Jessica Warner, in Craze : Gin And Debauchery In An Age Of Reason (2003) provides what she claims is a complete list of victims of spontaneous human combustion in literature from 1798 to 1893.

The narrator’s father in Wieland by Charles Brockden Brown (1798)

William the Testy in Knickerbocker’s History Of New York by Washington Irving (1809)

A woman in Jacob Faithful by Captain Marryat (1834)

A blacksmith in Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (1842)

Sir Polloxfen Tremens in The Glenmutchkin Railway by William Edmondstoune Aytoun (1845)

The sailor Miguel Saveda in Redburn by Herman Melville (1849)

Mr Krook in Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1852-53)

The whisky-sodden and derelict Jimmy Flinn in Life On The Mississippi by Mark Twain (1883)

A character in Docteur Pascal by Emile Zola (1893)


The list does not include the female cook in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), who was merely “in a frame of mind and body threatening spontaneous combustion”.

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  1. malty on Friday 5, 2013

    In Germinal the whole bloody lot were spontaneously combusting, the fields surrounding t’pit were alight with passion. This is not surprising, in a hole in the ground full of a mixed sex workforce, most of whom were starkers whilst hewing le nutty slack. Add to this the tea breaks which the rough locals spent downing the rough local wine and munching cheese, a recipe for randiness if ever there was. This never happened in Ashington as the colliery was men only and witness Jack and Bobbie Charlton, fine specimens that they are, untainted by the lure of the post-shift shag.

    Passion plus pit equals beyond fahrenheit.

  2. John Halliwell on Friday 5, 2013

    The closest thing to spontaneous combustion that I’ve come across locally was the case of old Jack Fagg, a retired bricklayer, known as Hod Jack, who, when sat in the front garden of his modest cottage, had the misfortune to be at the beginning of the inhalation stage of a pipeful of McGintey’s Rumbustious Old Shag when the delectable 21 year old Janice sauntered by. She gave him one of those smiles, so demure that it barely creases the make up, and which seem reserved for old men deemed incapable of anything more threatening than a nod, a wink, and a resigned all-passion-spent look. The suck on a pipe’s mouthpiece (known as the bit – that is: the bit at the front as opposed to the bit on the side) normally takes about 1.5 seconds. The coroner’s report suggested that in this case it was about 0.1 seconds, with the resultant updraft heating the tobacco to 700 degrees C. Thus the flaming shag, in compliance with Newton’s Third Law of Thermal Dynamics, had only one place to go, entering Hod Jack’s innards at the speed of light. And then Bang! What a mess! And the saddest part is that Janice was prepared to give Hod Jack the kiss of life, but couldn’t find his head…….

  3. mahlerman on Friday 5, 2013

    So evocative….that I damn nearly wet myself JH. Janice, Hod Jack…what a crew I say, what a crew. I must go and lie down, this is all too much….

  4. John Halliwell on Friday 5, 2013

    I hope you had a nice lie down, MM. For completion’s sake, I feel I should add that my intention to attend Hod Jack’s funeral was thwarted by the failure of the recovery people to find enough parts to warrant a service. In fact, a pathology team could only account for Jack’s glass eye, and even then found it difficult to differentiate it from a 1 inch marble. It was therefore felt appropriate, in the midst of such uncertainty, to roll Hod Jack into the gutter outside his house and allow the local kids to roll their marbles to form a line on either side of the old bloke, in a sort of final salute. The view was that Hod Jack would have liked that.