Charles Dickens’ Other Mystery

Earlier this week, I was part of a small group of businessmen meeting with a professor from one of our State Universities. We will be serving as mentors in one of his classes this semester. After the meeting was over, a few of us remained to discuss ways we could help the professor in a different class. The professor started describing a book that he had written but was no longer using and the various problems he has had with the publisher. During this conversation, someone made a comment likening the professor’s book to “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”

Edwin Drood? I had never heard of this book.

The person who had made the comment explained that it was the last novel written by Charles Dickens, the only mystery written by Dickens and that the famed author died before the book was finished and that we don’t know the ending.

I wanted to remember that. I wanted to share it with my wife because she is a Dickens fan. She has a collection of his books, as well as a book about his life. I was pretty sure that she would know about this book. But I forgot. Despite the fact that this had been the most interesting thing I heard during this meeting, it was lost in the complexity of my afternoon. Lunch with my daughter, a visit to the dentist and catching up on the small pile of email that had collected in my inbox all seemed more important that Mr. Dickens’ unfinished work.

Red for Danger
I love this book. Learning a lot about the early days of railroads.

Hours later, I crawled into bed, eager to continue reading a book on railroad disasters in the early days of train service in England. This book, “Red for Danger” was a Christmas gift from my friend David who lives in England and is a fan of trains, model trains and train history. The book is more historic than action-thriller. The author works through accidents methodically, explaining not only what went wrong and the often horrific results, but also how these early accidents set the stage for the safety regimen that characterizes modern railroads. Modern being the mid 1900’s when this book was written.

I had left off just before a chapter on accidents that resulted from the negligence of workmen and trains traveling through work zones. It seems that signaling trains of the unexpected dangers posed by maintenance activity was not yet a well-established practice in the day. The day being June 9th, 1865. One of the stories in this chapter was about the repairs to the Staplehurst Bridge. The work crew failed to account for a train running on a flexible schedule. The train crossed the bridge while it was under repair and only the engine, the tender and one car made it across the shallow river. Ten passengers died and 49 were injured. One interesting bit of information about this train wreck is the fact that the lead passenger car, the only one to make it across the bridge, was carrying none other than Charles Dickens. Mr. Dickens worked to help the injured passengers and was severely affected by the accident. The author added:

Charles Dickens
The book describes the accident and Charles Dickens’ role in helping to rescue the survivors. It mentions how much the accident affected him.

This seemed a little too weird for me. That I’ve lived over 60 years without knowing about this book, only to hear about it twice in the same day? I looked into this and discovered that it is, perhaps, an example of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.

Baader-Meinhof is the phenomenon where one happens upon some obscure piece of information–often an unfamiliar word or name–and soon afterwards encounters the same subject again, often repeatedly.”

I say perhaps because not everyone accepts that this is a phenomenon. Some say that the reason these interesting connections seem important is because we fail to notice things that are not interesting. One source added:

This tendency to ignore the “uninteresting” data is an example of selective attention.”

Normally, I might agree with that. I’m selectively attentive for sure. That’s a fact. You can ask my family. Actually, they might go as far as to say that I am oblivious to the world around me. It’s nice how people who love you can be honest about such things.

Regardless of my condition, I did find this story about Dickens to be interesting. Despite the fact that I didn’t remember to tell my wife about it, I think I would have remembered hearing about it before.

On the other hand, I am being careful not to read too much into these events. I’ve found websites that say: “all coincidences have meaning.” I’m not sure what meaning this could have and, if it has meaning, what is it? Should I not ride trains? Should I read The Mystery of Edwin Drood? Should I not read it? Should I look for other coincidences involving Mr. Dickens? Well, I already wrote about one of those.

Not only was Charles Dickens on the ill-fated train in England in 1865, he was on a boat in the Windsor Locks Canal in 1842. I ride my bike on the Windsor Locks Canal path regularly. Windsor Locks is the 4th smallest town in the 3rd smallest state in the United States, but Charles Dickens was here, traveling the same path I travel.

While I don’t agree with those who would suggest that there is nothing to Baader-Meinhof or coincidences for that matter, I did enjoy reading this sarcastic quote from another book I haven’t read:

A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish – but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.”
― Vladimir Nabokov, Laughter in the Dark

Perhaps a quote from a different book by Mr. Dicken’s is more deserving of my attention:

What connexion can there be, between the place in Lincolnshire, the house in town, the Mercury in powder, and the whereabout of Jo the outlaw with the broom, who had that distant ray of light upon him when he swept the churchyard-step? What connexion can there have been between many people in the innumerable histories of this world, who, from opposite sides of great gulfs, have, nevertheless, been very curiously brought together!
― Charles Dickens, Bleak House

That is more on-point to my study of this kluge of coincidence. Charles Dickens and I have been curiously brought together.

Have you experienced the Baader-Mienhof Phenomonon? Is it real? Is it a bunch of hooey? Let me know what you think but be prepared to hear a related tale in an upcoming post.

39 thoughts on “Charles Dickens’ Other Mystery

Add yours

  1. I love this post, esp. the part about your family saying you’re oblivious (mine would say the same about me.) To your question, I have experienced times when a word or image or fact will come up again and again. My husband, whom I call a cynic in the same tone he calls me oblivious, says it is just what you say: heightened awareness. But, I think there’s more to it. I think you are on to something, or rather you are promoting an idea that has been around based on your personal experiences. The unexplained is just that, and I choose to find meaning in it as you do. Maybe if you dig into your genealogy, you’ll find out that you and Dickens are cousins or something? BTW: there is an independent film on Dickens, called The Invisible Woman, and a woman he has an affair with. Ralph Fiennes plays Dickens, and the train accident is depicted in the movie. Maybe you’ve seen it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have not seen that movie. I am learning more about Charles Dickens than I thought possible. My wife has brought a lot about him to my attention over the years, but not everything sticks there. I have, on occasion told my wife that things that seem related could just be happening. So, I have played the role of the cynic. I’m not going off the (other) deep end, but I don’t think these are simply random events that I happened to notice. Thanks!


  2. I think the bigger question is: did you ever tell your wife? Being oblivious to the world around us has its perks. We refuse to cram our already-filled brains with useless information for which we have no use. Works for me! ;)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I did tell her, but not until after I had read the passage in the book. She opened her book about his life, and found the identical passage. I’m guessing the author of the book I am reading quoted the book that she has. I like your explanation for why I’m oblivious. I hope I can remember that :) Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been reading Dicken’s The Pickwick Papers again! I started it just about Christmas and have only managed a few pages a day since. Miserably failing my 30 pages a day self imposed goal. 2 yr old Grandson and life are my excuses. Or perhaps it’s selective attentiveness. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well you probably have already figured out I’m a TOTAL believer on coincidences (signs). Seriously, why would those occur and give us a ‘twitch’ if we weren’t meant to pay attention to them. We make an infinite number of small decisions throughout life, all setting us on one path or another. I think of these coincidences like dreams – they are clues to help us find our way. It might be as simple as an increase in awareness, but even that is something small that can affect a decision (like reading that book). I’m delighted to know the Phenomenon has a mysterious, clinical, highly impressive name. I wish I could say I’ll remember it!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like the notion that we are making (paraphrasing) a series of midcourse corrections. I think I have a path, an objective, but I like that it can change. I’m still not sure what to do with Edwin Drood, but I think I might borrow the book from my wife and read it. Thanks for the comment.


      1. Here’s a weird sign – neither of your last two responses to my comments on your post have shown up in my comments archive; it’s been ‘radio silence’ there as if you haven’t responded! I am receiving responses to my comments from other bloggers so I’m not sure what to make of it. The vagaries of Word Press. Hopefully it will self-correct!!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I can’t really offer anything that might help. To my knowledge, this hasn’t happened before. I have been working off a MacBook for the past day and a half while my normal Windows Laptop is being repaired but I’m replying through a website either way. I don’t see how that could make a difference. I don’t like the idea of radio silence with Sammy – I need to keep those lines open :)


          1. Well all it took was a little bitching and switching to another computer and there you are back in the queue 😊 Yay!! I can’t get ANY of my computers to co-operate and each has different glitches. – it’s my daily test of patience!

            Liked by 1 person

  5. I read bleak house’s Script. And I tell ya, I rather watch the drama series they made based on the Charles Dickens Bleak House itself rather than reading. It was horrifyingly detailed until you might fall asleep after reading 1-6 pages max.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That’s so interesting. I did know about the unfinished book, but not the train wreck. The train wreck sounds absolutely horrendous. I can’t imagine what it means, to have stumbled upon this information, but I don’t believe in coincidences. I’ve experienced too much “coincidence” and far too many “signs” to feel otherwise.
    I very much enjoyed the bit about how you can be oblivious, and how your loved ones feel free to say so, but this obscure information is too interesting for me to comment on your oblivion. Truly interesting tidbit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. He wrote about the train wreck. Some of what he wrote is quoted in the book I am reading. The accident clearly had a profound effect on him. He said that he was reluctant to travel by rail after that and preferred slow trains. This was the early days of railroading and many safety features were still being designed, many in response to accidents. Perhaps you’ve had many coincidences because you are observant.


  7. I’ve never heard the ‘Baader-Meinhof’ term before, but I have experienced the phenomena . Seems to me , one experience involved seeing 1967 Mustangs .; or , does it have to be something I’ve never seen before ?I’ve heard of Drood but never read it .

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Well, I never heard of the Baader until reading your post. Hmmm…coincidence? I lean toward the school of thought that we don’t have coincidences; what some may call coincidence, I will call a “meant to be”.
    I didn’t know about the unfinished book either. I’ve grown an inch or two inside just by reading your post, Dan😄

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I didn’t know the experience has a name. I didn’t even know it is recognized as a phenomenon. But it does happen to me often, even with people. Once I meet a person and become introduced, it is almost written that I will certainly meet them again. And I do. Sometimes, I have wished that it would not happen. That some people would stay out of my way, but no.
    Also with words. I’m very curious about words and their usage. So much so that these days it surprises me to encounter a new word. However, the moment I meet a new word and look it up, it is as if I have let open a door for it to attack me from everywhere. I meet it frequently thereafter.
    I like that quote by Vladimir Nobokov. I laughed because I thought the man would find his ring in the fish.
    This is another excellent post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment Peter. I think Baader-Meinhof is particularly associated with words. I notice it happening less with words than with things like learning about this book but maybe I’m just not paying attention to the words I encounter. I thought the same thing when I started reading that quote about the fish.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Well I hadn’t heard of the name Baader-Meinhof but have been aware of this phenomenon in my life. I had read others attribute this to our spirit guides or angels trying to speak to us and give us a message or direction. That there is a reason that this message keeps coming to us. Another example is when I was in Nursing I would get one patient with a certain diagnosis then right afterward I would get a couple more patients with the same diagnosis or keep seeing things about that diagnosis. It is kind of like death comes in threes as well. And sometimes when we are seeking an answer to a question or are struggling with something information and people will come into our lives that are related to that problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment Deborah. I don’t quite know what to make of it, but when it happens, I can’t quite bring myself to write it off to coincidence. Your nursing example is interesting. There are more things…

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I never knew this phenomenon had a name! I guess in my everyday life I would call it a coincidence? Whatever the case – this happens to me all the time! I love when it does happen – pretty neat. A simple example would be remembering and talking about an old song (you know, from the 80’s) and then the very next time you get in the car it’s on the radio, and you haven’t heard it for years!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deb – Of course, I’m laughing at the notion that songs from the 80s are the old ones. By the 80s, I was saying “what the heck happened to music?”

      These are very weird kinds of coincidences, a little too much for me to just file under that heading. It’s like something is moving along and we get caught up in it for a few yards. It’s happened with things like songs, but hearing about this book, twice in the same day, was too much for me.

      Liked by 1 person

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