Word Patriots – Dickens and Christmas
Charles Dickens’ name had become so associated with Christmas that in 1870 a little costermonger’s girl in London, having been informed that Dickens had died, asked, “Mr. Dickens dead? Then will Father Christmas die too?” David Purdue writes: “It was the Christmas stories of Dickens, particularly his 1843 masterpiece ‘A Christmas Carol,’ that rekindled the joy of Christmas in Britain and America.” Dickens did not invent the holiday. Nor, of course, was he the first English author to write about Christmas. An unknown medieval poet wrote “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” with its Christmas contest and wagering of head against head between its two protagonists. Much later Walter Scott also wrote about medieval twelve-day Christmas celebrations, feudal feasting among the lords and ladies of the hall and their vassals and retainers. “A Christmas Carol,” however, has become iconic and what set it apart from previous depictions of the holiday is its urban setting and the want and destitution it portrays. Dickens describes the holidays as “a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” While everyone it seems is familiar with “A Christmas Carol,” Dickens wrote countless other Christmas stories and indeed four other short Christmas novels “The Chimes,” “The Cricket on the Hearth,” “The Battle of Life” and “The Haunted Man.” Throughout his long and storied career, Dickens returned to Christmas again and again, thinking no doubt that he had cornered the market and that Christmas would continue to prove a money-spinner for him. The other Christmas novels with the exception of “The Battle of Life” can be characterized as variations of “A Christmas Carol,” the Christmas Carol retold. Moreover, throughout his life Dickens revised “A Christmas Carol” numerous times. For his popular reading tours, he wrote many additions and retooled and retooled his most popular work. “A Christmas Carol” has been filmed many times. There have been many memorable Scrooges including Reginald Owen and George C. Scott. My personal favorite is Alistair Sims. This story, above all others, seems destined to shapeshift like some jolly supernatural being, to always be old and new, to be told and retold, to be constantly reborn in ever new and varying avatars much like Christmas itself. At the conclusion of the broadcast, I read from the novel and offer my own interpretation of Scrooge. If you would like to know more about my books, please visit my website: www.markseinfelt.com.