Charles John Huffam Dickens: The Man Who Invented Christmas
Nearer and closer to our hearts be the Christmas spirit, which is the spirit of active usefulness, perseverance, cheerful discharge of duty, kindness and forbearance!
Reviving the Christmas traditions which had nearly died out in the latter part of the eighteenth century through his work, A Christmas Carol, Dickens became the “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (London’s Sunday Telegraph 18 December 1988).
Charles John Huffam Dickens created some of the world’s best-known fictional and vivid characters; hence regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. Born on February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, England, Charles Dickens, was the second of eight children of a lower middle-class family. His father, John Dickens, was a naval clerk, while his mother, Elizabeth, aspired to be a teacher and school director. Despite his parents’ efforts, the family remained poor but they were happy. However, when the family moved to Camden Town, a poor neighborhood in London, their financial situation had grown dire that John was sent to prison for debt in 1824 causing the 12-year-old Charles to leave school to work at a boot-blacking factory alongside the River Thames which was the best he could do to help support his family. Dickens felt abandoned and betrayed by the adults who were supposed to take care of him— sentiments that later became a recurring theme in his works.
When his father received a family inheritance and paid off his debts, Dickens went back to school. However, in 1827, at 15, he had to drop out of school and work as an office boy to contribute to his family’s income which became a launching point for his writing career.
THE BIRTH OF A LITERARY GENIUS
In 1833, under the pseudonym “Boz”, Dickens began submitting sketches to various magazines and newspapers. Three years later, he published his first book, Sketches by Boz and started publishing The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club which was wildly popular with readers. His series of sketches, originally written as captions for artist Robert Seymour’s humorous sports-themed illustrations, took the form of monthly serial installments and were even more popular than the illustrations they were meant to accompany.
Charles became a publisher of a magazine called Bentley’s Miscellany. Inspired by how he felt as an impoverished child forced to get by on his wits and earn his own keep, he published his first novel, Oliver Twist which tells the story of an orphan living in the streets. He continued showcasing his novel in the magazines he later edited, including Household Words and All the Year Round, the latter of which he founded.
Dickens despite his lack of education, was a literary genius. He edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles, lectured and performed extensively. He was also an indefatigable letter writer who also campaigned vigorously for children’s rights, education, and other social reforms. Among his accomplishments were David Copperfield and Christmas Carol. The former which he worked on from 1849 to 1850 was the first work of its kind for no one had ever written a novel that simply followed a character through his everyday life. Dickens tapped into his own personal experiences, from his difficult childhood to his work as a journalist in writing it. Although it was not considered Dickens’ best work, it was his personal favorite that helped define the public’s expectations of a Dickensian novel. Christmas Carol, on the other hand, was probably the most popular novel Dickens ever wrote. Published in 1843, Christmas Carol is an iconic Christmas tale. Ironically, CS Lewis, who is one of the most articulate literary proponents of the orthodox faith in his century, has left behind almost no contribution to the literature of Christmas; and that Charles Dickens, who most likely did not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, became the writer most identified with Christmas.
COPING WITH LIFE’S TOUGHER LESSONS
Around 1850s, Dickens faced devastating challenges: the deaths of his daughter and father; and the failure of his marriage with Kate. Dickens allegedly slandered Kate publicly; and his intimate relationship with a young actress named Ellen “Nelly” Ternan. Also, it is believed that he went to great lengths to erase any documentation alluding to Ternan’s presence in his life.
During this time, Dickens’ novels began to express a darkened worldview. Among these were In Bleak House, published in installments from 1852 to 1853 which deals with the hypocrisy of British society; In Hard Times (1854), which takes place in an industrial town at the peak of economic expansion and the Little Dorrit (1857), a fictional study of how human values come in conflict with the world’s brutality. Also among his dark novels are the A Tale of Two Cities, a historical novel that takes place during the French Revolution, published in a periodical he founded, All the Year Round. His other novel, Great Expectations (1861) is widely considered his greatest literary accomplishment. It focuses on the protagonist’s lifelong journey of moral development. A few years later, Dickens produced Our Mutual Friend, a novel that analyzes the psychological impact of wealth on London society.
Dickens was in a train accident in 1865 and never fully recovered. After suffering a stroke, he died at age 58 on June 9, 1870, at Gad’s Hill Place, his country home in Kent, England. He was buried in Poet’s Corner at Westminster Abbey, with thousands of mourners gathering at the beloved author’s gravesite. At the time of his death, his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, was unfinished.
“An event worldwide, a unique of talents suddenly extinct,” said Scottish satirical writer Thomas Carlyle described Dickens’s passing.
Charles Dickens is remembered as one of the most influential writers and a social critic who helped bring about societal change in the 19th century. He has been lauded for providing a stark portrait of the Victorian era underclass. Many of his major works have been adapted for film, with some, like A Christmas Carol, repackaged in various forms over the years. In November 2017, Hollywood introduced another twist to the author’s celebrated holiday work with the release of The Man Who Invented Christmas, starring Dan Stevens as Dickens and Christopher Plummer as his famed fictional character of Ebenezer Scrooge.