Updated: Dec 7, 2022
Charles Dickens had a tortured childhood which he addressed throughout his life in his writing. His father went to debtor's prison, taking his family with him, except for 12 year old Charles who lived alone in a London rooming house, and worked 12 hour days filling and labeling black shoe polish bottles under workhouse conditions and sending his earnings to his family. When his father was released young Charles hoped he might be allowed to go to school, but no, his income was still needed.
In many of his works - "Oliver Twist", "David Copperfield", "Great Expectations" - Dickens wrote about young men escaping their dire beginnings and finding their way to a better life. He wrote of ambition, enterprise, innocence, survival, the everyday trials and joys of everyday people. He nightly walked the streets of London in the wee hours absorbing the inconsistencies of "class" existence. He investigated injustice wherever he found it, and called it to the attention of the world, through his books.
In 1843, after he had become famous with "The Pickwick Papers", "Nicholas Nickleby", "Great Expectations" and other works, Dickens wanted to write something that would be short and powerful and that he himself could publish (to make up for the losses of "Martin Chuzzlewit"). He picked up on the new energy of "Christmas", promulgated by Prince Albert and the Windsor court, and wrote not just a parable about the redemption of a lost soul but an anti-capitalistic celebration of the common man in an increasingly industrialized society.
And he did it not in a simple tale, but in a whirlwind of a ghost story with spirits flying him through walls and into other times, to banquet halls of bounty in the next room, to miners singing and sailors saluting peace on earth and good will toward men, and to the beetling shops and cemeteries that bid us enter.
Dickens allows us, through Scrooge and his alienation, to reflect on our own past, and the sources of our own disaffection, to see the opportunities of the present, the joy of life around us if we'd only look, and also to imagine a world without human love, the world of isolation and bitterness that awaits if we do not take up Marley's offered chance to reform.
Although Dickens' characters may seem at first glance cartoonish, unrealistic, two dimensional, they personify sides of the prism of authentic human character. We are all Scrooge, murmuring at the Salvation Army lady we pass at Ralph's. We all yearn for the humility of the Cratchits, wearing "twice-turned" frocks and hoping for good health and a job. We all have a generous, love-giving Fan in our lives, who perhaps left us too soon. And perhaps we'll take a moment this year to reach out to her optimistic, warm-hearted nephew, Fred. We may even become the Fezziwigs for a moment, and throw a little get-together to welcome the spirit of the season.
Dickens sums up, in one little story, the complex themes of social change and seemingly "chance" human encounter that he continued to present in much longer and more involved works throughout his life. It is this jewel that best encapsulates his view of the remarkable drama of the human condition.
At Parson's Nose we are delighted to present his words each year, finding new gems of understanding each time. The simplicity of our Readers' Theater format - actor, text and imagination - allows us to focus on the words and ideas of the second greatest story teller in the English language. Do join us! Buy tickets here! -ld