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Who to thank...

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  • Who to thank...

    This is a pretty nice article that explains who you have to thank for getting the warm and fuzzies this time of year:

    How a desperate Dickens blessed us

    December 21, 2008
    The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits
    by Les Standiford

    Crown, 241 pages, $22.95

    Thanks to Charles Dickens, even an atheist like me can enjoy Christmas. Reading about Christmas festivities, like those at Dingley Dell, for instance, in The Pickwick Papers, makes you realize what the joy and cheer are really all about.

    It's lighting a small flame of warmth in a snug human communion against the coldness and gloom of the death of the year and the sleep of nature. What would Christmas be without popping in the classic Alastair Sim version of Dickens's A Christmas Carol and sinking into a heart-swelling bath of decency and benevolence?

    I've always said that Dickens invented Christmas. What may surprise you, though, is that I'm right. A writer by the name of Les Standiford – head of creative writing at Florida International University and author of, among other things, Meet You in Hell, about financier Andrew Carnegie – has just proved it with The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits.

    It's the story of how Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, what inspired him, and the problems with his publishers, his finances and his career that drove him. True, Standiford's grasp of other Dickens novels seems a little vague at times – no, it's not Beadle Bumble from whom Oliver begs for "more" (Oliver Twist), nor does Little Nell die midway through The Old Curiosity Shop.

    But The Man Who Invented Christmas is still a most informative little tome, just right for the season. Did you know, for example, that the Carol was a vanity publication, and that its overnight success practically put England's Christmas goose industry out of business and made turkeys the de rigueur seasonal bird ?

    Sure, Christmas was around long before Charles Dickens. Other writers (like Washington Irving) had already celebrated the season, usually lamenting the decline of tradition. But Christmas had always been a B-grade holiday, and at times – as under the Puritans, both in England and America – it was banned altogether.

    Those sad days came about because Christmas festivities could never really disguise their pagan origins in the Roman Saturnalia, a winter solstice festival. Besides, Christmas only existed because Pope Julius I, back in the 4th century, quite arbitrarily decided that his Saviour was born on December 25. (There's no warrant for it in the Gospels.)

    Christmas got a bit of a boost when Queen Victoria's new German husband, Prince Albert, brought his native Christmas tree (another heathen custom) with him in 1840, and put a family focus on the celebrations.

    But it was Dickens who restored the festivities with the iconic Carol in 1843, and really put Christmas on the map.

    His immediate inspiration was an address he gave that summer, promoting education for the poor, and a visit to a London "poor" school. There he saw the starveling children who became Ignorance and Want, cowering under the capacious cloak of the ghost of Christmas Present. The message is as valid as ever: ignorance and want equals crime, disease and misery.

    When Dickens approached his publishers, Chapman & Hall, with the idea, they turned him down. Dickens' literary stock had been plummeting, along with his income, due to the failure of American Notes and Martin Chuzzlewit. The publishers threatened to invoke the out-clause in the contract, whereby they could dock his payments if sales fell below a certain point – which they had).

    The 31-year-old Dickens, crashing from his rapid rise to fame with Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, was so outraged, depressed and broke, with a family to support, that he considered giving up writing altogether.

    As a last-ditch effort, Dickens took a gamble. He hired Chapman & Hall to print the Carol but at his own expense. Promising himself a windfall, he wrote the Carol in six weeks, and managed to oversee its production in time for the book to hit the stores for Christmas.

    Despite its runaway success, not much remained of the windfall after Chapman & Hall, in the time-honoured tradition of vanity house publishers, presented him with their bill.

    Still, Dickens got something more important out of it – not only immortality, but a renewed faith in himself. More practically, he was so angry with Chapman & Hall that he found himself a new publisher, Bradbury & Evans. He worked out a contract that put him, not the publisher, in the financial driver's seat. Dickens never looked back. David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations all came later.

    Dickens was a sincere Anglican – hence the references to Christian values in A Christmas Carol – but he never did have much use for organized religion. Maybe that's why the story transcends religion, and makes us feel what Christmas is really about.

    You'll notice, for instance, there's no orgy of obligatory gift giving in it. All that's exchanged is goodwill, good cheer, good times, good food, good booze – and all in good company.

  • #2
    Re: Who to thank...

    Blessed be to you, however you choose to share the love of mankind.




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