"Christmas stories" by Charles Dickens

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Both the contents of the Bibliographical index and the articles of the Appendix testify to outstanding importance of the artistic heritage of the great English novelist for the past and present of Russian and also world culture.




Charles Dickens life and career and the role of Christmas stories in his

creative activity


1. Beginning of literary career of Charles Dickens.


Charles John Huffam Dickens was born February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, Hampshire, but left it in infancy. His happiest childhood years were spent in Chatham (1817-1822), and area to which he often reverts in his fiction. From 1822 he lived in London, until in 1860, he moved permanently to a country house, Gad`s Hill, near Chatham. His origins were middle class, if of a newfound and precarious respectability; one grandfather was a domestic servant, and the other an embezzler. His father the clerk in the navy pay office was well paid but his extravagance and ineptitude often brought the family to financial embarrassment or disaster. (Some of his failings and his ebullience are dramatized in Mr. Micawber in the partly autobiographical David Copperfield). In 1824, the family reached bottom. Charles, the eldest son, had been withdrawn from school and was now set to manual work in a factory, and his father went to prison to dept. These shocks deeply affected Charles. Though abhorring this brief descends into the working class, he began to gain that sympathetic knowledge of their life and privations that informed his writings. Also, the image of the prison and of the lost, oppressed, or bewildered child recurs in many novels. Much else in his character and art stems from his period, including, as the XX century novelist Angus Wilson has argued, his later difficulty, as men and author in understanding women: this may be traced to his bitter resentment against his mother, who had, he felt, failed disastrously at this time to appreciate his sufferings. She had wanted him to stay at work when his fathers release from prison and an improvement in the familys fortunes made the boys return to school possible. Happily the fathers view prevailed. His schooling, interrupted and unimpressive, ended at 15. He became a clerk in a solicitors office, then a short-hand reporter in the law courts (thus gaining a knowledge of the legal world often used in the novels), and finally, like other members of his family, a parliamentary and newspaper reporter. These years left him with a lasting affection for journalism and contempt both for the law and for Parliament. His coming to manhood in the reformist 1830s, and particularly his working on the Liberal Benthamite Morning Chronicle (1834-36), greatly affected his political outlook. Another influential event now was his rejection as suitor to Maria Beadnell because his family and prospects were unsatisfactory; his hopes of gaining and chagrin at losing her sharpened his determination to succeed. His feelings about Maria then and at her later brief and disillusioning reentry into his life are reflected in David Copperfield Adoration of Dora Spenlow and the middle-aged Arthur Clennam`s discovery (in Little Dorrit) that Flora Finching, who had seemed enchanting years ago, was “diffuse and silly,” that Flora “whom he had left a lily, had become a peony.”

Much drawn to the theatre, Dickens nearly became a professional actor in 1832. In 1833 he began contributing stories and descriptive essays to magazines and newspapers; this attracted attention and were reprinted as Sketches by “Boz” (February 1836). The same month, he was invited to provide a comic serial narrative to accompany engravings by a well-known artist; seven weeks later the first installment of Pickwick Papers appeared. Within a few months Pickwick was the rage and Dickens the most popular author of the day. The Pickwick Papers was Dickenss first novel and, although published in the first year of Queen Victorias reign, it is widely regarded as the most famous of all pre-Victorian novels. It was originally serialized in monthly numbers from April, 1836 to November, 1837, when Dickens was only twenty-five years old. On the threshold of marriage to Catherine Hogarth, Dickens was obviously pleased with commission to write the Pickwick Papers, and wrote to his fiance that the emolument is too tempting to resist. We owe a great dept to Providence, as the first two choices as writers either failed to reply or refused the commission. Chesterton was of the opinion that The Pickwick Papers was Dickenss greatest novel in the literary genre at which he excelled. During 1836 he also wrote two plays and a pamphlet on a topical issue (how the poor should be allowed to enjoy the Sabbath) and, resigning from his newspaper job, undertook to edit a monthly magazine, Bentleys Miscellany, in which he serialized Oliver Twist (1837-39). This is one of the most celebrative novels following the publication of Pickwick Papers. It contains many of the classical themes of his best writing such as the plight of orphans in Victorian England; the grinding poverty of that period endured by so many people, and the working of the New Poor Law; and the sow triumph of good nature and strong character over would-be suborners, the lure of temptation, organized persecution and the ravages of the fear, desperation and menace. The literary pedigree of Oliver Twist goes back in direct line to the Gothic novel and the picaresque novels of the eighteens century, most notably those of Smollett and Fielding, which are known to have been among the Dickenss favorite reading. The novel contains some of Dickenss most famous characters, many of which have entered the language as exemplars of certain types, most notably: the exploited child Oliver Twist, himself - who dared to ask for more; the tyrant Bumble, the parish beadle; the diabolic gang leader Fagin, and others. The first complete edition of Oliver Twist, or, the Parish Boys Progress appeared in three volumes in 1838, being published by Richard Bentley of New Burlington Street, London, with whom Dickens was often dispute. For several years his life continued at this intensity. Finding serialization congenial and profitable, he repeated the Pickwick pattern of 20 monthly parts in Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39). Comedy had predominated in Pickwick Papers, tragedy in Oliver Twist. The more complete fusion of the two was effected in Nicholas Nickleby. The two heroes are Ralph Nickleby and his nephew Nicholas. They stand forth, almost from the beginning, as antagonists in battle array the one against the other, and the story is, in the main, the history of the campaigns between them cunning and greed being mustered on the one side, and young generous courage on the other. Then Dickens experimented with shorter weekly installments for The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-41) and Barnaby Rudge (1841). There is no hero in The Old Curiosity Shop, - unless Mr. Richard Sweveller, “perpetual grand-master of the Glorious Apollos,” be the questionable hero; the heroine is Little Nell, a child. And of all these children, the one who seems to have stood highest in popular favor, and won most hearts.

Exhausted at last, he then took a five-month vacation in America, touring strenuously and receiving quasi-royal honors as a literary celebrity but offending national sensibilities by protesting against the absence of copyright protection. A radical critic of British institutions, he had expected more from “the republic of my imaginations,” but he found more vulgarity and sharp practice to detest than social arrangements to admire. Some of these feelings appear in American Notes (1842) and Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44).

His writing during these prolific years was remarkably various and, except for his plays, resourceful. Pickwick began as high-spirited farce and contained many conventional comic butts and traditional jokes; like other early works, it was manifestly indebted to the contemporary theatre, the 18th century English novelists, and a few foreign classics, notably Don Quixote. But, besides giving new life to old stereotypes, Pickwick displayed, if sometimes in embryo, many of the features that were to be blended in varying proportions throughout his fiction: attacks, satirical or denunciatory, on social evils and inadequate institutions; topical references; an encyclopedic knowledge of London (always his predominant fictional locale); pathos; a vein of the macabre; a delight in the demotic joys of Christmas; a pervasive spirit of benevolence and geniality; exhaustible powers of character creation; a wonderful speech for characteristic speech, often imaginatively heightened; a strong narrative impulse; and a prose style that, if here over dependent on a few comic mannerisms, was highly individual and inventive. Rapidly improvised and written only weeks or days ahead of its serial publication Pickwick contains weak and jejune passages and is an unsatisfactory whole partly because Dickens was rapidly developing his craft as a novelist while writing and publishing it. What is remarkable is that a first novel, written in such circumstances, not only established him overnight and created a new tradition of popular literature but also survived, despite its crudities, as one of the best known novels in the world.

His self-assurance and artistic ambitiousness had appeared in Oliver Twist, where he rejected the temptation to repeat the successful Pickwick formula. Thus containing much comedy still Oliver Twis