This story by Elizabeth Gaskell is one of the strangest she wrote, and certainly one of the strangest that I've read. I had a hard time with it, months ago, when I started on this Gaskell journey, and so I shelved it. Last week while I was waiting for Cousin Phillis to arrive, I decided to tackle it again. This time, I managed to finish it, but then I had to promptly read about it again in Uglow's bio of Gaskell.
The story is essentially a fantasy in which various characters from myth, legend, and fairy tale meet in an enchanted mansion...and it is very, very odd. The whole time I was reading it, I kept on thinking that Barbara McClintock (the illustrator, not the geneticist) would do wonderful illustrations for it, and I kept on thinking about one of my daughters' books by McClintock, The Fantastic Drawings of Danielle. The link in the previous sentence should go to one of the drawings in the book on Amazon, so you can get a flavor of the illustrations I had in mind. But I digress.
The narrator is Dick Whittington, only Gaskell mistakenly calls him Dick Whittingham. Gaskell is notorious for inconsistency with her characters' names, so it is assumed that she meant Whittington and not Whittinham. Whittington, who lives in legend as the "thrice Lord Mayor of London" travels to France to search for traces of his family. He stumbles across a mansion lit up with a party in full swing. The inhabitants seem to be expecting him. He's confused, I was confused. He encounters various other characters, none of them named, but they seem to be Cinderella, grown fat, Sleeping Beauty and her prince, Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood, and Jack the Giant Killer (aka Jack from 'Jack and the Beanstalk').
I will have to read this again to see whether I can get any better understanding or appreciation of what Gaskell was up to with this story.
This story is certainly curious, true or otherwise!