Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (1843) continues to be read, watched and performed after more than 175 years, and is enjoyed by all ages. Yet Dickens' tale of Ebenezer Scrooge's benevolent transformation is more than just a holiday story. Author Les Standiford argues that, in fact, A Christmas Carol started a number of the holiday traditions we continue to see in Western countries today. Dickens' work is part of the very DNA of our holiday season.
"I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book to raise the Ghost of an Idea which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me.
May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it aside"
(Dickens' preface to A Christmas Carol).
The Man Who Invented Christmas (2008) explores the social and personal influences on Dickens as he drafted A Christmas Carol and how the novella became a Western cultural touchstone. Primarily, Standiford's book is what I would consider a snapshot biography. Yes, episodes from Dickens' youth are mentioned, but the main effort of the book is to discuss the context around Dickens' imagining, writing, and publishing of A Christmas Carol.
Standiford, who is a founding director of a creative writing program, has as many fiction as non-fiction books to his name, and it shows in his research and writing. Applying historical, psychological, and economic lenses to a specific time in Dickens' life, Standiford examines many facets to provide this context: the history of publishing and copyright laws in Victorian England; the evolution of religious practices and associated holiday celebrations around Christmas; the era's budding socialism; and even psychoanalysis of trauma.
All this in only 226 pages (plus notes).
Despite some complex concepts, the writing in the book is easily accessible and does not jarr the reader with numerous citations. In fact, Standiford tends to reserve direct quotations for Dickens' own voice, taken from primary sources such as letters, journals, and speeches.
"As [Dickens] followed by reiterating the credo that would guide him in his art and in his public life: 'I take it, that it is not of greater importance to all of us than it is to every man who has learned to know that he has an interest in the moral and social elevation, the harmless relaxation, the peace, happiness, and improvement, of the community at large'" (Standiford 61).
This book will be of equal interest to those who have long been fans of Dickens and those who pick up A Christmas Carol for the first time this December. Regardless, The Man Who Invented Christmas is a great read during any season!