"Christmas stories" by Charles Dickens

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t is more centrally concerned social and moral evil (the workhouse and the criminal world); it culminates in Bill Sikess murdering Nancy and Fagins last night in the condemned cell at Newgate. The latter episode was memorably depicted in George Cruikshanks engraving; the imaginative potency of Dickens characters and settings owes much, indeed, to his original illustrators (Cruikshank for Sketches by “Boz” and Oliver Twist, “Phiz” [Hablot K. Browne] for most of the other novels until 1860s). The currency of his fiction owed much, too, to its being so easy to adapt into effective stage versions. Sometimes 20 London theatres simultaneously were producing adaptations of his latest story; so even nonreaders became acquainted with simplified versions of his works. The theatre was often a subject of his fiction, too, as in the Crummles troupe in Nicholas Nickleby. This novel reverted to the Pickwick shape and atmosphere, though the indictment of the brutal Yorkshire schools (Dotheboys Hall) continued the important innovation in English fiction seen in Oliver Twist spectacle of the lost or oppressed child as an occasion for pathos or social criticism. This was amplified in The Old Curiosity Shop, where the death of Little Nell was found overwhelming powerful at the time, though a few decades later it became a byword for “Victorian sentimentality.” In Barnaby Rudge he attempted another genre, the historical novel. Like his later attempt in this kind, A Tale of Two Cities, it was set in the late 18th century and presented with great vigor and understanding (and some ambivalence of attitude) the spectacle of large scale mob violence.

To create an artistic unity out of the wide range of moods and materials included in every novel, with often several complicated plots involving scores of characters, was made even more difficult by Dickens writing and publishing them serially. In Martin Chuzzlewit he tried “to resist the temptation of the current Monthly Number and to keep a steadier eye upon the general purpose and design” (1844 Preface). Its American episodes had, however, been unpremeditated (he suddenly decided to boost the disappointing sales by some American baiting and to revenge himself against insults and injures from the American press). A concentration on “the general purpose and design” was more effective in the next novel, Dombey and Son (1846-48), though the experience of writing the shorter, and unserialized, Christmas Books had helped him obtains greater coherence.


2. Charles Dickens works written in Christmas story genre.


A Christmas Carol (1843), suddenly conceived and written in a few weeks was the first of these Christmas Books (a new literary genre thus created incidentally). It was published on 19 December 1843, that has preserved the Christmas customs of old England and fixed our image of the holiday season as one of wind, ice and snow without, and smoking bishop, piping hot turkey, and family cheer within. Coming from a family large but not-too-well-off, Charles Dickens presents again and again his idealized memory of a Christmas associated with the gathering of the family which “bound together all our home enjoyments, affection and hopes” in games such as Snap Dragon and Blind Mans Buff, both of which his model lower-middle-class father, Bob Cratchit, runs home to play on Christmas Eve. Tossed off while he was amply engaged in writing Chuzzlewit, it was an extraordinary achievement the one great Christmas myth of modern literature. His view of life was later to be described or dismissed as “Christmas philosophy” as the basis of a projected work. His “philosophy,” never very elaborated, involved more than wanting the Christmas spirit to prevail throughout the year, but his great attachment to Christmas (in his family life as well as his writings) is indeed significant and has contributed to his popularity. “Dickens dead?” exclaimed a London costermongers girl in 1870. “Then will Father Christmas die too?” a tribute both to his association with Christmas and to the mythological status of the man as well as of his work. The Carol immediately entered the general consciousness; Thackeray, in a review, called it “a national benefit, and to every man and woman who reads it a personal kindness.” Further Christmas books, essays, and stories followed annually (except in 1847) through 1867. None equaled the Carol in potency, though some achieved great immediate popularity. Cumulatively they represent a celebration of Christmas attempted by no other great author.

However, Dickens's founding and managing his weekly literary magazines seems to have prevented his producing further complete books exclusively for the Christmas book trade (which he in large measure helped to establish with Carol and its successor, The Chimes). Instead, he developed 'framed tales' in which he would take the lead supported in the production of various chapters by such talented writers as Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Gaskell. These 'Christmas Stories' were composed between 1850 and 1867, but cannot be classified as falling within a single short fiction subgenre. Dickens's first contribution to an 'Extra Christmas Number' was in fact not a story at all, but a reverie, "A Christmas Tree" inspired by children gathered around that German innovation, the Christmas tree (which never appears in any of the Christmas Books), probably brought to England by Victoria's consort, Prince Albert, whom she had married in 1840. Dickens's second and third short-fiction Christmas offerings, "The Poor Relation's Story" and "The Child's Story" are his contributions to A Round of Stories by the Christmas Fire in the Christmas Number of Household Words (1852). As one reads these "framed tales" it becomes increasingly difficult to sort out which pieces Dickens contributed, especially since all pieces printed in these two journals were unsigned. In 1853, Dickens contributed "The Schoolboy's Story" and "Nobody's Story" to Another Round of Stories by the Christmas Fire in the Christmas Number for Household Words. Other Christmas Stories include The Seven Poor Travellers in the Christmas Number for Household Words (14 Dec., 1854), The Holly-tree Inn (the Christmas Number for Household Words, 15 Dec., 1855), The Wreck of the 'Golden Mary' (the Christmas Number of Household Words, 6 Dec., 1856), The Perils of Certain English Prisoners (the Christmas Number for Household Words, 1857), A House to Let (the Christmas Number for Household Words, 1858), The Haunted House (the Christmas Number for All the Year Round, 1859), A Message from the Sea (the Christmas Number for All the Year Round, 1860), Tom Tiddler's Ground (the Christmas Number for All the Year Round, 1861), Somebody's Luggage (the Christmas Number for All the Year Round, 1862), Mrs. Lirriper's Lodgings (the Christmas Number of All the Year Round, 1863), Mrs. Lirriper's Legacy (the Christmas Number of All the Year Round, 1864), Doctor Marigold's Prescriptions (the Christmas Number of All the Year Round, 1865), Mugby Junction (the Christmas Number for All the Year Round, 1866), and the Collins-dominated No Thoroughfare (the Christmas Number for All the Year Round, 1867).

Thanks to modern methods of poultry raising as much as to Dickens, that American import, the turkey, began to replace the traditional (bony and greasy) goose as the centerpiece of the Christmas board, as is evident in A Christmas Carol, but the survival of the Christmas pudding abroad owes much to Dickens' image of the Cratchits' pudding singing in the copper. The "jolly Giant, glorious to see" in the Third Stave of A Christmas Carol is the earliest English version of the German Santa Klaus, but in John Leech's coloured illustration he is garbed in green, a pagan vegetation symbol as much as modern English "Father Christmas" accompanied by such pre-Christian paraphernalia as a crown of holly, a flaming link (torch), a yule log, mistletoe, and a steaming bowl of negus (punch). Our North American Santa Claus was invented just twenty years earlier, in Clement C. Moore's A Visit from Saint Nicholas, derived not from the old Roman god Saturn (whose worship from December 17th to 24th had included decorated tree boughs) like Dickens's Ghost of Christmas Present, but from the gift-giving early Christian bishop and saint from Asia Minor.

One of his sons wrote that, for Dickens, Christmas was "a great time, a really jovial time, and my father was always at his best, a splendid host, bright and jolly as a boy and throwing his heart and soul into everything that was going on.... And then the dance! There was no stopping him!" Amateur magician and actor, Dickens had little Christmas shopping to worry about, and no crowded malls or crass commercialization of the family festival to jangle his finely-tuned nerves. But that time in his boyhood, when he slaved in the blacking factory while his family were in the Marshalsea Prison, weighed heavily somewhere in the back of his mind, and made occasional intrusions, such as Ignorance and Want in A Christmas Carol and the street urchin in The Haunted Man. Mr. Redlaw, a kind but melancholy man, isolated. His many professional accomplishments cannot compensate for the great betrayal of his life,