Last month, the movie The Man Who Invented Christmas was released in theaters. Starring Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer, the film purports to dramatize the ways in which Charles Dickens plunders his nineteenth-century surroundings for elements that would eventually show up in his iconic novella A Christmas Carol.
So far, the movie hasn’t received glowing reviews, generally dismissed as a tonal mishmash of Dickensian allusions and twenty-first-century psychobabble. But it’s based on an interesting book of the same title by Les Standiford – part biography and part literary history, The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits offers a portrait of how the Victorian publishing industry worked, the ruthless efficiency Dickens displayed as an author, and the role his book played in establishing the mythology and trappings of the Christmas holiday.
Did Charles Dickens invent Christmas? That claim’s kind of a stretch, given that his book was published twenty years after Clement Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas.” But Standiford’s book makes a persuasive argument that Dickens’s vision contributed to the cultural (and secularized) pervasiveness of the holiday, as well as to the ways in which we observe the season – from eating turkeys like the one Scrooge ordered for Tiny Tim, to turning our attention to the plight of the economically disadvantaged.
Regardless of your own spiritual and cultural background, there are worse ways to spend an evening in the winter months thumbing through Dickens’s ghost story about greed, suffering and redemption. It’s an uncompromising study of social ills disguised in mistletoe. And if that whets your appetite, Dickens actually published other Christmas stories following on A Christmas Carol’s success, like any good artistic entrepreneur. Like most sequels, these follow-ups weren’t as good as the original, and you might even say they seem to have surprisingly little to do with Christmas (but then, one might say the same of a story about ghosts and graveyards and accountants’ labor practices).
The Wreck of the Golden Maryfeatures a foreword by Simon Callow, an actor who also appears in The Man Who Invented Christmas! Coincidence? Well, this is a blog post about Charles Dickens, one of fiction’s great coincidentalists, so let’s say: Sure!
Meanwhile, if you buy the new movie’s message that the author’s life is inextricably entwined with his work, you may want to peruse some biographies of Charles Dickens. The library has more than a few, ranging in length from the brief to the Dickensian.