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Dickens and Christmas Kindle Edition
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The book had revelations about how London celebrated the Christmas season in the mid 1800s. For instance, the bigger celebration was "Twelfth Night" or January 5-6th (the end of Christmas) rather than Christmas Day itself. It was delightful to read about the enormous and grandly decorated Twelfth Night cakes, in addition to the parties and celebrations that went along with them. However, it wasn't until Charles Dickens authored "A Christmas Carol" that the British focused primarily on Christmas Day with its associated meanings of being kind and generous to the less fortunate. "A Christmas Carol" was a breakthrough in Charles Dickens' literary success and he was expected to produce a Christmas story every subsequent December afterward. The tidal wave of Christmas spirit unleashed by the book sparked the invention of the Christmas Card and Queen Victoria's use of a decorated Christmas tree with lit tapers and small gifts weighing down its boughs.
The book also tells the story of Charles Dickens' life in conjunction with his writing career, with a particular focus on his Christmas stories which in fact took precedence in the buying public's expectations. We learn about his father's stint in debtors' prison and how Charles had to work in a factory at the age of twelve. It was a traumatic experience that robbed him of his youthful innocence and provided the basis for his writings.
There were short excerpts culled from his books and letters woven into this biography, and also from his eldest daughter Mamie with her reminiscences of Dickens' family Christmas celebrations. The author is a descendant of Charles Dickens which lends a special touch. This all culminated in telling a life story of an iconic British author and his impact on Christmas celebrations in England and around the world.
Many thanks to NetGalley for providing this ebook in exchange for my honest review.
‘A Christmas Carol’ obviously takes centre stage but Hawksley also looks at Dickens’s other Christmas-themed writings as well as providing an account of how the Dickens family itself celebrated the Christmas season.
The book includes many lengthy quotations, from Dickens and others. Indeed, I would have liked fewer and shorter quotations. One, rather than two recipes for Twelfth Cake, for example, would have sufficed, and I would have been satisfied with being told that Mrs Beeton’s is probably the first published recipe for Christmas cake, without having the relevant section reproduced in full from her ‘Book of Household Management’.
The book boasts some nice illustrations and the author deserves credit for drawing attention to Dickens’s social critique which can too easily be lost in modern-day renderings of Scrooge’s personal redemption but her overall analysis would obviously have been better had her research been more comprehensive (her Bibliography makes no mention, for example, of J. A. R. Pimlott’s ‘Englishman’s Christmas’ or the pieces on Dickens and Christmas by John Butt or Ruth Glancy or Geoffrey Rowell).
In short, ‘Dickens and Christmas’, like Mrs Beeton’s Christmas cake, is nourishing fare but a little on the heavy side.
A Christmas Carol is the one piece by Dickens that nearly everyone in the English speaking world knows. Even if they have never read it, pretty much everyone has seen one or more of the many film, TV, or cartoon versions. Everyone associates Dickens with Christmas, even more than they associate him with orphans and grim poverty. That didn’t start recently; it started as soon as he published Carol. He wrote four more Christmas stories, which cemented his position as the king of Christmas. The people of England came to expect his Christmas stories, which became a huge burden on him. He wanted to write other books, books that shined a light on the horrors of poverty. He solved the problem by creating a monthly magazine, and hired others to write stories for the Christmas edition.
Hawksley tells Dicken’s story in calm prose, and doesn’t spare him from examination. His childhood poverty, his perpetual money problems (most of them created by his large family), his marital problems, are all examined. I found it a very interesting look into his life. I also liked that the author related how the celebration of Christmas was changing, due both to the Industrial Revolution and Prince Albert’s bringing German customs over to England. Hawksley weaves all the strands together well.