The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
"John Charrington's Wedding" (1891)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
“John Charrington’s Wedding” was written by E. Nesbit and first appeared in Temple Bar (Sept. 1891). Nesbit (1858-1924) is considered to be the first writer of modern children’s fiction; she was extremely influential on later writers of children’s fiction. If Jules Verne was essentially a nineteenth century writer and H.G. Wells essentially a twentieth century writer, F. Anstey (a heavy influence on Nesbit; see Vice-Versa) was essentially a nineteenth century writer of children’s fiction, while Nesbit was a twentieth century writer. Nesbit also wrote a considerable amount of horror. “John Charrington’s Wedding” is a predictable but still enjoyable return-from-the-dead story.
In the small English town of Brixham all the young men are in love with May Forster. Few are more in love with her than John Charrington, but he is more persistent than the others, and the things he wants have a “queer way of coming to pass.”1 So when May agrees to marry John, the nameless narrator of “John Charrington’s Wedding” is surprised and even doubts May’s affection for John. But the narrator once, accidentally, sees May looking at John, her face transformed with love, and the narrator quickly ceases doubting. The narrator also hears John say, “My dear, my dear, I believe I should come back from the dead if you wanted me,”2 something the narrator does not remark upon. Two days before the wedding the narrator goes to London on business and finds May and John on the train as well. John has to visit a dying friend, but May does not want him to go; she has a bad feeling about the trip. John laughs off her premonitory feelings, however, and leaves, but he does tell her that he will return, no matter what: “Alive or dead I mean to be married on Thursday!”3 Charrington stays an extra day, but when the wedding day arrives he still has not returned. The train he should have traveled on does not contain him, and the narrator becomes convinced that something has happened. He returns to the church to find that Charrington has already entered, looking (according to the gardener) worse than he ever did in his life and not acknowledging anyone. The narrator has arrived when the wedding is over, but he is in time to see the party leave the church, and Charrington does indeed look bad: dusty, disheveled, and with a black mark above his eyebrow. May looks extremely pale, and the bell ringers do not sound the wedding peal, but rather the passing bells of a funeral. All is silent as the bridal pair enter their carriage and leave, and it is only after their departure that the wedding party angrily begins talking. May’s father is furious that a drunken man has married his daughter. When the carriage arrives at the Forster home, Charrington is gone, and May has fainted, her blonde hair gone white and her beautiful face “white and drawn with agony and horror, bearing such a look of terror as I have never seen before except in dreams.”4 A telegraph boy then arrives with a note that Charrington was thrown from a dog-car”5 at half past one that afternoon and died on the spot. The wedding took place at half past three. May never awakened and was buried a few days later.
“John Charrington’s Wedding” has none of the surprises of the cleverer sort of ghost story, but it is still entertaining. It has a brisk pace and the smart dialogue of 1890s magazine prose and is the opposite of the padded, turgid Bulwer Lytton style. Nesbit compensates for the predictability of the story’s outcome by letting the suspense mount. Nesbit does not go for the cruelty of “Man-Size in Marble,” but she isn’t kindly, either, and the story has a lack of moral balance similar to Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s “Eveline’s Visitant.”
Print: E. Nesbit, In the Dark. New York: Harper Collins, 2018.
1 E. Nesbit, “John Charrington’s Wedding,” in The Dark Descent, ed. David G. Hartwell (New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1987), 203.
2 Nesbit, “John Charrington’s Wedding,” 204.
3 Nesbit, “John Charrington’s Wedding,” 205.
4 Nesbit, “John Charrington’s Wedding,” 208.
5 Nesbit, “John Charrington’s Wedding,” 208.