Yes folks, it is still Christmas for a couple of days.
I need say nothing about A Christmas Carol which I haven’t said before. I read it every Christmas and it never fails to delight.
Dickens at Christmas contains several stories I’d never read before; I bought it when it was 80p for the Kindle. Oh dear. Take out A Christmas Carol, which is included in the collection, and the first part of the book could be re-titled The Worst Of Dickens. I couldn’t finish the extract from The Pickwick Papers but that’s not surprising as it was years before I could get right through the book. I struggled through The Chimes, was totally bemused by The Cricket on the Hearth and nauseated by The Battle of Life. There is so much ammunition here for people who ‘hate Dickens’: facetiousness instead of wit; the use of unnecessary description and twenty words where one would do; sentimentality; melodrama. And yet … You have to remember the audience these stories were written for: the readers of Dickens’ magazines. They wanted stories glorifying home and the angel of the hearth. They expected ghost stories, not necessarily pleasant, at Christmas. They loved to weep over a book. And there are so many flashes of Dickens’ genius. For instance, in the frightening story The Haunted Man there’s a section about the Tetterby family which could have come from one of his best novels.
The essays at the end of the book are the best things in it. A Christmas Tree begins with a wonderful description of Christmas as seen by a child. This is just the kind of thing Dickens excelled at (see David Copperfield or Great Expectations); his vivid memories of his own childhood inspired so much of his writing. To my great surprise, I found a school story here: The Schoolboy’s Story. The school is no Dotheboys Hall but a regular boarding school with much about ‘our fellows’ and the awful food they had to eat. That story could have been written fifty years later.
There is a theme running throughout the stories: Christmas as a special time of peace and love towards all mankind. Dickens doesn’t miss the chance of lecturing the middle classes on the dangers of neglecting the poor, just as the Spirit in A Christmas Carol shows Scrooge the children ‘want’ and ‘ignorance’, who pose a threat to the whole of society. This attitude is most obvious in Nobody’s Story, in which the poor are blamed for what they cannot help.
So I’m glad I read it. You only have to check the tag for ‘Charles Dickens’ to see what a huge admirer I am.