Views & Reviews Between the Lines

Burning up

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e5858 (Published 03 September 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e5858
  1. Theodore Dalrymple, writer and retired doctor

In his novel Bleak House, published in 1852, Dickens describes a case of spontaneous human combustion, that of Mr Krook, a rag and bone merchant:

Here is a small burnt patch of flooring; here is the tinder from a little bundle of burnt paper, but not so light as usual, seeming to be steeped in something; and here is—is it the cinder of a small charred and broken log of wood sprinkled with white ashes, or is it coal? Oh, horror, he IS here!

As in many cases of supposed spontaneous human combustion, Krook is a heavy drinker (one hypothesis being that alcohol ignites in the stomach as in a flambée). His is the most famous case in …

View Full Text

Sign in

Log in through your institution

Subscribe