty wonders whether the poor are born corrupt and are incapable of redemption.

His lovely daughter, Meg, arrives, bringing him a meal of tripe she has cooked. Meg tells her father that she is going to marry her childhood sweetheart, Richard, despite the fact they are both poor. She makes it clear that she accepts their poverty and does not expect their situation to ever change. These are her words:

“‘He says then, father,’ Meg continued, lifting up her eyes at last, and speaking in a tremble, but quite plainly; ‘another year is nearly gone, and where is the use of waiting on from year to year, when it is so unlikely we shall ever be better off than we are now?  He says we are poor now, father, and we shall be poor then, but we are young now, and years will make us old before we know it.  He says that if we wait: people in our condition: until we see our way quite clearly, the way will be a narrow one indeed—the common way—the Grave, father.’”

Dickens intention with this depiction is to highlight the terrible plight of the poor who are trapped in a capitalist system where the wealthy always abuse the poorer. He is also demonstrating Meg’s and Richard’s passive acceptance of their situation. Dickens believed this passive acceptance of the status quo by the working classes to be wrong.

Trotty has misgivings about the marriage, but hides it and they are happy until they encounter the proud and wealthy Alderman Cute and two other gentlemen. The gentlemen succeed in making Trotty, his daughter, and her fiancé feel as if they have no right to exist, never mind to marry and have children who with perpetuate the cycle of poverty. Alderman Cute degrades and humiliates Trotty and the working classes in general.

‘You see, my friend,’ pursued the Alderman, ‘there’s a great deal of nonsense talked about Want—“hard up,” you know; that’s the phrase, isn’t it? ha! ha! ha!—and I intend to Put it Down.  There’s a certain amount of cant in vogue about Starvation, and I mean to Put it Down.  That’s all!  Lord bless you,’ said the Alderman, turning to his friends again, ‘you may Put Down anything among this sort of people, if you only know the way to set about it.’

Cute gives Trotty a note to carry to Sir Joseph Bowley MP, who gives charity to the poor but is another arrogant and hypocritical man. Trotty’s encounter with Bowley leave him feeling even more humiliated and disillusioned.

‘What man can do, I do,’ pursued Sir Joseph.  ‘I do my duty as the Poor Man’s Friend and Father; and I endeavour to educate his mind, by inculcating on all occasions the one great moral lesson which that class requires.  That is, entire Dependence on myself.  They have no business whatever with—with themselves.  If wicked and designing persons tell them otherwise, and they become impatient and discontented, and are guilty of insubordinate conduct and black-hearted ingratitude; which is undoubtedly the case; I am their Friend and Father still.  It is so Ordained.  It is in the nature of things.’

Later that evening, Toby reads some sad and depressing news in the evening paper. He believes he hears the church bells chiming his name and he sets out to climb the church tower and hear what they have to say to him. This is the beginning of the supernatural part of the story that leads to Trotty realising that the poor are not born bad but that many of them end up in bad situations due to their terrible circumstances.

Picture credit: The Goblins of the Bells by Charles Green (p. 84). 1912. 7.5 x 9.9 cm. Dickens’s The Chimes, Pears Centenary Edition

Passage illustration:

He saw the tower, whither his charmed footsteps had brought him, swarming with dwarf phantoms, spirits, elfin creatures of the Bells. He saw them leaping, flying, dropping, pouring from the Bells without a pause. He saw them, round him on the ground; above him, in the air; clambering from him, by the ropes below; looking down upon him, from the massive iron-girded beams; peeping in upon him, through the chinks and loopholes in the walls; spreading away and away from him in enlarging circles, as the water ripples give way to a huge stone that suddenly comes plashing in among them. He saw them, of all aspects and all shapes. He saw them ugly, handsome, crippled, exquisitely formed. He saw them young, he saw them old, he saw them kind, he saw them cruel, he saw them merry, he saw them grim; he saw them dance, and heard them sing; he saw them tear their hair, and heard them howl. He saw the air thick with them. He saw them come and go, incessantly. He saw them riding downward, soaring upward, sailing off afar, perching near at hand, all restless and all violently active. Stone, and brick, and slate, and tile, became transparent to him as to them. He saw them in the houses, busy at the sleepers’ beds. He saw them soothing people in their dreams; he saw them beating them with knotted whips; he saw them yelling in their ears; he saw them playing softest music on their pillows; he saw them cheering some with the songs of birds and the perfume of flowers; he saw them flashing awful faces on the troubled rest of others, from enchanted mirrors which they carried in their hands. [“Third Quarter,” pp. 83-85, 1912 edition]

Dickens uses the goblins in the bells as his instruments for social criticism and to make his points about the unjust treatment of the poor who are often wrongly accused an imprisoned for any reason due to the government’s attitude of ‘to jail with them’. The goblins also expose the social inequality innate in Victorian society and the hypocrisy of the politicians and aristocrats of the time.


Of the four so called Christmas novellas written by Charles Dickens I have read so far (A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, The Battle of Life and The Cricket on the Hearth, a Fairy Tale of Home), this is the one that brought the snobbery, hypocrisy, and arrogance of the Victorian gentry home to me the hardest.

The impact of the social inequality on the psyche of the working classes represented by Trotty and his daughter, Meg, and the injustices of the legal system presented by the treatment of Will Fenn, are truly heartbreaking as is the misguided attitude of the philanthropist represented by Sir Bowley.

How easy it is to judge others from a position of wealth and privilege.

You can read The Chimes for free here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/653/653-h/653-h.htm

Have you read The Chimes? What did you think of its message?

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Award-winning, bestselling author, Roberta Eaton Cheadle, is a South African writer and poet specialising in historical, paranormal, and horror novels and short stories. She is an avid reader in these genres and her writing has been influenced by famous authors including Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, Amor Towles, Stephen Crane, Enrich Maria Remarque, George Orwell, Stephen King, and Colleen McCullough.

Roberta has two published novels and has horror, paranormal, and fantasy short stories included in several anthologies. She is also a contributor to the Ask the Authors 2022 (WordCrafter Writing Reference series).

Roberta also has thirteen children’s books and two poetry books published under the name of Robbie Cheadle, and has poems and short stories featured in several anthologies under this name.

Roberta’s blog features discussions about classic books, book reviews, poetry, and photography. https://roberta-writes.com/.

Find Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Blog: https://wordpress.com/view/robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertaEaton17

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robertawrites

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Roberta-Eaton-Cheadle/e/B08RSNJQZ5


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38 Comments on “Dark Origins – The Chimes, A Goblin Story: a novella by Charles Dickens”

  1. Reblogged this on and commented:

    My Dark Origins article for March is a discussion about The Chimes, A Goblin Story by Charles Dickens. Thanks for hosting Kaye Lynne Booth.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I haven’t read this one yet. Your synopsis and conclusion resonate with me, and it reminds me just how well Dickens depicted the state of society of the time. I’m hoping to read and post about The Haunted Man & The Ghost’s Bargain (1848), but I’ll have to see how things go. Thanks for sharing, Robbie 💕🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. memadtwo says:

    Things haven’t changed that much have they? We are still blaming the poor for their poverty, and the wealthy still hoard the wealth that was gained on the backs of the poor to whom they refuse to pay a living wage, or the immigrants who clean their houses and mow their lawns and care for their children and deliver their food and work in their warehouses and factories, the same ones they are always calling criminals and railing against and threatening to deport. At least that’s the way it is here. (K)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, I suppose Dickens was primarily criticising capitalism. We have some social welfare here, the same as the UK. On a lessor scale as we are a poor country.

      Liked by 2 people

      • memadtwo says:

        We have some programs, too, but not enough, and Congress is always trying to take them away so the can cut taxes for businesses. I suppose I’m just criticizing capitalism as well, but also the people who benefit from it, have more than enough, and keep wanting more.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Yes, we have commented on that before. It is the people in whom the worst traits of humanity i,e, greed, selfishness, and a desire for power, are the strongest, that go into politics and business leadership. Those characteristics enable them to rise to the top at any cost to other people.

          Liked by 2 people

  4. Staci Troilo says:

    I haven’t read this one but enjoy Dickens. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Mae Clair says:

    I’ve never read this one but I believe it was discussed in a book I read about Dickens. As always, a very insightful review, Robbie.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Christy B says:

    This novella is new to me. Great overview of it, Robbie! Thanks Kaye Lynn for hosting her here so I could find out more about the read.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Jan Sikes says:

    An excellent interpretation of this body of work from Dickens. There has always been a huge gap between the haves and have nots and Dickens portrays is well. Thanks for sharing, Robbie.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. A thought-provoking discussion of literature’s ability to raise awareness of poverty and change attitudes through the vehicle of fiction. In the US, at any rate, each new generation of writers includes those who succeed in accomplishing this very worthy goal–and yet, the divide between the haves and the have-nots is now greater than ever, cavernous, in fact.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. “This is the beginning of the supernatural part of the story that leads to Trotty realising that the poor are not born bad but that many of them end up in bad situations due to their terrible circumstances.” Your review of Dickens’ The Chimes: A Goblin Story made me want to read it soon.
    You’ve probably heard about the violence in Mexico caused by the drug Cartels. I could write books about it. The state where I live is plagued by daily killings. The easy money earned by young men to kill another person is such temptation. Teenagers shoot people, usually for revenge, for a payment of about $100 dollars in American dollars. Your comment about Trotty realizing the poor aren’t born bad gives me a way to think about teenagers killing people for a small payment. They’re not born bad. How could a baby be bad? These killers usually have bad parents or no parents. Kids brought up in that horrible life. They want the gold, the money, the fame of being a criminal. They see a life of selling hot dogs from a cart on the street as a dead-end. They don’t want to live the rest of their life sleeping under a cardboard roof with a blanket for walls, bare ground no grass. Most of Mexico is poor with a small middle class. The few rich are the super rich who rule Mexico-the cartels.
    There is a supernatural force ruling this country like the goblins Dickens writes about in this novella. Goblins tricking young people, pushing them and tempting them to be evil. Who would think that a book written so long ago would address life in 2023? That’s the power of literature, especially from an author like Dickens.
    You write excellent reviews Robbie. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello Kay, thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. It is so encouraging that you found this post interesting and also see parallels with the modern world. I see them too, here in South Africa, where so much of the countries wealth has been stolen by corrupt government officials since independence. It is a tragedy and certainly not the rainbow nation Nelson Mandela dreamed about. Dickens was and extraordinary empath and he could translate his thoughts and feelings into extraordinarily vivid depictions and stories.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. It was a time of great poverty of that there is no doubt and even 100 years later very little had changed by the time my grandmother became a war widow with a young baby to bring up existing on a tiny pension and taking in sewing to make ends meet. I do believe that out of that poverty young men and women began to climb out of their inevitable course in life but it took a world war to bring many of them, particularly women a power for change. Unfortunately in many countries Dicken’s take on poverty has not changed and the gap between the have’s and have nots as far as countries go is wider than ever.. excellent and though provoking post Robbie. Thanks for hosting Kaye Lynne.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Marsha says:

    This is such a thoughtful review of a thoughtful book. I think our lives today have more possibilities, but your reader from Mexico made an excellent point. People will do anything to get a little bit of money and some power over their lives when they are hungry and have no hope. I haven’t finished The Chimes yet, but it seems that Trotty had a bit more moral fiber that held him together in the face of such wickedness on the part of the Alderman.

    Liked by 2 people

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