In the opening paragraphs of Charles Lamb’s “Dream Children,” the narrator is apparently an adult man who is speaking with his children. The narrator describes the house in Norfolk where the children’s late great-grandmother Field lived—a person they never met. She was not the mistress of the house but was in charge of the house, living there alone as the housekeeper. The owner had another house in the next county, where he lived.
The father portrays the “great house” as old and enormous, mentioning a number of traditional features. In terms of size, they say it was “a hundred times bigger” than the house where the children live with their father. It had a “great hall” which formerly featured an elaborately carved chimneypiece. This wood carving related a well-known story about the tragic events that befall some children with a “cruel uncle.” The carvings were later removed and replaced with a modern mantel made of marble.
The great-grandmother is described as keeping up the house in a dignified manner suited to its age and prominence. Although she was a very religious woman, she also claimed to have seen the ghosts of two children—presumably those depicted in the carving—which the narrator had never seen when he stayed there.
Talking nostalgically about the days he spent there as a boy, the narrator reminisces about roaming through the house, looking at the decor and artworks such as marble busts of Roman emperors. Most of the rooms were empty, and decorations such as the tapestries were worn out. The gilding on other wood carvings was also worn away. After the narrator’s grandmother died, the ornamentation was stripped off and moved to the owner’s other, modern house.