The year was 1843, and English literature had witnessed the zenith of early Gothic horror in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). On the other side of the Atlantic, Edgar Allan Poe was reimagining the genre in such tales as The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) and The Tell-Tale Heart (1843). And in Britain, Charles Dickens was appropriating the Gothic tradition for his own stories; the conventions of the Gothic were to loom particularly large in late works such as Bleak House (1852) and Great Expectations (1860), but it was in a series of Christmas stories that he first explored the genre fully. The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), The Battle of Life (1846) and The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain (1848) are now forgotten by popular culture, but the first, A Christmas Carol (1843), continues to be read by millions and has been the subject of dozens of film adaptations.
I’m perched on the toilet, paperback in hand. I don’t have an audience – as far as I’m aware – but if I did, they would see the widest smile ever break across my face. I’ve just reached the end of Jonathan Harvey’s 1993 play Beautiful Thing, the Liverpool-born writer’s sweet tale of teenage love in inner-city London.