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Evie

Dickens and Christmas

OK, here's something else to discuss - a question posed on the University of Warwick website.

Has Dickens' association with Christmas damaged or enhanced his reputation, do you think?
TheRejectAmidHair

Oh, it has enhanced his reputation, without a doubt.

It is extraordinary the extent to which we associate Christmas with Victoriana. We still have Victorian Christmas Fayres, Christmas cards depicting Victorian coaches travelling through the snow, etc etc. And it is all due to Dickens, I think. In the English-speaking world, at least, the story of A Christmas Carol is about as well-known as the story of the Nativity itself.

Dickens is fairly exceptional in that he straddles effortlessly the admittedly blurred and uncertain boundary between art and entertainment. His earlier works (Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop etc) were all written purely to entertain; but, leaving aside certain elements in those works that are no longer to modern taste (will we ever hear the end of the death of Little Nell? Anyone would think that takes up the entire novel!), the level of craftsmanship, the quality of the prose, the delightful eccentricity of the humour and the vigour and vitality of the imagination are such that the term “artistry” is not misapplied. His later novels (Bleak House, Little Dorrit, Great Expectations, Our Mutual friend, etc) exhibit a greater artistic ambition, but Dickens never forgot his roots as a popular entertainer. That Dickens straddled both worlds with such apparent ease has led many to cite him when arguing that there is no essential difference between art and entertainment: that really won’t do, as Dickens was an exception rather the rule in this respect; but he was, and remains, an endlessly fascinating exception.

The first of the five Christmas Books, A Christmas Carol, is possibly the greatest myth of modern times. (Modern? Yes - as far as I’m concerned, anything that doesn’t belong to the classical world, the Medieval era, the Renaissance or the Enlightenment counts as modern! And even the Enlightenment I’m not too sure about… ) Of the other four, only one (The Battle of Life) is an out-and-out failure: I am very fond of the others. And then, there are those delightful chapters in Pickwick Papers depicting Christmas at Dingley Dell, which must surely be the most good-natured, warm-hearted and convivial pages in all literature. Their popularity is understandable, but they also have about them, I’d argue, literary merit. Damaged his reputation? Ah – if only other writers could damage their reputations in such a manner!

Try the opening of Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illych. Here, four men speak in bored and indifferent tones of the death of one of their former colleagues. This is straight out of A Christmas Carol - the scene in which Scrooge sees people at the stock exchange speak of his own death. (Of course, he does not know at this point that it is his own death that is being discussed.) Now, turn to the ending of he Brothers Karamazov, and read speech Alyosha delivers to the children after the funeral of Ilyusha. And then turn to that passage in A Christmas Carol in the “Christmas Yet to Come” chapter, and read the bit where Bob Cratchit speaks to his children about the death of Tiny Tim. The two passages are so close that it borders on plagiarism. So are we really saying that a book that both Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky thought worth ripping off is actually damaging to its author’s reputation? Bah, humbug indeed!

There are times when I think A Christmas Carol is Dickens’ finest work. Reading it is certainly an essential part of my Christmas celebrations. A couple of years ago, around Christmas time, I spent a wonderful afternoon in a nearby pub that has an open fire, with a glass of brandy in front of me, and read the whole of A Christmas Carol. It only takes about two to three hours. It was so delightful an experience, that I’ll be doing the same this Saturday afternoon.

God bless us, every one!
Joe Mac

Dickens' reputation damaged by his assocation with Christmas? I doubt it!

I put it that the reputation of Christmas has benefited from its association with Dickens. The two are inextricably linked in my life, at least, ever sine A Christmas Carol fired my imagination as a small boy. Some things you don't grow out of or get over, and that is one of them.
I have since become quite cynical about much of what Christmas is or has become.  When it comes to Christmas, Dickens is my touchstone.

As far as I'm concerned Dickens has done Christmas a huge favour.
TheRejectAmidHair

RNS, if they had a "like" button to click on posts as they do in Facebook, I'd click "Like" on yours!
county_lady

thumbleftthumbright
Caro

I will bow to Himadri's much greater knowledge and eloquence, but if I had answered this question straightaway when I saw it, I would have said that the Christmas association probably helped Dickens' reputation at the time, but I wonder if it has meant in the long run that he is tarnished a little by a feeling of sentimentality that comes with Christmas associations.  (Of course, I am writing as someone who gave up on A Christmas Carol when I started it a few years ago. Didn't interest me at all.)

But these early works have perhaps made Dickens more accessible to readers than would otherwise have been the case, though I don't know that any with Christmas associations are well known beyond A Christmas Carol.  Haven't read The Pickwick Papers - does it have Christmas as a major player?

Cheers, Caro.
Apple

I think that Charles Dickens and christmas are two things which just go together and that the whole sentemental influence of christmas which Dickens milked for all it was worth enhanced Dickens repuation as a result.

When you look at the tv there is nearly always some remake of A Christmas Carol, some good some absolutely diabolical but the telling of that story has in recent years become almost compulsary in some form or another, as the feel good christmas special in many series, or as a stand alone special production.

As Himadri said when we think of christmas it is nearly always the victorian images we think of first, and when victorian images are being described the word "Dickensian" always seems to creep in, he is just there christmas is Dickens and Dickens is christmas.

Here are some examples of modern christmas with the Dickens link firmly implanted in them.

http://www.dickenschristmasmarket.com/

http://dickensianfestival.co.uk/

http://www.grassington.uk.com/dickensian%20festival/dickensian.htm

Although the commercial aspect of christmas nowadays leaves a lot to be desired but that is another debate entirely.
TheRejectAmidHair

Caro wrote:
I would have said that the Christmas association probably helped Dickens' reputation at the time...


When Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, he was at the height of his fame, and his re[utation hardly needed boosting!

Quote:
... but I wonder if it has meant in the long run that he is tarnished a little by a feeling of sentimentality that comes with Christmas associations.  


What many regard as his "sentimentality" in A Christmas Carol, seems to me to be a powerful depiction of real human emotion. Amongst other things, I find A Christmas Carol a tremendously moving work.

Quote:
(Of course, I am writing as someone who gave up on A Christmas Carol when I started it a few years ago. Didn't interest me at all.)


I guess the Christmas Books are not for you, then! Smile

Quote:
But these early works have perhaps made Dickens more accessible to readers than would otherwise have been the case, though I don't know that any with Christmas associations are well known beyond A Christmas Carol.  Haven't read The Pickwick Papers - does it have Christmas as a major player?


The early works certainly made the early works more accessible! Although the serialised editions of even Dickens' later works sold well, they never got the kind of sales that the earlier ones did.

Dikens wrote five Christmas Books, of which A Christmas Carol is a masterpiece, The Battle of Life pretty poor, and the other three all very good indeed. He also wrote short stories specially for the Christmas editions of various literary journals, and these are collected together nowadays in a volume entitled Christmas Stories.

The Christmas scenes in Pickwick Papers are absolutely delightful, and there is a more sombre Christmas near the start of Great Expectations.
MikeAlx

A Christmas Carol is the yardstick by which all other Christmas stories are judged - you simply can't get away from that fact; it's so ingrained in our culture. Even if you write something wildly different, it is bound to be defined by precisely the ways in which it is different. Modern Christmas stories are nearly always either redemption stories (in the mould of A.C.C.) or cynical anti-redemption stories, with the latter generally employing black humour or a lovable misanthrope to make the cynicism more palatable.
Evie

I'm sorry, I set this thread off and then abandoned it!  Not intentionally.

I think what the Warwick professor was getting at was whether Dickens' association with Christmas has damaged his literary reputation in some way, rather than his fame and the affection in which he is held.  In other words, do people associate Dickens with Christmas rather than focusing on his more serious books?

But in fact I don't think that's true (and for all I know the Professor doesn't either!).  Apart from the fact that many of his great novels are still popular and well loved, the question seems to imply that A Christmas Carol is *not* a serious piece of writing.  Certainly Dickens encapsulated all that we now thing of as traditional at Christmas (though if I recall, they were still eating goose and not turkey!), the story is a very serious one, I think.  It doesn't abandon any of the themes of his weightier novels - highlighting the plight of the poor, the greed and selfishness and lack of compassion amongst those who have power over them, the importance of kindness, goodness, love, human relationships, etc.  He is always a great humorist, and his books always celebrate life rather than despairing, despite the hardships he describes.

So I would say that his association with Christmas has enhanced his literary reputation rather than damaged it - Christmas as a time of giving and thinking of the poor as well as enjoying the warmth of hearth and home is at the heart of A Christmas Carol, and his association with Christmas is not trivial or superficial.  People still read his novels, or at the very least enjoy the filmed adaptations, and I don't think the Christmas association outweighs the reputation built on his output as a whole.

And in any case, I love him all the more for what he has done for Christmas - most of the things I really love about Christmas have a Dickensian ring to them, and as others have said, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without him!  And that's a huge thing to be thankful for, for me.

Now time to dig out my DVD of Scrooge starring Apple's grandfather...er, I mean Alastair Sim!
TheRejectAmidHair

I agree fully that A Christmas Carol, is a serious work. As are The Chimes and The Haunted Man.

Dickens' last depiction of Christmas was in Great Expectations, and it was a very sombre Christmas. There doesn't seem to be much rejoicing in Dickens' later novels: it's almost as if by that stage he saw little to rejoice over.
Sandraseahorse

I think, as Evie said, there is a danger that people see Dickens as "just for Christmas".

The over-familiarity of some of his novels, and the way that certain ones  are wheeled out onto our TV screen every Christmas, induces a sense of ennui - I find myself thinking sometimes:  "Do I really want to read this 600-page novel when I know what happens?"   One of the reasons I enjoyed "Dr. Marigold and Mr Chops" so much was that I had absolutely no knowledge beforehand of what they were about.  

In the New Year I'll be tackling "The Old Curiosity Shop" for my book group. Perhaps I shall have a Scrooge-like conversion and be able to cast off my cynical shell.
Mikeharvey

I once started a dramatisation of THE CRICKET N THE HEARTH conflated with THE CHIMES, but it defeated me.  TCOTH used to be a very popular Christmas show in Victorian times I believe.   Perhaps I'll have another go at it...........

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